A long-overdue policy, the Federal Road Safety Corps has iterated its intention to implement the relevant laws on the abuse of sirens, convoys, escort vehicles and other road traffic infractions in the country. The corps said it would start prosecuting offenders this year without giving a timeline. It will, however, take more than the FRSC’s rhetoric to restore sanity to Nigeria’s chaotic roads.
Without a doubt, it is not only the FRSC that is worried by the growing lawlessness; as well, the public is badly hit. Many well-placed Nigerians have hijacked the roads as their playground. “We have seen a lot of people abusing the use of convoys and we have taken it up with the appropriate authority; this year, we would take more drastic actions,” the FRSC lamented. Among them are suspected criminals and transport unionists. With their sirens and flashlights, the vehicles attached to these Nigerians terrorise the motoring public to no end, whether there is congestion or not.
During such moments, impunity is on full display. Their security escorts blast sirens to intimidate road users, deploy horsewhips, belts and other weapons against law-abiding citizens. With their sirens, they compound the woes of the people by driving against the traffic. It is agonising that some of those who engage in these acts are not entitled by law to sirens and escorts.
In a way, the FRSC might not be ready to curb the malady. Its statement that it would soon start enforcement and prosecution of offenders, which put the blame mainly on the doorsteps of the “convoys and sirens (of those who) are not government officials but private individuals, who are unauthorised to use convoys or sirens in the country,” is indicative of its powerlessness. The FRSC misses the point, to say the least.
The abuse is also extensively perpetrated by the uniformed services – the police, the military, Immigration, Customs and Correctional Services. Therefore, to make its intention count, the FRSC has to look inwards first. After taming the monster in the ranks of the security agencies, it will be far easier to whip the private individuals into line.
Undoubtedly, the National Road Traffic Regulation 2012, aimed at eradicating the abuses, is a well-intentioned law. In Section 154 (Part XIV), it lists just 79 Nigerians as being entitled to the use of sirens. Besides the President, his deputy, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and their deputies and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, only the 36 state governors and their deputies are permitted to use sirens. This is sensible; this number can be managed without the degeneration into the present anarchy.
Nevertheless, this is not the case at present: that law is now a mere paperweight. Ministers, Service Chiefs, heads of MDAs, commissioners, police chiefs, top government officials, religious leaders and traditional rulers ply the roads with nauseating sirens. Taking a cue from this, private citizens with the means have recruited security personnel to do their bidding. In turn, this notoriously large army invades the roads, bullying and subjecting citizens to needless pains. The bedlam makes Nigeria a primitive society, where lawlessness is the norm.
At the heart of this malady is the surreptitious manner the hierarchy of the Nigeria Police Force has mismanaged the NRTR law. Instead of strengthening it, it has been watered down. From 79, some former police chiefs allegedly expanded the number of those entitled to sirens to 158. The explosion instigated the current mess, a gross disservice to society.
Instructively, the unwillingness of the IGP to withdraw the about 150,000 policemen illegally assigned to VIPs is emblematic of this absurdity. The first significant step is, therefore, to withdraw these officers, redeploy them to proper lines of duty and stringently ensure that those not qualified for security details will never get them again.
To guarantee sanity on the roads during his tenure, Babatunde Fashola, who became governor of Lagos in 2003, banned the use of sirens. Strictly enforced, the ban affected the governor, his commissioners, top public officials, and bullion vans. Only vehicles for health and fire emergencies were spared. It engendered a civil ambience like in no other state in the country. Sadly, it all broke down at the exit of Fashola in 2015. But this showed that with the right political willpower and understanding of modern governance ethos, it can be implemented in the quest for quality society, as is the case in some parts of Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.
For the FRSC to attain its vision of chaos-free roads, leadership is crucial. In civilised societies, the elite are not allowed to terrorise the people on the roads. According to the UK Emergency Service, police, fire and ambulance vehicles are the agencies allowed to use a siren or similar audible emergency warning devices. Other specifically mentioned permitted users are bomb disposal, blood service, coastguard, mine rescue, RAF mountain rescue and lifeboat launching vehicles. In 2005, the regulations were changed to allow the Ministry of Defence’s nuclear response team and Revenue & Customs to use sirens too. No more.
In 2017 in India, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, citing the discomfort arising from the malaise, banned politicians, ministers and judges from using the siren. “We are removing the rule which allows state and central government to specify who can use the red lights,” the (then) Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, said. “From 1 May (2017), no vehicle will have a red light. There will be no exceptions.” India’s Supreme Court had earlier described the ubiquitous red lights on car roofs as a “menace to the society,” saying they had become “a fashion and status symbol.” It banned them and asked the executive to take punitive actions against offenders. This is responsible governance, able to identify societal ills and appropriately enforce government’s writ. Here, our rulers are perfectly at ease with the use of intimidation and violence.
Top political leaders, especially the President, the Vice-President, the governors and their deputies should blaze the trail of civilised traffic behaviour. For the FRSC to regain its relevance – as in the days of Wole Soyinka – the Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, has to lead by example. He should personally lead in arresting and making example of siren abusers, especially the highly placed in the society. With that, the zonal and state FRSC commanders will summon the courage to move against offenders in their jurisdictions.
Despite the fact that the NRTR is an appropriate legislation, the punishment it stipulates is outdated. It prescribes a N3,000 fine for illegal siren use. Today’s reality renders this otiose. It requires a review that will impose a heavy financial penalty on a suspect, and a long jail term upon conviction.