The Corps Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Oyo State Sector, Commander Godwin Ogagaoghene, in this interview with ADEBAYO WAHEED, speaks on the corps' efforts at reducing road crashes on Nigerian roads, the challenges facing the corps in the state and Nigerians' attitude towards road safety.
Recently, the FRSC introduced a new commercial drivers' licence; how far has the drivers complied with it?
We have had quite a number of the drivers who want to get the new commercial driver's licence and the process is on and they (the drivers) are complying with the new directive initiated by the FRSC. There are no challenges now on the issue.
After the controversy which greeted the issuance of another new vehicle number plate; what is the latest on the matter?
We had the interruption then as a result of the legislators wanting to step in because of the price hike of the new number plate. The legislators, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, looked into the issue and then came out with their own resolution. What they came out with was that they saw that the price was a formal responsibility of the joint tax force, comprising all the chairmen, the Board of the Internal Revenue in country coming together to determine the price, and by the time they came together, they discovered that the prices were in line with the present-day cost of production. Therefore, they came out with the same price tag for all the categories of licences set for the regular new plate number, which was N15,000 and was reduced to N12,500; all other prices were not touched by members of the National Assembly.
In essence, are you saying that the new plate number has come to stay?
Yes, the new driver's licence has come to stay for the good of the stakeholders. In fact, now there is a period for the changing over - by September this year, every motorist in the country is expected to have changed to the new number plate. The first day in the month of September, enforement of the new plate number will commence throughout the country. Those who refuse to change would be arrested for contravening the law and the sanction is that they are having invalid plate number and the fine is N10,000 only.
In Oyo State, can we say that the FRSC has enough personnel to effectively control traffic and ensure greater compliance with road traffic rules and regulation?
We have enough personnel but, of course, we can do with more hands. We have about 10 commands in the state, scattered in Saki, Kisi, Ogbomoso, Atiba, Oluyole, Egbeda, Moniya, Apata, Mokola. These are the places we have more road traffic crashes. To ensure that crashes in these areas are brought to the minimal level, our men are everywhere.
Apart from personnel, what areas do you think the FRSC in the state is having challenges which hinder effective traffic control and reduction in road crashes?
We have challenges in the areas of equipment - vehicles, tow trucks and other equipment that will make the FRSC perform maximally and efficiently. We are in partnership with those in public and government to ensure that our job goes well. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have come to our assistance in ensuring that we offer safety services to the people. One of such was the collaboration with an NGO which provided over 500 crash helmets for us to give to the motorcyclists in the state. We are in the process of getting reflexive jackets. Others have also come; some churches have come, given us some crash helmets for the Okada riders. We partner with them and, of course, the least expected is the NYSC FRSC Club donating crash helmets to the riders. These are the areas we have had partnership with others. We see road safety as an avenue for all other segment of the society to contribute towards making our roads safe. It is not a one organisation activity; we believe that when all hands are on deck, we will have safer roads.
What is the state government's contribution to road safety in the state?
Well, the state government is being supportive. I will say it has been supportive because, one, it has also established a road traffic agency which is not in competition but in collaboration with the FRSC - to ensure that roads in the state are safe from crashes. We work hand in hand with government agency and once in a while the state government comes in to assist us in providing some logistics, like fuelling of our patrol vehicles. But of course we need greater support than we are having now. We say this because of the peculiar nature of Oyo State. It is a transit state for people coming from Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti and states from the north, and they need to pass through the state to go to other parts of the country and of course vehicles coming from north-west axis of the country and the central passing through the state to Lagos being commercial nerve of the country and Ogun. By the time they get to the state, either through fatigue, tiredness or any other problems in their vehicles, if care is not taken, they may crash here and we need to be up and doing to ensure that people who are fatigued from long distance driving will not crash. So, we need all the assistance we can get from the state government, other government establishments and non-governmental organisations.
As far as road safety campaign is concerned, can we say the government is doing enough?
We cannot say we are doing enough. There is the need for us to continually educate the motorists. It can never be enough and we can never have too much of it. I want us to get to a point that when you tune on your radio, in less than three seconds, you will have safety tips. We have not got to the point when we are road safety conscious. We have not got to the level where we will put safety in all that we do, we need to get to get to that point and this can reach that level when we continually bombarded the senses of people with safety tips and people imbibe them before we can say it is either enough or not. A lot people, it will surprise do not know the benefit of using the seat belt. Even those who know believe that it is a regulation they must comply with it. They do not know that seat belts are life safer. We need to get to the point that everybody knows it and they are convinced that seats belt are life savers and they do not need anybody to enforce it for them to use.
Today, a lot of the motorcyclists have crash helmets given to them by volunteers, but how many of them do use them. Many of the people don't use it; they believe that they are not going to be involved in crashes, why will they use it. Some of them even put up flimsy excuses that disease can be transferred from those who use crash helmets. These are of the myths that are associated with those of helmets. All these are things we need to continually, by use of public media, to re-emphasize and change the character of people. It is never enough.
In essence, you are saying that the budget for the road safety campaign is not enough?
In essence what I am saying is that the road safety can do with much more budgets. We need more money for patrol vehicles, ambulances towing vehicles and public enlightenment - for us to be in the media houses for 24 hours of the day. For us to be there, we need to have these things because in countries where we have low road crashes, people know what the consequences are when they misbehave on the road. So we need more money for road safety by the state governments, federal government, local governments, and philanthropists. We need equipment to test drivers for alcoholism; we can't talk of having enough, we need more of everything.
Recently, the state government has taken steps in prohibiting motorists from some major roads in the stat; what is the level of the FRSC in this direction?
I am aware that the state House of Assembly is trying to pass a bill to prohibit the use of motorcycles on some roads. The state government is not able to do it alone; it has to partner with the FRSC. Like I said earlier, we partner, we collaborate, we form a synergy; we are not competing as people may want to have it. We are collaborating with one another as road safety is an issue for everybody - everybody needs to be involved for us to have safe roads. Now the state government needs to partner with the FRSC; so also the FRSC needs to partner with the state government to ensure that our roads are safe. With the issue on prohibiting of motorcycles on the roads, like I said, all hands are on deck. The House of Assembly is in the process of passing the bill but I think they are trying to fine-tune some of the grey areas before the bill is passed. As soon as the bill is passed, all security agencies will be out to enforce it.
How prepared is the FRSC in meeting the Word Bank target on reduction of road crashes in the country?
All our activities are geared towards ensuring that we meet the target. On daily and weekly basis, we collate and send our data to the national headquarters, Abuja, where analyses are made. We have a target that we are going to meet per week, we must not record above that road crashes figure and that is eight per day. All our efforts are to ensure that this figure gets to that level, and if it does, it does not exceed. But we are still far from realizing that figure now because crashes are still on. In some areas, we don't meet the target while in other areas we meet the target. But all our activities are aimed at reducing road crashes and we have developed measures and one of those is the analysis of crash data to ensure that we know where the crashes are happening. We have all seen in some of the roads where crashes are happening in a particular place due to over speeding. We ensure that we put men at such places so that by the time motorists get there, they will have to calm down and reduce their speed. We are not going on patrol for patrol sake but we are basing our patrol on intelligence.
What are the contributions of the FRSC towards ensuring that our roads are in good condition?
The efforts of the FRSC towards ensuring that our roads are motor able is quite commendable because on monthly or weekly basis, we write reports, look at the roads and send reports to the agencies responsible the grading the road. We also add safety advice for safety elements to be included in the construction of the road. These are some if the things we do: on monthly basis we write to agencies like FERMA, and Ministry of Works to tell that a particular section of the road is bad and calls for necessary repairs, and I think they are doing it.
As the fight against corruption rages on, how are the FRSC personnel fairing?
As I said earlier, in road safety we have a system of checks; we, have about four levels of checks, and, of course, we have other checks. First on the list is the Corps Marshal monitoring team that goes round the country. Whenever they see our men working outside the modus operandi, they will be arrested and once they are arrested, they are tried immediately and disciplinary action is taken against them. Apart from that, we also have the Zonal Commander, who also has his own monitoring system to check men within the zone and you cannot say when they can bounce on you. If anything incriminating found on you, of course, you will face the music. We also have the Sector Commander's monitoring team that goes out from time to time to check men within the sector and unit commands. They go from unit commands to another, checking the men on patrol from time to time to ensure that our men are up to date. The Unit Commands also have commanders' monitoring team. All these are there on regular basis checking on our staff. And also, of course, we give out our numbers to members of the public that in case they see our men doing what is not right, they are free to call our numbers.
When you compare the first three months in 2012 to this year, can we say we have reduction in road crashes in the state?
Through the analysis we made, over last year's figure and this year first three months, there was an increase in January, decrease in February. As a result, we have seen reasons why we have to be in some places; so have taken notice of these things and we are taking steps to rectify them. We know that we will continue to have downward trend of road crashes on our roads. In some places where we have crashes, investigation revealed that they happened in the early hours of morning where a driver, maybe for lack of rest from long journey or poor light, led to crash and loss of lives and property. We are looking into that because this year we pray we will have fewer of these crashes than last year.
What advice do you have for motorists in the state?
Driving can be compared with be in the war front. For soldiers who go to the war front, we don't know which soldiers will come back alive. This is the situation on our roads because of the carelessness of the people. However, the road situation does not have to be so. When we are travelling, and we should be able to determine how we get to our offices, destinations and back. This will mean that every road user must be considerate to other road users; we must take the welfare, the well-being of other road users into consideration. We should give adequate planning to our journey so that we do not allow ourselves to be pressed by the pressure of time. We do not need to wait for two hours before the commencement of the assignment before we leave our offices. We will be pressured into speeding, and because we are pressured, we will beat traffic lights, we will over-speed where we are not suppose and we will overtake when we are not to do so, violate all traffic laws put before us; but when we plan our journey in advance, it will enable us to get to our destinations in time; it will give us the peace of mind driving under less tension to get to our point, and by the time we get to our place of assignment, we will be most refreshed rather than operating under tense condition.
We should obey all traffic laws whenever we are on the road, especially at festive periods when the roads are busier. We need to plan our journey so that we do not run foul of the law. We should use out crash helmets if we are riding our motorcycles; we should use our safety seat belts whenever we are in the vehicle; we should be prepared so as not to run into or put ourselves into danger. We should ensure that before leaving our homes that our vehicles meet all the safety standards, that our fire extinguishers, seat belts, headlights, horns and all the others are in good condition. By the time we do these, we will all have peaceful and safe journey whenever we leave our destinations for another.