In the past few weeks, there have been a number of newspaper publications on the activities of the Federal Road Safety Corps, bordering on the Corps' perceived deviation from its statutory mandate.
Notable amongst the publications include Saturday Punch of August 3, The Nation editorial of August 13, The Punch editorial of August 14 and the Nigerian Tribune Editorial of August 14. There have equally been commentaries, analysis and opinion write-ups on same issues. Initially, there was a consensus by the FRSC to ignore this and rather focus on the Corp's strategic goals of reducing crashes by 20 percent and fatalities by 30 percent in line with the United Nations Decade of Action on Road Safety projections. However, I am compelled to use the opportunity offered by my column to address the issues raised for the benefit of the teeming public whose minds might be filled with questions arising from the publications.
The recurring decimal in all the publications seems to be the issue of setting of targets and revenue generation, as well as the new number plate and drivers' licence scheme.
In concentrating on the issues of revenue generation, it is pertinent to point out that in line with its statutory responsibilities; FRSC is not a revenue generating agency. The Corps does not spend fines generated from the road and has absolutely no incentive to collect fines that end in the Federation Accounts. No national target for fines generation is set for Commanding Officers. If any Commanding Officer gives targets, it is clearly without the authorization or directive of the National Headquarters. However, it would be absurd for any FRSC patrol team to go out for eight hours and come back claiming not to have seen traffic offences committed, and that rather, they were doing public enlightenment. Booking of traffic offenders is an indication of our enforcement activities. Indeed, global practices on traffic safety attest to this fact. Fines collection is tangential to the core issues of road safety education, engineering, and enforcement. And any attempt to educate without enforcement would only lead to entertainment. The related issue of whether the enforcement is carried out inside or outside the cities seems quite irrelevant, as traffic offences have no boundaries. The FRSC is empowered by its enabling act to enforce traffic laws on all Nigerian roads. And unarguably, failure to control behaviours in urban centres would lead to a transfer of these behaviours on the highways. We therefore have no apology on where and when we decide to enforce traffic sanctions. As for the dishonest officers who view enforcement as opportunity to line their pockets, our surveillance activities and public feed-back has led to continued weeding of those staff. In line with global best practices, the FRSC sets its corporate strategic goals. A cursory search on the FRSC website will reveal that we have targets across all indicators, which are closely monitored and measured and the result published on the FRSC website, http://www.frsc.gov.ng//frsc-performance-score-card A lot of questions have been raised by the publications on whether the FRSC is still on course or has lost focus. It is therefore pertinent to bring some salient issues to the fore.
Let us examine the issue of road traffic crashes since 1988. The number of deaths arising from crashes in Nigeria has consistently gone down from 25,792 crashes, with 9,077 deaths in 1988 to 6,269 crashes, with 4,260 deaths in 2012. Due to the numerous initiatives designed by FRSC at combating road crashes, as at end of the second quarter of 2013, Road Traffic Crashes which stood at 1,707 nationwide had witnessed a 14.6 percent reduction, in comparison to the first quarter of 2013 when RTC nationwide was 2,000. Fatality has also declined by 4.04% in the second quarter of 2013 from 1,186 deaths, when compared to the 1,236 people that died in the first quarter of 2013. This decline has been made possible through the Corps' numerous intervention strategies such as Operations Rainbow, Shield 1, 2 and the recently concluded Shield 3 along five critical corridors, during which 27crashes were recorded, with 6 persons dead and 82 persons injured; increase in staff strength which has grown from 12,000 in 2007 to about 18,000 today; a change in absence of internet facilities to installation of 371 V-Sat in all Commands, turning it into one of the largest Wide Area Network (WAN) in the public sector; data collection that used to be an annual ritual which has turned into a daily activity using the technology platform developed; the number of ambulances available to FRSC for rescue activities has grown from about 17 in 2007 to about 64 in 2013, out of which a carefully orchestrated plan to deploy them at about 28 kilometers on critical highways, code-named Zebra, has commenced, in keeping with the Pillar 5 of the United Nations Decade of Action, which emphasizes on post care.
The new number plate and drivers' licence scheme was introduced to harmonise, standardise and unify all existing modes of licensing of drivers and vehicles so as to evolve a better road culture and efficient data management. It was borne out of extensive engagement with relevant stakeholders, particularly endorsed by Joint Tax Board on whose shoulder rests the responsibility of fixing the prices and handling the processes for vehicle registration and drivers' licence acquisition. With the new drivers licence designed by the FRSC, there is now "One Driver One Record", which enables FRSC to track and match records of a driver with his driver's licence, vehicle number plate, insurance and traffic offences in a single view, which can be shared with other security agencies for crime prevention and the promotion of national security. For the avoidance of doubt, the main purpose of the drivers' licence is not revenue generation, as the Corps has no incentive to collect fines that end up in the Federation Account. It might be a by-product to the States on whose shoulders rest the responsibilities of fixing prices and collecting these fees, in addition to fixing the deadline for change over, but definitely not to the FRSC. Between 2011, when the scheme commenced, till date, there is now a structured vehicle data base arising from the new number plate and a biometric-based driver's licence, of which the Italian Police, in a letter to FRSC, acknowledged as being of a higher standard than most European countries' driver's licence. As at today, due to the features introduced in the upgraded licensing scheme, Nigeria secured reciprocity with six European countries and the state of Mary-land in the USA whereby holders of the new Nigeria drivers licence can replace same with the drivers' licences of these six European countries and the state of Mary-land. These developments are in tandem with the vision of the FRSC management to restore the integrity of the drivers' licence and make it acceptable worldwide in keeping with the template of FRSC founding fathers. Admittedly, there have been challenges, particularly in the area of network to facilitate seamless processing and issuance. The challenges were further compounded by the almost one year stoppage by the National Assembly, which distorted the work flow and plans, although efforts are on to bring it back on track. On the issue of deadline for commencement, the responsibilities rest on the Joint Tax Board which is presently reconsidering the September deadline.
Further to the resolve to entrench safety at all levels, road safety studies have been incorporated by the National Council on Education and approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), and today, primary and secondary school pupils would be availed of an educational strategy that would lead to a culture change in the future. The absence of regulatory frame-work for many facets of the road safety sector has been addressed by the introduction of standard school bus adopted by the National Council on Education; introduction of a Driving School Standardisation Programme (DSSP) that has led to the certification of 534 schools, creating employment for instructors and currently having about 48,000 students in driving schools around the country; a national call center, with a toll-free number 122, which has received to date 1,473 calls and responded to these calls, saving 43,854 RTC victims rescued alive in 2012. As at end of June 2013, FRSC has rescued alive a total of 24,239 RTC victims, which might have died if there were no FRSC response.
Patrol vehicles, the main tools of operation in FRSC, which as at 2007, was about 170, has grown to over 454. In conjunction with FERMA, the Corps has set up about 18 road side clinics, which in 2012, received and treated free of charge 12,314 victims comprising of 4,725 number of crash victims, and another 7.589 medical cases involving concerned road users and neighbouring communities. In a similar vein, in 2011, a total of 12,212 categories of emergencies were treated free of charge at FRSC Road Side Clinics.
In appreciation of FRSC efforts despite logistics constraints, the first World Bank funded Safe Corridor project, after delivering a country capacity review on road safety, procured 16 patrol vehicles, 24 bikes, 6 single carriage ambulances and delivered capacity building programme that has taken Road Safety from a rule of the thumb road traffic control organization to a modern road safety administration that encompasses safety engineering, road safety audit, data driven road safety education, scientific crash investigation, of which the report forwarded to relevant government institutions like the Federal Ministry of Works and FERMA, for remedial actions, are on the FRSC website.
In 2011, FRSC conducted 18 road safety audits, while 39 were conducted on 9,292 km of roads in 2012. Also 13 reports containing recommendations were forwarded to FERMA and FMW. In 2011, there were 12 recommendations made, which included 2 to FERMA, 3 to FMW, 1 to SGF and 3 to relevant states. While in 2012, 21 recommendations were made, with 6 forwarded to FERMA, 9 to FMW, 3 to FCTA and 3 to other relevant states. A total of 138 road traffic crashes were investigated in 2011, and 137 in 2012.
The Road Transport Safety Standardisation Scheme, which is designed to regulate the activities of fleet owners and leading to certification and grading of fleet owners in Nigeria has remained a reference point in Africa. FRSC activities led to an invitation by the Pope for the Corps to advise the Papacy on road safety in 2010; a select high profile group of nations comprising G-8 countries and representatives from South America, Middle East and Asia, called The Friends of The Decade of Action, has Nigeria in that 15-Nation group, and presently, FRSC is President of West African Road Safety Organization, which has adopted Nigeria Driver's Licence and Vehicle registration standards under the ECOWAS Regional Vehicle Administration Information System (RVAIS).
The Federal Road Safety Commission's bold initiative is paying off as the World Bank has endorsed the FRSC model for Sub-Saharan Africa, while, Sierra Leone and some other countries are seeking technical support from the FRSC to set up their own lead agency in traffic management.
Having detailed all of the above, the FRSC is not resting on its oars. Last Wednesday and in recognition of the increasing spate of speed-related crashes, the second and final stakeholder's forum to fine-tune the implementation of speed limiting devices was held in the Federal Capital Territory with similar platforms planned for the 36 States.