Friday, February 3, 2017

Please, Scrap Or Restructure The FRSC

By Clement Udegbe
THE first deliberate policy on road  safety was with the creation of the National Road Safety Commission NRSC, by the then military government, in 1974, but they were scrapped. In 1977, the Military Administration in Oyo State, established the Oyo State Road Safety Corps which made modest local improvements in road safety and road discipline in the state, but it was disbanded in 1983.
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The subsequent classification of Nigeria as one of the most road traffic accident prone countries worldwide, second to Ethiopia, led to establishment of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, in 1988, as the lead agency in Nigeria on road safety administration and management. It’s statutory functions included; Making the highways safe for motorists and other road users as well as checking road worthiness of vehicles, recommending works and infrastructures to eliminate or minimise accidents on the highways and educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of road discipline on the highways. Nigeria had well built, good, and smooth roads, and the major challenge was control and regulation of speed.

The Corps had vehicles with radar equipment to detect vehicle speeds, but as pot holes and craters took over the roads, especially in the south of Nigeria, due to years of neglect by subsequent governments, speed control became very unnecessary, and the FRSC started inventing ways to remain relevant. They first switched into Vehicle Drivers License issuance, without any known means of ascertaining that the drivers they license can drive safely. The result today is the preponderance of dangerous commercial and private drivers on Nigerian roads.

The Drivers license which should also act as a good means of identity, has no links with the national identity card data base. You own one if you can pay. The official price tag of the license is about N7,000 but it costs about N15,000 to get one in Lagos and most FRSC centres. While in other saner climes, the driver’s license is valid for life of the owner, it is a common piece of plastic card and expires every five years in Nigeria, no thanks to FRSC. About two years ago, they veered into the production and issuance of the Vehicle number plates, with a greater confusion. It is not clear if the number plate expires with the destruction of a vehicle or linked with the owner who can transfer it to another, if a vehicle is destroyed for any reasons. Yet, it is a very expensive item to procure, and you may have to wait for long to get one.

The official price to get one is about N20,000, but it costs not less than N40,000 to get one today. The often scarcity of vehicle number plates, has led to increase in fake number plates, complicating crime prevention and fighting for the Police Force. Their latest scheme is the Speed Limiter which they are now enforcing on commercial vehicles, and will soon extend to private vehicles. Like the driver’s license and vehicle number plates, this one will create another avenue to make money from Nigerians. How do they control speed on very bad roads?

Most Roads in the South East are in pitiable conditions, yet you find FRSC near huge pot holes or police check points, harassing drivers, asking from brake and indicator lights, head lamps, fire extinguisher to display of waste baskets, etc. They carry a list of checks a driver can never satisfy if the officer decides as they often do, to be mean. They are specialised in picking soft targets mostly new vehicles owners, to do their routine checks, while allowing commercial vehicles with expired tyres, no driving mirrors, etc. FRSC has lost direction from their original purpose, and depend largely on money making schemes to become relevant. Primary duties of the FRSC are being carried out by some other agencies in states. For example, they are not involved in road maintenance to keep the roads safer, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency FERMA is doing just that.

The Police still checks vehicle particulars, provides security for motorists, and fight crime on roads. Most State governments have set up traffic management agencies like LASTMA in Lagos, which are better equipped, with the Vehicle Inspectorate agency VIO, which has the responsibility of inspecting vehicles to ascertain their road worthiness. These have undermined the effectiveness and relevance of FRSC in the city; The FRSC is so poorly equipped that they can hardly help accident victims on the high ways. They have no Doctors, Nurses or trained paramedics, and it is still the Police that motorists look up to, on most high ways. The lack of equipment to rescue the members of the public at an accident scene will cause shock and panic to anyone who has seen a documentary on paramedics from saner climes.

Their presence at accident sites with VIOs, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA and Police produce confusion of who is in-charge as we all saw, when the plane carrying the body of late Chief Agagun of Ondo State, crash landed a few years ago. Data from FRSC, VIOs, NEMA and the Police is not shared among them easily. This can be eliminated by the merging of some of these agencies with the Police especially as it affects road traffic matters. Crime prevention and fighting will be easier if these agencies share data and information freely without unnecessary rivalry, and systemic bottlenecks.

When these departments work under the police department, it will give room for more centralised documentation and promote efficiency within the organisation. The departments will see themselves as colleagues and not rivals and reduce the over head cost of running duplicated agencies that perform the same function. With the increasing and spreading threat of terrorism, the challenge for security agencies will be easier to overcome, if they have a general centralised data base, which can check both individuals and their vehicles within minutes, in one fell swoop. The question is whether the FRSC in the current Nigerian system needs a complete overhauling, scrapping or merging with some other agencies of the government?
*Udegbe is a commentator on public issues 

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