Road safety corps and the question of integrity
The statement by the officers that “the government is very unfair to us” is indicative of a deep-seated negative disposition towards a government they are part of. This is worrisome, especially given the history of the Federal Road Safety Corps.
It was a pronouncement by General Ibrahim Babangida as head of State that gave birth to the FRSC and this was later backed by a Military Decree 45 of 1988, to institutionalise the Commission within which the corps of officers would operate.
The progenitor of the Federal Road Safety Corps was the Oyo State Road Safety Corps which was set up to check the fatalities along the old Ibadan-Ife Road. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka was the arrowhead and Olu Agunloye prepared the framework for its operations. He later became director of organisation and later chief executive. In keeping with the appropriate designation of such a para-military outfit, he was re-designated corps marshall and chief executive. The first set of recruits were National Youth Service Corps members for it was felt that the new graduates were still idealists driven by a strong patriotic fervor and unlikely to be corrupted. Thus, integrity and service framed FRSC’s mantra and orientation.
In training, the emphasis was on public enlightenment. Booking for violation (with imposition of fines) was to be the last resort, reserved only for the recalcitrant road user who resisted the officers’ effort to make him change attitude on safety. There was also the deliberate inconvenience for the offender to attend enlightenment class at headquarters, prior to payment of fine and collection of documents confiscated at time of contravention.
As is always the case in Nigeria’s politically-appointed officials did not always identify with the ethos upon which the agency was founded. As the commission grew into a nationwide organisation, with zonal commands coordinating sector commands in each state and the FCT, the heritage of the founding fathers and first set of officers gradually faded. Thus, a time came when the politically-appointed leadership shifted the orientation of the corps into revenue generation. Sector commanders struggled to meet targets dictated from Abuja and demanded by the leadership. Motorists are waved down without having committed a violation and with a determination by the patrol officer to find a reason to impose a fine. Educating the motorist during patrols was largely discarded.
In 1999, the Federal Government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo even directed that the FRSC be merged with the Nigeria Police Force and many eminent Nigerians, including the founders of the FRSC, objected vehemently, on the fear that the agency might be infected with the corruption virus for which some other security agencies were renowned. The wise counsel was not heeded but later, it was realised that the merger was not possible. The FRSC had its command structure that could not be integrated into the Police hierarchy and organisational chart. Besides, as the FRSC was established by law, it could not be terminated simply by an executive order without revisiting or repealing the enabling law by the National Assembly. So it retained its independent status. But the incorruptibility part of its character had started to wear out.
Suffice to say that it is inappropriate to turn the FRSC as a revenue generating agency instead of a public service. The first Governing Council, under Wole Soyinka, realised that funding would not be assured without a National Road Fund. Accordingly, it set up a Council Committee (on the proposed Federal Highways Authority), headed by M. K. Inuwa from Kano State and having Mr. David Oyegun, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Hajiya Bilikisu Yussuf, Squadron Leader Mohammed Ighille, Basiru Giwa and Jacob Akindele as members. Ten years later, at the 2008 stakeholders’ workshop on the proposed NRF and FRA, the presence of Boboye Oyeyemi (then Assistant Corps Marshall in charge of Operations) ensured that the FRSC was included in the Board of the proposed FRA. This was essential as the FRSC is the agency that patrols federal highways and fulfills the function of road inspectors to report the condition of each road.
Given this background, it is unfortunate that lack of funds, and delayed salaries could compel officers of the FRSC to float the threat of taking bribes. While there were different reasons given by the FRSC and the Minister of Finance, we sympathise with those who experience salary delay that has become a regular occurrence in many agencies in a depressed economy. However, it does not speak well of it that a few officials of such an iconic commission could go so far as to express willingness to compromise its integrity. It is good that the top brass promptly reiterated the agency’s zero tolerance for bribe-taking. It must go further to identify those anonymous officers and take appropriate action; in order to sustain the integrity upon which the agency was built.
On its part, government must promptly address the issue of funding road safety operations within a comprehensive policy of financing road programmes of maintenance or construction in Nigeria.