West African Road Safety Organisation @ 10

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ROAD SAFETY ARTICLE

Sometime in April 2014, I had the rare privilege to accompany the former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Osita Chidoka to attend the West Africa Road Safety Organisation (WARSO) executive/technical session held in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The trip was my first official trip to any West African Country and my one week stay in Freetown was quite instructive for me as it enabled me have a first hand view of   the level of infrastructural development being undertaken by a country who have demonstrated a commitment to replicate the FRSC lead Agency model   as a plank for addressing worrying road traffic crash challenges. During the 2014 session, worries were expressed by delegates over the slow pace of effective strategies in the sub region with the exception of Nigeria’s giant strides through the FRSC and a select number of countries within the sub region.

It is over four years since my historic trip to Freetown and exactly ten years since the birth of this novel sub- regional effort geared towards curbing deaths arising from road traffic crashes. On Tuesday 8th of May, 2018, this year’s commemorative service to mark the WARSO week kicked off across the West African sub region. In Nigeria, a press conference was addressed by the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps,Dr Boboye Oyeyemi. Similar events, including rallies were replicated across the various formations of the Corps. I have therefore chosen to salute the doggedness of the leadership of the West African Sub Region and Nigeria in sustaining this initiative. The speech of the Corps Marshal is our guide on the road the Organisation has travelled in ten years.

Before I run his speech, please allow me once again to wet your appetite with the reality of the African Region’s road traffic crash narrative as contained   the Global status report on road safety 2013 from 182 countries, accounting for almost 99% of the world’s population, including Nigeria, road traffic deaths remains 1.24 million per year. As at 2014, the figure stood at 1.3million. Only 28 countries, covering 7% of the world’s population, have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints. Nigeria through the activities of the Federal Road Safety Corps is among these countries.

 The report further states that another 20 to 50million sustain non- fatal injuries. These injuries and deaths have an immeasurable impact on the families affected and their communities. Road traffic injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally, with an impact similar to that caused by diseases, such as malaria and remain the leading cause of death for young people aged 15–29years, and as a result take a heavy toll on those entering their most productive years. Yearly, 400,000people under the ages of 25years die at an average of more than 1000 a day. These deaths are more in low and middle income countries among vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclist, motorcyclist and those using public transport. Speeding remains the single most common traffic violations and explains why the Federal Road Safety Corps has commencement the enforcement of speed limiters in vehicles beginning with commercial vehicles. The use of phone while driving, dangerous driving, unlicensed and under aged driving are also prevalent violations, in addition to lane indiscipline among others.

 Economically, the report notes that disadvantaged families are hardest hit by both direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost wages that result from these injuries. At the national level, road traffic injuries weans the national purse particularly in  developing economies and are estimated to cost low-and middle-income countries between 1–2% of their gross national product, estimated at over US$100billion a year. Despite these facts, road safety has  been neglected not just in terms of policy formulation but also in terms of resource allocation and individual responsibility despite the fact that road traffic injuries are largely preventable. Although road traffic injuries is projected to become the fifth  leading cause of death by2030, if nothing concrete is done, corporate and individual engagement is still not in the magnitude with which we all become sanitizers distributors in the fight against Ebola.

The African region has the highest road fatality rates with 37 of the 44 countries surveyed having death rates  well above the  global average of 18.0 deaths per 100,000population.While the region accounts for 2% of the worlds vehicles, it contributes 16% to the global deaths with young men as the most vulnerable. Most countries lack policies for protecting vulnerable road users. And most are yet to enact comprehensive laws concerning the major risk factors such as speed, drink driving, helmet use, seat belt use and child restraint. Post crash is either inadequate or lacking while law enforcement is weak or ineffective.

 In Nigeria, deaths through road traffic crashes before the establishment of the Commission in 1988 stood at 25,792 crashes and 9,077 deaths. The figure for 2016 stood at 96,94crashes with 5053 deaths with. Road crashes figure for counties within the West Africa sub region just like other countries in Africa is equally worrisome despite the Regional strategy through the West African Road Safety Organisation. As at April 2014 when the WARSO executive/technical session held in Freetown, Sierra Leone  worries were expressed  over the slow pace of effective strategies in the sub region with the  exception of Nigeria’s giant strides through the FRSC and select number of countries within the sub region .

In the words of Dr Oyeyemi, it has been decades of  regional experiment in integrated road safety endeavour among ECOWAS countries just as we seek even better cooperation in several areas of our diversities. A recap of the events leading was done by the Corps Marshal who recalled the motivating role the Corps played in midwifing WARSO after becoming the first Lead Agency in the sub region in Road Traffic Management and Traffic Administration in the West African sub-Region.‘’Having taking firm routes it engaged in active participation in international road safety organization’s activities at the African region and global levels and had since evolved into the World Bank example of Lead Agency on Road Traffic Management and Safety Administration for Africa. FRSC is equally a member of the United Nations Expert Group on Road Signs and Signals, sitting in Geneva among other firsts that it has recorded over the years’’he said.

In the wisdom of FRSC, there was the need   to create an enabling platform within the sub-region in 2008 to drive the campaign for the trans-national safer road environment. A hand of fellowship was thus extended to Road safety agencies in ECOWAS Members States to form an organization that would coordinate road safety management in the sub region.The initiative came into fruition in May, 2008 when representatives of the fifteen member states of ECOWAS on the invitation of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria attended the inaugural meeting where all the member states agreed to form the West African Road Safety Organization (WARSO). The pioneering efforts of the FRSC in the creation of WARSO was made possible by the experiences garnered from the  Groupe des pays Africains de la prevention Routiere (GPA-PRI)- International Road Safety Organization of African Group, where the Corps had played leadership roles for about a decade before it became inactive due to lack of commitment by member countries from other sub-regions in the African Continent. However, Nigeria is still active at the International level.

 WARSO was established as a road safety management organization for the integration of road safety matters of member states, for the collective socio-economic development. Some of the specific objectives of WARSO as contained in his address  are as follows: Advise and give support to road safety bodies,promote and encourage exchange of experiences and information among members in order to efficiently reduce road crashes, encourage cooperation between different national and sub-regional bodies or individuals, legal entities and research centers, towards promoting and reinforcing road safety,organize and promote joint activities for road safety (Congress, Panels, Competitions and other effects) aimed at increasing the effort to reduce carnage,       Give attention to the effects of road traffic crashes in West Africa, Promote education on road traffic regulations in schools and the training of specialists as far as road safety is concerned,encourage the collection, the broadcasting and publishing of specialized documents and books dealing with road safety, and promote the development of local expertise and research on road safety in West African Countries, among others