The Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), C.C. Olusegun Ogungbemide, in this interview with SEUN IBIYEMI speaks on achievements and challenges of the FRSC in Lagos, since his assumption as the new Sector Commander. He speaks on the fundamentals of the Apapa gridlock. According to him, the Apapa gridlock needs a deliberate planning for a meaningful solution. Among other issues of concern, he commented on the errant culture of road users in the Country. Excerpts:
Can you speak on your experience and achievements regarding traffic management in Lagos?
The state is very dynamic, just like the transportation sector is. If you leave Lagos for six months, you can’t be sure it is the same Lagos you are coming to meet and that is exactly what I met; a changed Lagos was what I met, but I leveraged on the wings of the media, which brings us to where we are today.
I remember the Kara incident; as at then many people never knew there had been a change in flagship but at the scene of that incident where we stood for about 12 hours, the press came to know that there was a new person on ground and the press helps in projecting the image. I would have been there for 10 years and nobody would have known but the press assisted in pushing the story. That was how we started and ever since it has been a good working relationship.
If we operate like elephant and there is nobody to push it to inform the public, then nobody will know what we are doing. For our efforts, the journalists have assisted us and as God will have it, we are in a state where the number one agenda out of the six pillar of the Governor’s policy thrust is transportation and traffic management. So, if we have a Governor that believes in what I am doing, it makes the job so easy. That is why you see series of collaboration with the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), and the Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) which all operate in Lagos state.
At least you can see what we have put in place in Apapa. Lagos has taken over Apapa corridor but we still reckon that FRSC should be part of them. They could have said no, we don’t want FRSC, we have enough manpower! But the federal power and the wisdom acquired from managing the place before now, will enable us give them better platform and understanding of the corridor, because the problem of Apapa is beyond traffic management.
When we look at where we are coming from, I met with a man that gave the analysis that the problem of Apapa is like man that has two kids and built a bungalow and after a while he thought the children have grown up enough. He then converted the car park to a room and began parking outside. Not quite long, the wife had a car and joined him parking outside. Also, the children too got cars and parked outside, making it four cars parked on the main road. As they are growing in the family buying cars, other families were doing the same. The whole road or street then became congested with lined up cars without car parks. That is similar to how the problem of Apapa started from. We had an economy boom but there was no boom in infrastructure; even the ones we have as holding bays were given out. It is like going out and there’s no place for you to park and we are still accepting them to come and do business.
So, if I have been to the market to say I want to buy 100 trucks, I think the first thing that should come to your mind is where will I keep these trucks; but they think of the business first before the park, and when they now come with the 100 trucks, they park them on the road for business to strive. Tin-Can is just an extension of the whalf, it is not structured to be on its own. It is an extension which would have continued to Badagry; that was the mindset, but due to one reason or the other, the thing got stalled there and the overwhelming problem came. That problem is not just about traffic management; it is something we need to go to the rudiments of where did we start from. It is like going back to the point of virgin level; asking such questions as, it used to be like this, where did we get it wrong? Then, we can now work from there; but as long as what we are doing is on the surface, moving around it and just trying to manage it, then it will be difficult to have the challenge addressed. We pray we would be able to get to that point where all hands would be on deck to solve the problem.
The effort of the Lagos state Government is being appreciated. When Lagos took over, then you can see the passion of the Governor. He is always there most of the time to see things himself but it is just that the challenge is overwhelming. You would recall the number trucks along this axis when that place took off and you know the thousands of trucks we are managing today.
In addition, for the tankers that you cannot count, initially the port was for just dry cargoes but now because of the failure of our refinery, we started importing fuel and this have to be carried by road. So, tankers were coming back to the same spot. So, it is huge. We have just continued to manage it but the moment we are able to finish the construction of that road, some of the problems will be solved because bad roads also play a major role.
In the last 10 months we came on board, we have done so much and a lot of collaboration with stakeholders to make sure traffic management gets better and we also pray that we be able to revive all other means of transportation. You can imagine the railway pulling about 500 containers. Indirectly, we have removed 500 trailers from the road. You would then imagine the space that will create. When you have another one pulling about 500 tankers going to the North, indirectly we are moving another 500 tankers from the road. That means we can find solutions to our problems. For the 89 BRT buses burnt during the #EndSARS protest, each carried about 50 people. Do you know how many people that would be stranded with that? Out of these would be passengers who would ordinarily keep their vehicle at home to avoid gridlock, but now that they are stranded they will put their vehicles back on the road. Some others will settle for transportation means which have been banned from the road. Many of what we witness at the bus stop today is what we have experienced 10-15 years ago, when people struggled to enter molue bus (old fashioned mass commercial buses). So, the bus that have been kept at the panel beaters’ workshop will be back on the road. That is why you see increase in racketeering vehicles and the aggression has also increased. That is the simple analysis of where we found ourselves after #EndSARS. Until Government is able to gear themselves up, buy more buses and gradually ease these old vehicles off the road, that is when we can start to measure a bit of sanity on our roads.
Sometimes, when going on the third mainland bridge I always feel sad when I see trucks, bus with no wipers, no side mirror, no rear light and people are seated in it and I wonder how did we got back to this stage?
What do you think will be the solution to the Apapa gridlock with the apparent failure of the E-call up system?
The solution propounded for Apapa now is still tentative. I heard the lily pond was closed, trucks couldn’t go in; so the trucks got stranded and that is why the gridlock heightened. Also, the number of trucks that go for exports is more than the numbers of trucks that are coming in now. So, when trucks going for exports don’t have chance to go into the port, you see them on the roads. Apapa gridlock needs a deliberate planning to have a solution. There have been series of meetings, but it an effort that needs sacrifice; some parties will have to let go. But as long as we think in Naira and Kobo, some of these policies that will be given may not work. This is because the numbers of people feeding on that corridor are so huge and their interest differs. That is why I said it’s something we need to be sincere about. The operators are involved, the unions and the port authorities are also involved, the government, security agencies are involved, also there are unseen forces.
I sat down and I said the solution that FRSC gave is the best. Before now, business of trucks is all commerce business; if you have money, buy trucks, send the trucks to Apapa but when crashes started happening, we couldn’t hold anybody. So, we came up with a policy in 2007. We said, let us regulate this sector and we called the initiative, Road Transport Standardization Scheme. It provides that any truck owner that has more than five vehicles must register and all the minimum safety measures that are required are mentioned in it. Companies came and they were registering and when you don’t have up to 5 trucks, you align with someone that has formed his own so that we can identify you. I have video of a truck carrying container with no head lamp; another video of a truck carrying container with no spare tyre; also a truck that its container is almost falling while off moving on the road. If it is regulated under a company, this will be prevented because no company wants to be messed up. But because they are individuals, they are faceless. It is easier for them to commit crimes. Then, we said individuals should not be attended to, but rather to deal only with companies who have their names at stake. But, this has not been adopted by the people we are dealing with, because the unions are not willing to align with that due to their individual interests. Another thing is that the unions are divided into so many arms. You don’t even know who is who, because it is not structured into one union that you can relate with. There are more than 15 of them on that same corridor with different interests. You will find out that when you are talking to a union, another one will come and tell you we don’t know him, and when you say let us move to another, another will say it is not under our umbrella. So, we just clear our mandates as long they are not ready. We have no choice than to say let us continue to manage the traffic; but it is beyond the issue of traffic management. You have to go down to the root to solve this problem. But the truth of the matter is as long as we have that volume of trucks working on that narrow facility, there is no miracle that can happen. The only miracle that can solve Apapa gridlock is multimodal means of transport. We thank God for the effort of the federal government working seriously on the railways. Also important is the waterways; these are all options that are available to us, that can serve as alternative for everybody converging on the highway. 90 per cent of what you see in Abuja came through the road.
What is FRSC doing in terms of sensitization of Motorists?
Driving highway code is an international code that is known. The red cross in Nigeria is the same with that of the United States. Zebra crossing in Nigeria is the same thing with the one abroad. The man going on one-way, does he need to go to school of one-way? Most of what they do are moral issues, not issues of sensitization. Is the driver not supposed to know he needs extra tyre? Even in a very short distance, anything can happen, but you see a driver doing interstate and he doesn’t have extra tyres. There is no sensitization that hasn’t been done. We don’t even wait till December or January again.
It is because of them that we have introduced what we call ‘morning cry.’ We go to all parks every morning throughout Lagos state before my patrol team move around, to enlighten them on what to do and what they shouldn’t do. For a truck that does not have side mirror, what will he use to check the rear; can the inner mirror check the back that is carrying sand? Is it that they don’t know? They know! And that is why we can’t push enforcement away.
But it’s unfortunate for Nigerians today that against the enforcement that is supposed to be leveraged on, they have now grown wings to attack the enforcement agencies.
When it comes to sensitization, we don’t joke with it unless you haven’t been to parks. When you go to some parks in the morning, you will see our men there doing morning cry, not to talk of the newspaper publications. There is nobody that doesn’t have access to the Media and at the stage we are now, we would continue to have that sensitization.
That is the major thing I do. When I came on board, I met with stakeholders people like the Lagos NURTW Chairman, with all unions. Not quite long, I was with truckers association (COMTUA).
When I visited Total, they told me that in the last four years they haven’t recorded any crash and this is because they train their drivers annually. The vehicles are new vehicles, not the one that has spent 30 years before they brought them in; they also do maintenance.
How many Total vehicle will you see without side mirror? Will you see Total vehicle with bend chases? This is because they believe that there is no life worth the benefit of downstream. If you want to do business, bring in new vehicles and train your drivers. Our four agendas for this year is to reduce road traffic crash by 15 per cent, fatality by 10 per cent, capacity building of our men, collaboration with other stakeholders and build on our products.
Can you speak on the subject of the controversy over the Agency that has the right to check vehicle papers?
I entered a church to make advocacy one day. Then someone just asked a question even though I did not know a journalist was in the church. He said a reference number quoted the person that signed it that FRSC should not stop vehicle for fire extinguisher infractions. And he asked me how come my men are arresting vehicle with that infraction. The question really got to me because I never knew he could get access to such documents. I asked him if he was happy about that policy. He said what do I mean? I said the policy says we should not stop vehicle with fire extinguisher infraction but when your vehicle catches fire you would expect I should leave my fire extinguisher along the express and use it for you? Assuming I too have aligned with that policy, who will help you?
When there are policies that government put in place that are not right let us not celebrate it. FRSC stopped that policy because our men were abusing it and also because people were complaining. They said you don’t have side mirror, you are asking the man if it was his right to ask that question. But do you have side mirror? If it were to be armed robbers that were operating on the road and the police came, the soldiers came, and the civil defense operatives came; you will never say soldiers should go that it is none of their business. You will be happy that all of them are there to rescue you. This is because it is for your own advantage. But when you stop anybody on the road, anger will be meted out against the agencies. The analysis of particulars is very simple. When you see police demand for particulars, there would have been signals. If police get a notice of a stolen vehicle, they will be checking particulars. They have been able to recover people’s vehicle through this means. The Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) are the ones that certify whether a vehicle is road-worthy or not. Driver’s license is a general thing. The reason we asked for particulars is because when we arrest you, the only thing that we will take away is your vehicle, impounded. And when we have your vehicle papers, we will allow you to go. We are not asking for your vehicle because we want to know whether you have it or not. It is for us not to disturb your business. And when you do not have driver’s license, it means you are dangerous to other road users. This is the only way we can know that this person is skilled to be on the road. This is an overlapping function. Have we solved Apapa gridlock issue where there are more than 601 LASTMA, more than 200 road safety officers. We should use our medium to speak to the conscience of Nigerians. All these countries that you see with sanity, it is not because of the law. It is because the people of those countries have decided to keep to the rules. Did law not fail when Americans bombarded Capitol Hill? Look at what is happening in Benin Republic. Their official carries whistle and his rifle. And when you want to stop a vehicle, the man passes. In Nigeria, even if you carry armour tank, riffle and helmet, the man will say I will curse you if you do not leave my front. We should ask ourselves, is it about law enforcement? When they pursue all of us off the roads, were they not the ones that were crying for us to come when nobody could pass anywhere? I will not send my men outside to go and behave as a leader. Rather than talking to those people, talk to the management, those that sent them out. If you have issues, Engineer Fashola is the head of the VIS. If it is the FRSC, I am the head of it. If you are uncomfortable with the police, go to the Commissioner of Police (CP). For instance, for the case of the officer that collected over a 100,000 from a student, has he not been sacked? But you could have the impression that he will make a return for the Boss. We all assume too much. Anybody that collects money in FRSC is for his personal use. Nobody brings return to me. The president has not spent up to six years. And he is not owing me a single salary. I can say that about the president. My boys (officers) do not have justification to collect bribe. That’s why we do not look back to sack them. We sack them every day. There are letters here that I received just yesterday. It is a smart game but the day you are caught, you are gone.
How many errant officers have been sacked?
That one is a policy at the headquarters and I am not there. So, I won’t be able to tell you. I cannot mention figures. It a general thing. I do not have power to sack; but I try them and I forward lists. We investigate. If we see the evidence, you are gone.
FRSC officers have been observed to be stationed mostly at bad spots on the highway. Why?
The law says when a law enforcement agencies put a sign up, you should stop.
As I am talking to you now, some of our officers are still in the hospitals. When we were doing 3rd Mainland Bridge, along the alternative routes that we sent men to manage, four of my men were knocked down because someone feels they were wasting his time. Some days ago at Ughelu, our men were crushed to death.
This is because the moment they sight our vehicle and they know our men are on stand, they increase their speed and lose control of the car. I always inform my men of their personal safety. Those of my men that are not dead, I am not sharing the pain with them in any way. The ones that are dead their families will bear the pain for a while, and then move on. So, I talk to them every day that they should always protect themselves anywhere they are while doing this job. When you asked them to stop, they will even warn you that they will crush you if you don’t leave the road. This is my 27th year on the road. I pass through the road to be where I am. So, I cannot pretend not to know what is happening. Our bike rider was in front of a truck, the truck driver said “if them born your mama well, stay there,” (daring him of attack). He threatened the officer and left. So, he signaled the army check point but before they arrived, you will have to disappear from the road. When a country says it will kill anybody that carries truck, you will think they just came up with that idea. This is because there are things we do in this country that takes a man that is under drugs to do. A man that is normal will not do such. People who are high on drugs see everybody as nonentity. Societal vices are interwoven. When you see NDLEA doing their operations, you will think they are not concerned but you will be at the receiving end. That is why when we go to the motor parks, we invite NDLEA to come and do their own sensitization and check them. For instance, if you are trying to enter a vehicle, they collected money from you without seeing the driver and all of a sudden, the driver appears intoxicated. But you sat down and say, God my spirit is in your hands when God has already shown you to leave the vehicle. You might be the perfect road user but the other user is not perfect. At times, my men will go to the police check point to engage their patrol because of attack. Like what we have in the western world, the moment your papers are expired, they arrest you. But we have not gotten to that level. FRSC has tried in areas of technology. It is one of the paramilitary with the highest use of technology. Now, I do not need to run after you. Once I have your number, I input it into the data base inside your profile with your phone number and address. We are able to take 480 vehicles last year through the use of our database. And when you want to register another person’s vehicle, once they do the needful, they will tell you that vehicle has been registered. When it comes to security architecture, FRSC plays a major role by virtue of information gathering efforts. They use to support other agencies. Through information gathered by our men while doing their job, we have been able to track those that are kidnapping people. My men were trained to know that something is wrong.