That informed the setting up of the Federal Road Safety Commission by government in 1988 was the realization that ‘there was no concrete and sustained policy action to address the carnage on Nigerian roads’, then rated as one of the worst in the world. Twenty six years after, I am not sure if that rating has changed dramatically for the better with FRSC Kano Sector Commander, Ibrahim Garb’s current troubling statistics of casualties on our roads. He recently told News Agency of Nigeria that ‘2,499 persons were involved in various road crashes in 2013 across the state’. Of this figure, 1,692 persons were males while 807 were females.
Some of the major functions of the commission, among many others include, ‘making the highway safe for motorists and other road users, recommending works and devices designed to eliminate or minimize accidents on the highways and educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of discipline on the highway as well as clearing obstructions on any part of the highways. While some of these activities have received good attention by the commission, there is clear evidence going by the activities of some of the men of the commission in Lagos who hide at obscure corners and dangerous alleys to intimidate and harass motorists that not much attention is paid to educating motorists who in fact see the presence of FRSC boys as constituting a nuisance. Some of these blind hideouts include the street opposite Marwa Gardens, a stone throw from the Lagos State governors office, the street adjacent Yaba College of Technology and other corner streets on other parts of the mainland and on the island.
From accounts of some victims of highhandedness by FRSC officials and personal encounters with some cheeky FRSC officials, I find it hard to disagree with those who see their presence on Lagos city alleys as aggravating the pains of Lagos motorists they are mandated to educate and help. A few years back, precisely in 2008, a friend’s young daughter who lived with us was arrested opposite Marwa Garden which has remained a notorious hide out for FRSC boys. She didn’t have a fire extinguisher. It was less than 300 yards from Prima Garnet where she was scheduled to have a job interview. She pleaded to no avail as she was dragged to their old toll gate office where she packed the car and returned home to look for money. Of course she missed the interview and possibly a dream job in the advertising industry. The Lagos road safety boys killed her dream. As I write this piece this on February 3, they are hiding on this side road frisking commercial trucks.
A few weeks back, a colleague called around 9 am cursing and swearing on the phone. The FRSC officials who have now replaced ‘weiting you carry bribe seeking police men’ at check points, long outlawed by the new IG had arrested his wife at an obscure corner in Lagos Island for not carrying fire extinguisher in her car. The visibly angry colleague wanted me to tell Chidoka who was said to have worked briefly at The Guardian after his education in 1995, how the public feel about the activities of some of his overzealous boys. I told him I never met the high achieving Corps Marshal but would convey the sentiments to the appropriate quarters.
I have also had two personal experiences with some FRSC officials in recent times. One gave me an insight into the rip-off currently going in the name of new driver’s licence while the other experience provided a possible explanation for why road safety official chase after commercial trucks on the high ways around Lagos while paying no attention to trucks and trailers without traffic indicator lights and those that are clearly not roadworthy on account of fumes they emit.
Coming out of the church some weeks back, I was accosted by a young boy probably in his early 20s in front of their Ojodu office. He demanded for my driver licence and car particulars. When he moved closer and saw me, he said I should go because according to him, he had thought I was a young boy from afar. But I took the advantage of my deferential treatment to ask for his advice as to how people like us who did our driving test in the grass land that the present Lagos secretariat was in the early 70s and when the current site of FRSC headquarters was a thick forest. He broke down the cost and asked me to send the money not to him but to any of their headquarters staff I know to help me process and secure a date for ‘capturing’.
But my encounter, last week, at the Ogudu portion of the express way finally convinced me why many of them should be sent to the highways where their services are mostly needed while LASTMA is allowed to take care of Lagos. Pulling out of a filling station in a pickup utility double cabin van into the man express, an FRSC utility van with four young men driving dangerously and endangering other road users overtook my vehicle forcing me to stop abruptly. One of then came out and demanded for my driving licence and vehicle particulars. I called his attention to the vehicle licence boldly pasted on the windscreen and asked why he wanted to see my driving license. He then said the vehicle wasn’t carrying a ‘C caution’ sign. I told him I borrowed the double cabin vehicle, from my estate gate where I left my broken-down vehicle and driver to enable me meet up with my students exam in University of Lagos. I assured him I would obtain the item which I understand cost about a N100 at new garage on my way to school.
But his senior came down walking with a swagger. He surveyed, I am not sure whether the vehicle or its driver with disdain after which he gave three conditions: provide additional vehicle papers to enable him book me, drive the vehicle along with one of his officers to their old toll gate office failing which he would be left with no option but to tow the vehicle down to their office. The drama last for over 40 minutes before they let me off. I however called their attention to the fact that besides their utility car that did not carry ‘C Caution’ sign, I counted over 20 similar vehicles without ‘C caution’ sign. Their answer was that they have to make example of some since they cannot possibly arrest everyone. I agree with them. But I was sure I became a target because I drove a rickety van as against the more expensive utility vans driven by those who appear to be big men.
I have heard Governor Fashola admonish his LASTMA boys that the reason they are on the road is to make the traffic move. I think Chidoka should leave management of traffic on Lagos alleys to a well focused Fashola while his FRSC boys who have become a nuisance to Lagos motorists are posted to high ways where there is so much to be done to rein in trailers that move around in the night without brake lights or traffic indicator lights all of which pose more danger to motorist than road worthy utility vehicles without ‘C Caution’ signs.
And if FRSC already has enough men on high ways to ‘give prompt attention and care to victims of accidents’, those creating problems in Lagos alleys can be kept in the office to ‘Conduct researches into causes of motor accidents and methods of preventing them and putting into use the result of such researches.’