Road safety enforcement is about to become deadly – extremely deadly – in Nigeria. Citing incessant attacks, the Federal Government might soon implement a law that will empower Federal Road Safety Corps officers to bear arms while controlling traffic. In the forefront of guns-for-road-safety is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. This is a panicky measure. It is akin to killing a fly with a sledgehammer. President Muhammadu Buhari should not be a party to it.
In his comments at the recent inauguration of some 74 operational vehicles for the FRSC, Mustapha hinged his guns-for-traffic-control drive on the spate of deaths being recorded in the ranks of road marshals in the course of duty. Corps Marshal Boboye Oyeyemi, states that on the average, 70 FRSC officers are killed annually. They are either shot by robbers or knocked down by reckless drivers. This is unfortunate, but these killings are symptomatic of the high level of carnage in Nigeria. In this, the police, soldiers, para-military and civilians are slaughtered without a concerted effort by the government to arrest the bloody descent into anarchy.
Nevertheless, road safety in Nigeria is in disarray. Drivers are notoriously aggressive, impatient and reckless, violating basic traffic laws at will. At any sign of a traffic jam, law and order break down completely. On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – and on a majority of the roads – motorists, including irresponsible siren-blaring public officials and VIPs with security escorts, drive against the traffic. This is an impunity not tolerated in any decent society.
Puzzlingly, the FRSC has become a toothless bulldog in tackling the bedlam. It lacks adequate equipment, technology and practical understanding to manage the scourge. Officers resort to crude methods: they ambush motorists at bad portions of roads or at corners to check vehicle documents. This exposes both the FRSC operatives and the motorists to danger. Repeatedly, a single breakdown leads to gridlock that lasts for hours.
The FRSC’s driving licence acquisition process exemplifies chaos, bureaucratic encumbrance and inefficiency. Three weeks ago in Ibadan, Oyo State, FRSC officers chased a traffic offender to his death, for refusing to stop at a checkpoint. Akeem Ibrahim, the commercial driver, died after he crashed into a ditch while fleeing from arrest. These are power-drunk traffic-control agents and if armed by the state, are likely to pull the trigger at the slightest provocation.
Therefore, Nigerians should be alarmed that FRSC officials would be licensed to use arms. Already, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Immigration, Customs, State Security Service, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Civil Defence officers, bear weapons. Too many unnecessary fatalities have occurred as a result.
In April alone, the police shot dead Kolade Johnson, 38, and Ada Ifeanyi, 20, in Lagos. Ifeanyi’s boyfriend was critically injured. Police brutality is so rampant that civil society organisations and the youth are campaigning for the scrapping of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit, following a spate of illegal arrests, extortion and torture of young people by SARS officers.
On Easter Monday, a Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps official took the law into his own hands in Sabonline, Gombe State, ramming his car into a Boys’ Brigade procession after a minor disagreement. He crushed eight of them, before he and fellow occupant of the car were killed in retaliation. Last August, NSCDC officers needlessly killed two people in Akure, Ondo State. In 2012, the Goodluck Jonathan government approved arms for them on the pretext that they would fight the Boko Haram insurgency. Hindsight shows that civil enforcement agencies like the NSCDC and FRSC will abuse that onerous responsibility in a place like Nigeria.
Similarly, Customs officers, on the untenable excuse of fighting smugglers, infiltrate cities and shoot people dead. Within 24 hours in January 2018, Customs officers shot dead a bus conductor and shot a pregnant woman, an employee of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, as they chased rice smugglers in Lagos and Ogun states respectively. This is barbaric. Law enforcement is not a licence to slaughter innocent people.
In this atmosphere of heavy militarisation, it is insensitive to arm the officials of another civil state agency. Instead of guns, government should acquire technology for it. The funds earmarked for the acquisition of guns should be redirected to this ideal system. Many countries have adopted some automated traffic enforcement systems, notably systems that photograph vehicles that run red lights or exceed speed limits and issue traffic tickets. The FOI data in Britain state that since 2012, the number of councils monitoring motoring offences there with CCTV cameras has risen sharply. As of November 2015, councils in Britain had dedicated 768 active CCTV cameras solely for traffic offences. Without chasing around offenders, the system netted £182.46 million in fines for the councils over driving infringements in the three years to 2015.
At home, the Lagos State Government has pioneered the Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology, which detects expired vehicle documents without the physical interface by Vehicle Inspection Service agents. The FRSC should tilt in this direction, which makes it easier for offenders to be traced. The FRSC should reduce the stress associated with the acquisition of the driving licence.
Even without guns, the FRSC officers were once feared by Nigerian motorists because of their no-nonsense devotion to duty at inception. But the rot set in when it was made a federal agency. To make the FRSC attain its goals, the Federal Government should overhaul its recruitment and appointment structures, instilling sanity through merit. Globally, it has been proved that ICT offers a broad array of possible safety applications in road transport. What is needed is the development of a successful road safety strategy. And the strategy should be built not on arms and ammunition, but on reliable data and deployment of Information and Communications Technology. The FRSC should partner the police or any of the other armed security outfits when such need arises.
Ultimately, the government has to implement effective security measures nationwide, taming robbery, kidnapping, banditry, militancy and insurgency, thereby obviating the morbid desire for arms proliferation. Guns kill. Government should target a drastic reduction in the number of official guns and guns in the hands of non-state actors. On no account should it add to the frenzy.