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Sanity on the highways


AmaechiThe other day the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, seemed to me to have temporised in its drive to introduce a speed control device on commercial vehicles to curb the excessive speed of the devils on the highways.

After a careful assessment of the numerous accidents in recent years, the Corps Marshal of the commission, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi said that in 2014 alone, 50 per cent of the major road crashes was a result of excessive speed. The commission, therefore, went back to the drawing board and came up with what appeared to be an ingenious solution. If the drivers would not control their own speed, as in obeying the stipulated speed limit, then the commission had to resort to some mechanical contrivance to forcefully limit the speed of commercial vehicles. Who knows? If success breeds success as they say, the commission might be forced to extend this control measure to other road users, both the VIP and the non-VIP.

Oyeyemi and his commission had done their calculations and they were almost home and dry; the device was to come into use next month. But the National Assembly has put a spanner in the works. Citing the current economic situation as a justification, the legislators passed a resolution which stopped the FRSC midstream. With the death of Barrister James Ocholi, Minister of State for Labour and Employment last week in a road crash and the FRSC’s initial report which blamed the accident on excessive speed among other factors, the corps marshal seemed to have regained his voice.

The potholes have since graduated into craters and gullies and they have made many portions of the highways totally impassable.

In addition to finding more persuasive ways to woo the legislators to his side, he promised to work with the Federal Executive Council and other stakeholders to ensure an accident-free road in the country. He may even enlist the support of President Muhammadu Buhari. Oyeyemi, gauging the current sombre mood of the country, is convinced that the President might be well disposed to lead the new offensive against reckless driving and other heinous road habits that result in ghastly accidents.

Welcome as the new initiative of the FRSC is, a few pertinent observations are in order. When the commission started in 1998 under the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, as chairman, there was no doubt about its effectiveness. Drivers dreaded officials of the commission. Any misdemeanour on the part of road users attracted stiff penalties. The mode of payment was the real punishment. And it was deliberately designed to serve as deterrent. If you committed any traffic infraction on Benin-Ore-Shagamu Road for instance, the road marshals would seize your driver’s licence, if you had one, and other vehicle papers and you were directed to go to Enugu or Kaduna to pay the fines.

Having done that, you were now required to go to their nearest office to collect your documents but not before you had been forced to watch a movie on road protocol and etiquette. Obviously majority of the drivers did not want to go through this process of restitution and so they elected to comport themselves on the roads. The road safety officials helped tremendously to bring sanity to the roads.

They accomplished what appeared to be an impossible assignment with impressive efficiency. They succeeded largely because the boss at the top was incorruptible. And they took their cue from him. Many of them were, therefore, incorruptible.

What is the situation today? The corps officials now compete with policemen on the high way for bribes from reckless road users. After every two or three kilometres, you find either policemen or corps officials waving you down to check your documents and to extort bribe. It is like their main preoccupation on the highway; their mission apparently is to make money not to check the excesses of bad drivers. Now, having thus thoroughly compromised themselves, they have ceased to be a terror to reckless drivers who do now as it pleases them.

Drivers overload vehicles that are not even roadworthy. They overtake recklessly at dangerous corners and drive on any lane –- speed lane or no speed lane — and change lanes whimsically. I am not too sure if the road safety officials see some of the things the rest of us see. An antiquated vehicle in front is moving sluggishly with some tyres shaking as if they will come off the rims any moment soon. Surprisingly, they drive past the road safety officials without anybody waving them down. Or if they are stopped at all, some N200 bribe is enough to give them the go-ahead to commit murder on the road.

Do the road safety officials still embark on education of road users as they did at the early stage of their assignment? If they still do, how come they allow vehicles that move at snail speed on the speed lane? Or such distinctions as speed lane and slow lane have become some anachronism? If the commission succeeds with speed control device and is limited to commercial vehicles, how will these vehicles operate? And on what lane? Do the road safety officials have records of accidents that have taken place when frustrated drivers attempt to overtake on the right lane because a slow moving vehicle has monopolised the speed lane?

Now that motorists have stopped respecting the police and the road safety officials, the latter have resorted to forced compliance which is dangerous to other road users. What do they do to force reckless drivers to stop? They suddenly halt the vehicle in front of the offending driver so as to slow him down or halt him. This has resulted in many accidents when breaks failed or the man they wanted to stop deliberately refused to stop. The innocent road user used as stopper becomes an unfortunate victim of this official senselessness.

Granted that the road safety officials suddenly become super efficient, what impact will their new found efficiency and all the speed control measures have on the state of our roads? The truth today is that we don’t have roads worth the name. Travelling on Nigerian roads is a harrowing experience. Once upon a time, we had pot holes on the roads and they constituted hazards to motorists. We complained to no avail. The potholes have since graduated into craters and gullies and they have made many portions of the highways totally impassable.

Across the country, without exception, there is no pleasure in travelling by road. Unfortunately, majority of us have no choice. Where the roads are slightly good, huge trucks and trailers have turned such places into their parks blocking the roads and causing travellers inordinate delay. Where the roads have not been taken over by trailers and fuel tankers and the Dangote cement trucks, road side traders complete the havoc by turning the express road into markets for foodstuffs.

If Oyeyemi and his road safety commission want the President to lead the campaign for sanity on the roads, the starting point is the re-introduction of the famous War Against Indiscipline, WAI, which did a lot in those days to clobber some unruly citizens to order and decorum. Maybe some sanity will return to the highways. Maybe by then the big men who ride their cars, apparently not with the steering wheels but by their handsets, will come to their senses and realise that they are a nuisance not only to other people but to themselves and their families. It is not a strange sight these days to see somebody who otherwise looks like a gentleman driving his SUV with one hand, possibly negotiating a bend while clutching his handset to his ear chatting away, oblivious of the fact that he is driving.

And the women too, they are not an exception. And as they make their ways to parties and other entertainment centres, they load their jeeps with their children, keeping one hand on the steering and the other one clutched to the phone set by the ear. As they engage in social chats and gossips, they hardly remember that they have their children in the vehicles. The return of WAI will not only complement the war against corruption, it will help to clobber us back to certain civilised conducts that will save us, as it were, from ourselves.

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