Jonas Agwu, amnipr, mcipr,mprsa,arpa Assistant Corps Marshal , Federal Road Safety Corps.
I have never met His Excellency, Bello Mattawale, the Zamfara State Governor. Yet, I have become one of his numerous admirers since he stirred the hornet nest with his pragmatic position on the fate of killer drivers. My pals on Sunrise Daily on Channels, whose ideas I quoted last week equally joined the discourse by giving thumps up to the Governor whose position must have assuaged the mind of parents and guardians in pain over the loss of their loved ones through avoidable road traffic crashes.
I know what it means to lose a friend or brother. I have lost friends and I know of colleagues in the Federal Road Safety Corps who are either crippled, bedridden or dead and buried because of the act of a killer driver. In fact, my dear sister and friend, Maope Ogun-Yusuf as the only mother and wife on Sunrise Daily was damn too passionate when she expressed her support for the draconian ideas to checkmate killers on the wheels. The trio of Chamberlain Usor,Ayo Makinde and Kayode Okikiolu shared similar concern and expressed same support . After years spending the better part of my life pleading and begging road users not to kill themselves or waste innocent lives, I must tell you that I share this crazy idea and position, if you would allow me to.
As a Christian, I know this position amounts to invoking the sixth commandants of God in the Holy scripture which in Exodus 20;13 says,’’thou shall not kill’’ and in Exodus 21:12 says’’ whoever strikes a person so that he dies must be put to death’’ while 21: 14, says if a person schemes and wilfully acts against his neighbour to murder him, you must take him from my Alter to be put to death’’. This commandment according to commentators, is a moral imperative not to take a life. I am sure most Christians would kick against this hard-line position that amounts to an eye for an eye. I could not lay my hands on what the Holy Koran says buy I do hope that my Muslim colleagues will be kind enough to guide and help me out for the sake of my Muslim readers.
While I await the assistance from my Muslim colleagues, I must tell you that in trying to do justice to this topic as usual, I sought the position of my Law teacher and brother who has stubbornly insisted I become a learned colleague despite my reservations. During my first virtual lecture, I surprisingly discoursed that his ideas and mine are almost similar. To demonstrate my prowess as a successful participant in a virtual Law class, I threw the first poser on whether the idea of imposing death penalty for road deaths occasioned by dangerous driving amount to asking for the impossible?
I do not know what your thought are especially if you have not lost a loved one through the mistake of a killer driver. But I know the mother who lost her daughter on July 26 in Lagos due to an unlatched container would perhaps ask for a much tougher penalty if there is any other penalty harsher than killing culprits. For the records I must state here that the incidences of road deaths resulting from dangerous driving and other unsafe driving practices according to my teacher, has for a long time remained recurring in Nigeria. Daily, the media is awash with reports of multiple crashes involving trucks, lorries, petroleum laden tankers and articulated vehicles with unlatched containers. The media reports also includes crashes involving passenger carrying vehicles as well as convoy drivers, in addition to bullion van drivers.
According to my teacher, the underlying factors or common outcomes in every of such occurrences are deaths, maiming of commuters, loss of valuable property and damage to public presence. Families such as the mother cited earlier, he told me are made to bear the pains of losing beloved ones; wives become widows, husbands become widowers and children become orphans while in some instances, parents become childless. For greater emphasis, it is instructive, my teacher insists to cite just two or three most recent incidents which brought to bear the dangers road users are exposed to on daily bases plying Nigerian roads, no thanks to drivers who indulge in dangerous driving.
First is the case of Chidimma Ajoku who died alongside her colleague while returning from work. The 27-year-old died on Sunday July 26 2020 when an unlatched container fell on the bus she was in which had stopped to discharge passengers at Ilasamaja bus stop. That crash led to the death of the late Chidimma Ajoku and one other passenger while three others sustained injuries. Another incident that left a very sour taste in the mouth of the country and specifically, the Nigerian Air Force and the victim’s biological families in particular is the death of the prodigy, reputed to be the first Nigerian female combat pilot, Tolulope Arotile. The circumstance that led to her death being an issue under investigation and already before the courts need not be over flogged here.
There is yet another; the death of 16 persons along the Gusau- Funtua road in Zamfara state. It was attributed to the loss of control by a truck driver who rammed into about four vehicles conveying the unfortunate passengers who became his victims. The Governor of the state, His Excellency Bello Mattawale was so pained that he vowed to ensure that drivers who cause road deaths by dangerous driving are made to face death sentence. This,my teacher noted, is amongst other stiff measures the Governor undertook to take to ensure that such incidents do not reoccur.
I told you I love the Governor’s position and wish other Governors will make similar pronouncements which I believe will deter some killer drivers. But while I hope that other Governors as chief security officers will read the riot act,my teacher cautions me to note that it will take more than an “Executive” desire or “proclamation” to make this happen. Road Traffic matters like all other human activities are regulated by laws,he reminded me. The starting point therefore,he continued, is to look at the laws under which such charges are brought. If it is observed that the laws need to be tinkered with, then machinery should be put in place to amend the laws to reflect the current yearning at least in Zamfara state. From our previous discussions, he recalled, it was established that causing death by dangerous driving is usually viewed as “manslaughter “with various prison terms depending on what law it is prosecuted under.
Of recent, there has been global campaign to bend the hand of countries that still have capital punishment for “more serious offences” in their penal laws to jettison it. Flowing from the above, one can readily appreciate what herculean a task it will be to raise the punishment for causing deaths by dangerous driving from the realm of fines, imprisonment, withdrawal, suspension or revocation of licences to the realm of capital punishment/ death sentence.
Mention must be made however, that even though there is a seemingly global campaign for countries to expunge death penalties from their laws, a country like Taiwan recently advocated for death penalty by lethal injection as the punishment for drivers convicted for drunk driving. The essence of the posture or push is to take such category of offences from the realm of manslaughter or something less dangerous to the realm of more serious offences with stiffer/ capital punishment. It is understandable that it has enjoyed very wide and strong support and also attracted very stiff opposition even while parliamentary approval is still being awaited.
“China is another country that seeks death penalty for such cases while the US state of Texas does not hesitate to use lethal injection to punish those indicted on capital murder if they do something truly heinous while behind the wheels of their car trunk”. It is hoped that the relevant agencies charged with the responsibility of detection, arrest and prosecution of offending drivers will rise to the occasion and proactively act in such ways that the impunity of these merchants of death is drastically minimized if not out rightly eradicated.
It is admitted that road deaths are global in occurrence but it is also true that while other societies are continually making deliberate efforts to ensure that they do not occur, culprits are usually made to account for their actions when they occur. Even at this, he noted, most advocates for stiffer sanctions now view the existing sanctions as not being deterrent enough, hence the campaign for death penalty.
Coming back home, my teacher added that Nigeria cannot feign ignorance of this developments and continue to act as if all is well. While the society will continue to have those who think that drivers and owners of vehicles that cause deaths through dangerous driving or other unsafe driving practices pay the ultimate price for their actions, there will also be other contrary views. This will include those who will not only be against death penalty for all categories of offences in general but for traffic related deaths in particular as was the reaction that greeted the outcry of His Excellency, Bello Mattawale. The bottom line remains that we cannot continue to watch as though we are helpless while families are on a daily basis plunged into grieving, mourning and sufferings all attributed to road deaths that are otherwise avoidable.
While we still ponder on the pain and outcry of the Governor as well as those who have lost loved one, I know that civil society groups will be the first to cry foul if attempts are made to tweak the punishment for killer drivers. As a Field Officer, I am pained each time I receive reports of my patrol operatives deliberately run over by a ‘terrorist’ driver whose only grouse it that the Marshal flagged his vehicle down. In fact, on Wednesday, September, 9,2020, I was taken to the cleaners by listeners on one of the popular Radio stations in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory on the rationale for our patrol teams pursuing an offender who refused to pull over. I tried to educate the listeners on the position of the Corps on pursuit of offenders. But what these callers failed to recognise is the fact that as a civic responsibility, every driver must obey and stop whenever a law enforcement officer beckons. Secondly, some of the callers trivialised traffic infractions committed, as they could not see any justification for pursuing a driver because he refused to stop. These callers forgot to realise that no killer driver became one on the first day. Rather, the absence of stiff punishment or any form of punishment or penalty for violation provides the elixir for potential killer drivers to transform into killer instinct. In fact, there are drivers who justify their actions for running over uniform personnel on very flimsy excuses such as he stopped me wrongly. There are also those who boast that no uniform personnel can stop them or else they will kill. Some drivers have become so embolden that they brag about their barbaric tendencies which often is celebrated by some section of the motoring public