By Jonas Agwu
In less than 48hours, the glasses will clink, the drums will roll, as the Federal Road Safety Corps celebrates its 25 years of existence as the lead traffic management agency in Nigeria. Leading the toast will be the man who mid-wifed the Corps, former President Ibrahim Babangida, strongly supported by the C-in-C, President Goodluck Jonathan, with Professor Wole Soyinka, pioneer chairman of the FRSC governing council complementing. From across the globe, renowned specialists in traffic management will be there to celebrate an agency that the World Bank says is the model for Africa.
Now, for the past 17 years of its existence, I have been, not just a keen observer of the tides and waves of this giant organisation, but also an insider, a paid worker, or what is generally known as a regular marshal. I have been privy to the intricacies, challenges, constraints, hiccups and triumphs of staying relevant in a constantly changing traffic environment.
Twenty-five years after its existence, there is need to take stock of where we were, were we are and where we are going to. Now, I would like to ask for advance forgiveness if I seem to be tilting in favour of the Corps. That is to be expected, given the fact that I am a committed and ardent member of the family. But I would try as much as possible to be as objective as I can.
The Federal Road Safety Corps was born as a child of necessity. Prior to its establishment, traffic situation in Nigeria could best be described as chaotic and unpredictable, noted with consistent and disturbing waves of road crashes with attendant colossal human and material losses. The then military government of Ibrahim Babangida felt it was of paramount importance that a road management agency be established at the national level, thus the establishment of the Federal Road Safety Commission, headed by Wole Soyinka, with initial staff strength of 250 Officers made up of the National Youth Service Corps members. The initiative, from all indications, seemed to draw the acclaim of every Nigerian. The Corps operatives were adjudged to be fair, firm, enlightened and totally courteous. Some actually called them elitist. Before long, the impact of the agency was felt all over the nation.
Prior to its existence, seatbelt usage was non-existent, overloading was the order of the day, driver’s licence was paper-written, while number plates were easily done through roadside artists, giving room for forgery. Crash helmet use was at zero level. There were a lot of other anomalies too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that Nigeria and Ethiopia were rated as the countries with the highest records of road traffic crashes in sub-saharan Africa.
With the establishment of the Corps, sanity was restored on the Nigerian roads. The anomalies mentioned above were addressed, with seatbelt usage and public awareness rising to 70%, improved crash helmet use and installation of road signages on the highways. The driver’s licence has under-gone various stages of transformation through the National Uniform Licensing scheme, aimed at bringing about centralised data on drivers and vehicles. FRSC tentacles have continuously spread, as the Zonal Command structure has been increased from the initial 5 to 12, while more Unit Commands have been created, bringing the total to 184, to enhance Corps presence along the nation’s highways. The 250 initial staff strength, has, of course, jumped to 18,000. Operational strategies and activities have constantly been modified to ensure Corps presence on the roads, particularly at critical points and periods.
Now, I wish I could continue in this flowery exposition on the achievements of the FRSC. But, alas, it must be mentioned that the Corps has had its fair share of challenges, controversies and, yes, hiccups. The Corps relevance has within the last two and half decades, been questioned in more than one occasion, culminating in its merger with the Nigerian Police in 1999. With its de-merger in 2003, the Corps tethered on unsteady feet as it sought to grapple with challenges of an ever changing traffic environment and populace. The world was fast going digital, road networks had increased, vehicular traffic had also escalated. The drivers’ licence was not only going to the highest bidder, but the highest bidder could very well not even have an inkling of how to turn the steering wheel. The Corps manpower could barely contend with the situation, more so as its operational vehicles and equipment were either non-existent, non-functional and battered and its data management was totally manual and unreliable.
But permit me to say that this did not in any way deter the corps of committed men and women who strived to put in their best even in the face of such seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
In 2007, at his inaugural speech as the newly appointed Corps Marshal and Chief Executive, Osita Chidoka vowed to lay a solid foundation that will enable the Corps “restore the integrity of the driver’s licence”. He further harped on his intention to transform FRSC into a world class, technology driven organisation.
To lend credence to this, The Corps has invested heavily on technology with 345 V-SAT installed to ensure interconnectivity in its daily activities, while creating a database of drivers, vehicles, road crashes and an on-line offenders’ register. The FRSC data base is holding over 10million records and fully manned by staff of the Corps. The FRSC presence has been felt like never before, with increase in staff strength and operational materials like patrol vehicles, ambulances and tow trucks, even though there is still need for more.
As a fall-out of this, acquisition of the drivers’ licence today, is no more an all-comers affair as it used to be. There must be concrete evidence of driver’s training, and this is where the driving school standardisation scheme comes in, with about 534 of them presently certified to train drivers and recommend/present them for issuance of driver’s licence. The one-stop shop for drivers’ licence, as well as the online application makes the process stress free. Today, the re-vamped number plate (vehicle registration) is tied to the driver for better data management and owner identification. Admittedly, this innovation suffered a temporary setback with the suspension and eventual lifting by the National Assembly. The FRSC data center is a master piece that has been acclaimed, not just in Nigeria, but globally. Amongst others, it has helped in reducing emergency response time to 5 to 30minutes. Perhaps what could be seen as confirmation of the pace being set by the organisation would be in the prestigious Prince Michael International Road Safety Award in 2008, the World Bank rating of FRSC as best example of a lead agency in sub-saharan Africa, the conferment on the Corps with the National Productivity award in 2012, as well as the fact that the Corps has become a model for road safety consciousness in sub-saharan Africa, like Ghana, Sierra Leone and Mali. These, in addition to the numerous awards from the media for service delivery over the years.
But more still needs to be done, if the Corps wishes to actualise the Accra declaration of 2015 and UN Decade of Action of 2020. With the twin evil of over-speeding and dangerous driving rearing their ugly heads, the Corps must brace up to its responsibility in the area of legislation, public enlightenment, enforcement, inter-agency collaboration, as well as stakeholder engagement, while government must strengthen the Corps capacity through increased funding.
This is where we are now. Where we are going? In the words of Osita Chidoka: “.....the next 25 years will be critical as the world confronts the millennium development goals, climate change, population growth and urbanisation. In Nigeria, FRSC would focus on improving on driver’s training, increasing capacity for vehicle inspection, ensuring adequate road furniture on our roads......as we seek to reduce death in line with the Accra declaration of 2015 and the UN Decade of Action of 2020...... As we celebrate a glorious and chequered past, we are today standing on the solid foundation of our founding fathers to internalise our core principles and deliver safer roads and fuller lives.”