The establishment of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) on 18 February 1988 through Decree 45 of 1988 as amended by Decree 35 of 1992 otherwise referred to as CAP 141 Laws of the federation 1990 which was repealed and reenacted as the FRSC Establishment Act, 2007 under the civil democratic dispensation has been globally acclaimed as the most comprehensive attempts by the Federal Government of Nigeria to address the pervasive crash situation that had made Nigeria one of the most dangerous countries to drive motor vehicles in.
But it takes a discernible mind to be able to comprehend the complexity and appreciate the novelty of the structure and functions of the FRSC, due largely to the combination of its civil and military values that define its status as a law enforcement agency.
This must have explained why so many people easily get confused while analysing the functions and status of the FRSC as one of the nation’s paramilitary setups, as Mr Shaibu Danjuma of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) Bauchi state did recently when he wrote on the above heading as published in some online media particularly, the Daily post.
Having carefully gone through the piece and comprehended its messages, I observed so many contradictions that could confuse the minds of members of the public.
That’s why it became imperative, in the interest of public enlightenment that we respond to it in order to shed more light and clear public doubt.
Therefore, let me state from the onset that Nigerians must give kudos to the founding fathers of the FRSC by instituting an organisation that while its personnel appear and conduct themselves in civil manners to justify the humane services they render to members of the public as in rescue and provision of first aids to victims of road traffic crashes, it was also charged with powers of enforcement to serve as deterrence to traffic violators.
In order words, FRSC is an amalgam of civil and military features that define its peculiarity,.
But the founding fathers deliberately chose to deemphasise its military features in favour of the civil values in carrying out its activities.
This is without prejudice to the fact that the enabling law made adequate provisions for its personnel to use coercive means to enforce the laws.
Accordingly, successive leaderships of the Corps had continued to rely on civility to achieve the ideals of road safety goals in Nigeria instead of recourse to use of arms.
Thus persuasion, education, subtle enforcement before full scale enforcement became the standard operational behaviour among the personnel of the Corps over the years.
But recent events have shown that FRSC has come to the crossroads in its experimentation with reliance on civility alone as the means of law enforcement, as some Nigerians now tend to see members of the Corps as the weakest arms of the security agencies in the country who can be disobeyed with impunity, killed
and wantonly injured by recalcitrant drivers who saw no need to heed the warning or stop signs of marshals who neither pursue offenders’ vehicles nor use arms to enforce the traffic laws unlike other agencies that carry out similar functions for safety and security of the nation.
But despite the glaring act of provocation, FRSC by its values of civility continues to make education the center point of its operational strategy as evidenced by the daily, intermittent and massive public enlightenment programmes organised by the Corps at the state and national levels to enlighten members of the public on the need to drive with care and be safety conscious.
For the avoidance of doubt, the civil approach adopted by the FRSC in performing its statutory duties is without prejudice to the fact that the Establishment Act made adequate provision for its personnel to bear arms, but which majority of Nigerians do not know of.
Section 19 of the FRSC Establishment Act specifically empowered personnel of the Corps to use arms in carrying out its functions as may be determined by the Commission. Specifically, the Act unambiguously stated thus: “For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of this Act, such members of the Corps as may be determined by the Commission,
exposed to high risk in the enforcement of the provisions of this Act, shall have the same powers, authorities and privileges including power to bear arms as are given by law to members of the Nigeria Police.’
Yet, over the years, Management of the Corps has remained unattracted to the use of arms for its personnel whose lives continue to be endangered by acts of undue provocation by drivers and some militant groups, because the Corps embraces civility over militarism.
The 70 personnel of the FRSC quoted by the writer to have fallen prey to violence perpetrated by drivers and some militant groups within this short period while performing their statutory duties of ensuring safety on the nation’s highway is a grossly conservative figure, as many more suffered from the dastardly act.
However, even as this has not dampened the spirit of the personnel who continue to bravely put their lives on the line by never failing to patrol the nation’s highways everyday and providing the needed succour to road users, concerned Nigerians are becoming worried.
The growing incidents of violence against the personnel of the Corps, if not urgently addressed, is capable of undermining the integrity of law enforcement in Nigeria and the collective integrity of the people of the country, bearing in mind that personnel of security agencies represent the presence of law in any country.
And without doubt, there is no nation in the world that would sit low to witness unabating humiliation of members of its law enforcement agencies through such act of violence as being perpetrated by members of the civil populace,
the way we have witnessed in Nigeria against the armless marshals of the FRSC who are knocked down, injured, killed and maimed by heartless drivers some of who were never identified as they escaped from the scenes after the act for no reason other than seeing them as disturbances.
Discernible Nigerians have in the face of these challenges continued to applaud members of the Corps for their unrivalled commitment to issues of road safety not only at the national, but sub regional and global levels.
For example, in the Corps’ operational strategy, confiscated documents of traffic violators who are booked by patrol teams can only be released to them after the drivers have undergone public enlightenment lectures,
while motor park rallies, regular sensitisation programmes as well as interactive sessions are carried out at all the Commands of the Corps to specifically educate members of the public on the need for joint efforts to address the menace of road traffic crashes.
Just recently, the FRSC organised its 7th annual lecture series, where the Special Envoy on Road Safety to the UN Secretary General was the Guest Speaker who delivered a paper on the global efforts against road carnage.
Before then, there had been nationally organised workshops, conferences and mega rallies in collaboration with relevant stakeholders in transport business and unions to harmonise issues of road safety for cohesive national goals.
In addition, just last week, at the end of the capacity building workshop organised by the UN for personnel of FRSC and other traffic management agencies in the country with participation from heads of State Traffic Management Agencies,
the Corps Marshal held an interactive session with them at the FRSC National Headquarters where issues of road safety and traffic management at the urban and highways were discussed with commitment by participants to more collaborative initiatives.
In all these, how can someone accuse FRSC of non performance in public awareness creation and sensitisation programmes on road safety, except one with mischievous agenda.
Furthermore, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola while delivering a keynote address at the same capacity building workshop on traffic signs and signals organised by the United Nations for personnel of traffic management agencies in the country openly alluded to the regularity and immense contribution of the FRSC’s reports on conditions of the road across the country to the success of the Ministry’s assignments.
He added that such diligence and collaboration extended to the Ministry by the FRSC has led to prompt response to rehabilitation of the identified portions of the road by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and therefore called for more funding for the Corps to enable it perform even better in matters of road safety.
Where then is the tissue of conduct of Research to determine the causes and remedies to road traffic crashes, which the writer harped so much on?
Let it be said without equivocation that despite the observed hazards which personnel of the FRSC face everyday in performing their statutory duties and over which the Federal Government has continued to show concerns, the morale of the Corps is undampened.
The need for arms protection for the personnel over which members of the House of Representatives recently passed a motion to urge the Executive to quicken the process of arms procurement for the Corps was not a call for militarisation of the personnel of the FRSC, but diligent implementation of the provisions of its establishment Act.
Moreover, we cannot identity any nation in the world where the job of policing including enforcement of laws as carried out by members of the FRSC without arms protection for the concerned personnel, if not for enforcement, but at least for deterrence against arms attacks by militarised or recalcitrant members of populace.
As Corps Marshal Oyeyemi has continued to preach to personnel of the FRSC, civility is an inherent operational strategy of the FRSC and despite the efforts being made to implement the provision of the FRSC Establishment Act by the Federal Government through the provision of arms, that would not change the core values of the Corps which are embedded in its civil approach to law enforcement.
Concerned Nigerians should only join us in strengthening the values of civility by obeying simple traffic signs and signals and avoid taking pleasure in knocking down armless marshals that come out to ensure sanity on the roads.
On the final note, let me emphasise that the fear of militarisation of personnel of the FRSC as expressed by the writer above is unfounded, alien and incongruous to the operations of the FRSC. We would remain civil in our conduct and sustain our value of civility in carrying out the statutory duties of making Nigeria roads safer.