When two police officers died recently in a road accident involving the convoy of a former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, which left two other persons critically injured, it again brought to the fore the prevalent tendency of VIP convoys towards arrogant recklessness and brazen lawlessness.
Oshiomhole, also a former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, was on his way to join his party’s campaign for the 2020 governorship election in Edo State. The accident and the casualties are indicative of VIPs’ reckless driving that include excessive speeding, improper overtaking, harassment of other road users and wrong-way driving (going against the direction of traffic). It is an unfortunate manifestation of the “Big Man” mentality that corrodes the political system. Any thoughtless action one can imagine that can be exhibited in traffic is what they do with impunity.
Though often common with police officers in the entourage of so-called VIPs who could be public office holders, businesspersons or entertainers, the madness also afflicts the military and almost all government agencies whose officers wear uniforms, including the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Immigration Service. Only small-minded persons exhibit crude power in public.
And there is an ugly history of deaths that have trailed these reckless VIPs, their gun-toting entourage and convoys. In August 2019, an accident involving the convoy of a North-West governor claimed the lives of two police personnel attached to the governor. They died instantly at the scene of the accident. Less than two months later, seven persons were killed in a motor accident involving the advance team of a South-South governor on the Benin-Auchi Expressway. Several others, including one of the governor’s drivers, were injured.
But one of the saddest of such cases yet occurred in November 2013, when a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Festus Iyayi, was killed in an accident involving the convoy of the then Governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada, on the Lokoja-Abuja Expressway. Iyayi and other ASUU executives in their vehicle were on their way to the National Executive Council meeting of the union in Kano State. Some other occupants of the bus were seriously injured. The Kogi Sector Command of the Federal Road Safety Corps subsequently blamed the crash on wrongful overtaking by a vehicle in the governor’s convoy. Incidentally, it was not the first time the governor’s convoy was involved in a fatal accident. In December 2012, his convoy was also involved in a road accident, which claimed the life of his aide-de-camp. Sadly, the reckless uniformed officers hardly get punished for the pain they cause their victims.
But refreshingly, four years after Iyayi’s death, justice finally came when a magistrate, Alhassan Husaini, sentenced one Danladi Baba to seven years’ imprisonment for causing the death of the late professor. The judge aptly captured the unfortunate situation, saying, “I have no option but to sentence you, Danladi Baba, to seven years’ imprisonment without an option of fine. What is regrettable in this case is the serious abuse of privilege of late by VIP convoys. These siren-blaring convoys force oncoming and other categories of vehicles off the roads in a manner that exposes law-abiding road users to hazards.”
Indeed, it is a bullish and uncivilised culture that seeks to harass other motorists into leaving the roads for them. But all this is not strange in Nigeria; it is a country where people get voted into office to live luxuriously on taxpayers’ money and become a nuisance to society. Every Tom, Dick and Harry with uniform, fame and/or money uses siren on the roads to intimidate other motorists.
Yet, road safety agencies, especially the FRSC, appear helpless. In some cases, the same FRSC officials are part of the killer-motorcades. Meanwhile, Section 154 (1) of the National Road Traffic Regulation, 2012, states, “No person other than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Vice-President, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Deputy President of the Senate, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors and Deputy Governors of States shall drive a vehicle on any public road using sirens, flashers or beacon lights.” The regulation further states that “any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-regulation (1) of this regulation commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N3,000 or to a term of seven months imprisonment or to both.”
Even for authorised siren users, the regulation specifically states in Section 158 that “the driver of a fire-fighting vehicle, a rescue vehicle or an ambulance who drives such vehicle in the performance of his duties, an officer of the law who drives a vehicle under emergency situation or while engaged in civil protection may disregard the directions of a road traffic sign,” provided they drive the vehicle concerned with due regard to the safety of other road users. According to the traffic rulebook, only those emergencies legally warrant disregard for a road traffic sign. Therefore, any such action by the police when there is no emergency is illegal.
No civilised society in the world tolerates such appalling idiocy from public servants as witnessed in Nigeria. In this regard, the FRSC, the agency with the statutory power to ensure a safe motoring environment for the public, has failed miserably in this primary duty. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, once lamented, “I have never seen a road safety official stopping a government convoy for dangerous driving; why is it so?”
It is so because government agencies are feckless and corrupt. In civilised societies, every motorist is expected to obey traffic rules and regulations, including speed limits, regardless of their office. For instance, in August 2013, a vehicle carrying Iowa State Governor in the United States, Terry Branstad, was stopped for speeding, leading to a warning citation for the state trooper who was driving. The incident was the second time that year in which the governor’s official vehicle was pulled over for exceeding the speed limit. Similarly, former US first lady, Hillary Clinton’s car, was ticketed for parking illegally in London, United Kingdom, while receiving the prestigious Chatham House Prize in October 2013. There are countless other examples.
The FRSC and its officials must overcome their timidity in the face of executive recklessness and do their job as spelt out in our laws. The FRSC boss, Boboye Oyeyemi, and his senior commanders should lead with courage. Laws are meant to be obeyed regardless of the office occupied. And for the agency to enforce safety on the roads, its operations have to be technology-driven.
The situation is clearly a failure of leadership with a dose of sadism and irresponsibility. Nigerians have endured the stupidity and lunacy displayed by their leaders and uniformed personnel for too long and must develop a culture of resistance. When harassed on the road, do what is within your right to seek redress – sue.