By Emmanuel Onwubiko.
I have had the good fortune of being driven around in very extensive journeys in both the United Kingdom and China. In China, around year 2005, I can recall an experience I had to be conveyed in a bus from the political capital of that vast Country to another far distant province in a journey that spanned eight hours.
The roads were well laid and greatly maintained from the Chinese beautiful capital city to that part of China. The journey was an adventure in sweet discoveries and the roads were so well built that there was not a single bump.
However, a noticeable incident is the absence of any sort of stop and search armed police nor did we experience any incident of road terrorism such as armed banditry, armed kidnapping and or harassment by armed security forces.
In Great Britain, about a couple of years back, the journey from Central London to a beach very close to the border with France was sweet and there was never any incident of road terrorism even as it was a beautiful journey just as I enumerated above in my other journeys in China.
Also, the nations of China and the United Kingdom have seamless road transportation systems and strategies for checking cases of terrorism and insecurity of any kinds on their highways just as the enforcement of traffic laws are scientifically based and fantastically implemented.
When cases of crimes or terrorism on the road do occur which are very rare, It is a known fact that those involved in such incidents are apprehended and prosecuted just as they are made to face the full weight of the laws and therefore the concept of road safety in those jurisdictions are integral and strategic even as the matter of road maintenance are second to none.
I’m not sure I saw the equivalence of Nigeria’s federal highway policing institution. In the UK, the Police still enforce traffic laws using the best available technology and CCTV. The same can’t be said about Nigeria where I have had the misfortune to have travelled to the entire 36 years spanning a period of three decades.
To be fair to history, in Nigeria of the 1980’s, road travels had minimal violent incidents just as the standards of roads maintenance are high and this was the period the Country had only the Nigerian Police Force as the enforcers of traffic laws and there were almost non-existing terrorists on the highways of Nigeria.
However, Nigeria now has a Road Safety Commission set up under the FEDERAL ROAD SAFETY COMMISSION (ESTABLISHMENT) ACT, 2007 ACT No. 22 which is an extant ACT TO REPEAL THE FEDERAL ROAD SAFETY COMMISSION ACT, CAP 141 LFN, 1990 (AS AMENDED) TO ESTABLISH THE FEDERAL ROAD SAFETY COMMISSION WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT,PREVENTING AND MINIMIZING ACCIDENTS ON THE HIGHWAYS, THE SUPERVISION OF USERS OF SUCH HIGHWAYS, THE REGULATION OF TRAFFIC THEREON AND CLEARING OF OBSTRUCTION ON ANY PART OF THE HIGHWAYS AND FOR EDUCATING DRIVERS, MOTORISTS AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC GENERALLY ON THE PROPER USE OF HIGHWAYS; AND FOR RELATED MATTERS TO SAFETY ON THE HIGHWAYS.
Specifically, the chapter 5 of the law says; The Commission may make regulations generally for the carrying out of the (m) the supervision of the user of highways; (n) the restriction or exclusion of type or class of vehicles;(o) the restriction of the use of highway by any breed of animals; (p) the line to be kept on a highway and the direction to be followed by vehicles.
Since over a decade that this Commission was set up, there has been a mixed bag of opinion on their performance given that deaths from accidents have increased and the most dominant causative factor is the deteriorating state of the road infrastructures all over Nigeria. Infact the Corp marshal of the Federal Road Safety commission was quoted recently in the media of claiming that road accident kills more than the much dreaded global pandemic of COVID-19.
Suffice it to state that there have been calls for the federal Road safety commission to be further empowered to effectively enforce sanity on our high ways.
For instance, the President, Court of Appeal Justice; Monica Dongban-Mensem, recently disclosed that there were no stringent laws to punish road traffic offenders in the country.
Justice Dongban-Mensem, who made the remarks during the 9th annual road safety conference and FRSC/KRSD easy competition award 2020, held at ICT hall of Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, headquarters in Abuja, regretted the absence of severe punishment accounted for reckless and dangerous driving often result in death or injury.
Justice Dongban-Mensem spoke at the event to mark the 10th memorial of the passing of her son, Prince Kwapda’as Rangna’an Samson Dongban, who was killed by unknown motorist in Jos, plateau State and in whose memory the Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand, KRSD Foundation was established.
She said, “We have set aside this day for annual conference to remember him and several others who have departed this world in similar circumstance and place at the front burner of public discourse the unabating road crash incidences in our country. “
According to her, “It’s my conviction that the penalties currently listed in our laws are no longer as stringent as they were when first enacted. On the contrary, the grievous acts of over speeding, reckless or dangerous driving often result in death or injury. It appears as though, drivers found guilty of road offences are given a proverbial slap on the wrist
“We shall continually embark on fresh initiatives so as to change this anomaly. Now, we are in the process of sponsoring a Bill in National Assembly. The Bill entitled ‘Proposal to the National Assembly for the amendment and addition of some Sections to the Federal Road Safety Commission Act 2007’.
“This amendment seeks to impose stringent penalties are meted to traffic offenders. This should ensure that errant drivers are effectively precluded from reckless behavior on our roads or otherwise adequately punished for it. The idea is to implore deterrence.”
The respected jurist stressed further that, “Also, we are reviewing the provisions on Third Party Motor Insurance Policy. In Nigeria, third party insurance is compulsory under the Motor Vehicle (Third Party) Insurance Act 1950.
“It is one of the six compulsory classes of insurance under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. However, this policy stops at coercing motorists to buy the stickers. Motorists pay the annual premium of N5, 000 and it stops there.
“Actually, the policy is designed to make insurance companies pay compensation to road crash victims in form of restitution. It is meant to help the injured recover medical bills or relatives of the dead get compensations.
“However, we hear stories like Fake Insurance Companies collecting premiums, insurers adopting very frustratingly complex indemnity processes etc.
“Almost every vehicle on the road is covered with either Comprehensive or Third Party Motor Insurance policy. Yet victims of motor crashes hardly get compensated in Nigeria, thereby making the policy very unpopular in Nigeria.
“We would like to enlighten motorists and the general public on the benefits of the Third Party Motor Insurance Policy to ensure that the process of identification is seamless and transparent.
“We want to see a straightforward and fraud proof way of acquiring the insurance sticker. This has worked in a country like Uganda. It should work here also.
“I wish to remind us in ending my speech that the commitment to safer roads is for all Nigerians. The FRSC, Special Marshals and the Regular Marshals cannot do it alone.
“I urge all Nigerians to join us in making a personal commitment to Keep the Roads Safe by not drinking and driving, not over speed, wearing your seatbelts and helmets, observing the traffic rules and encouraging fellow drivers to obey traffic rules.
“That way, the loss of the lives of my son and all those who have passed, will never be in vain. Above all, I urge everyone to make a commitment to stop and save a road crash victim and please do not look away.”
Noble and wonderful as these calls for upgrade of the legal frameworks setting up the Roads safety commission are, but the biggest challenge to the safety of commuters is not being looked at which is the all-important grave threat posed by kidnappers and bandits on the highways.
The critical postulation is to ask the Nigerian government why it does not think that it has the legal obligations to enforce the counter terror law effectively on the highways to stop the incessant attacks, kidnappings and maiming of commuters and users of these highways.
Why check the road worthiness of vehicles plying our roads but fail to fix the rapidly deteriorating federal road infrastructures and the increasing threats to the lives and property of commuters on the highways?
This reflection is to challenge the Federal Republic of Nigeria to amend the Federal Road Safety COMMISSION’s law to blend it with relevant sections of the nation’s counter terrorism laws so it becomes inherently incumbent on a joint patrol of men and operatives of Federal Road Safety COMMISSION and the trained wing of the armed security forces to continuously clampdown on TERRORISTS ON NIGERIAN HIGHWAYS. Just the past five Months, not less than 500 Nigerian commuters on these Highways have been killed or kidnapped by terrorists.
Recently, no fewer than two passengers were killed, while a police officer was shot at a nearby roadblock by suspected armed robbers on Okene -Lokoja highway in Kogi State. The incident, which occurred at about 6pm at Osara last led to most of the drivers abandoning their vehicles and running away while the passengers were left stranded on the road.
Also, a report by Daily Nigerian indicates that armed men suspected to be kidnappers on Thursday, July 30, returned to Abuja-Kaduna expressway and abducted an unspecified number of travellers. The incident happened as many Muslim faithfuls travel to spend time with their loved ones for the Sallah festivities.
Around July, a Nigeria army captain attached to the 353 Artillery Regiment, Ojo, Lagos, was shot dead by men suspected to be armed bandits or kidnappers. GSM Abubakar, with army number N/13600, was traveling in his Honda Accord car when he ran into a blockade mounted by the armed men along the notorious Okene -Lokoja highway, those familiar with the matter said.
Mr Abubakar, media sources said, was traveling from Lagos to the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, to participate in this year’s junior officers course.
In less than five days that an Army Captain was killed along Abuja- lokoja- Okene highway by men suspected to be armed robbers/ kidnappers two other naval officers were also killed on Thursday evening.
The two officers one Male and the other female were said to have been shot dead at about 6pm while driving in their personal vehicle along the now dreaded area of the highway
This is coming six days after an army captain GSM Abubakar was also killed on the same road while his mother and wife were reportedly kidnapped.
Around May, it was an unusual onslaught of attacks for Lagos residents by highway robbers in recent days, who have taken advantage of the traffic snarl caused by road construction workers and tanker drivers along several sections of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway.
In June, four persons narrowly escaped death, as hoodlum suspected to be armed robbers with automatic pump action rifle fired indiscriminately after allegedly snatching a bag containing the sum of N3,500,000 cash from one Mr Ebuka Ukeakpu, at Regina Ceali junction by Zenith Bank PLC along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Awka, Anambra State. Then in July a yet to be specified number of travellers were allegedly abducted along Abuja- Kaduna Expressway on Thursday by some hoodlums.
SaharaReporters gathered that the gunmen laid ambush near Katari Village, shooting sporadically at some vehicles heading to Kaduna around 9:00am.
Another media observer told the story thus: “An unspecified number of people are said to have been abducted on the Kaduna-Abuja highway.
The incident, according one of the victims, the driver of The Sun Newspapers circulation van, Mallam Ibrahim, occurred in the early hours of Thursday.
He said the incident took place close to the popular Alheri Camp, a few kilometres to the Kaduna metropolis. Last Month a staff of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Abuja network station, Abdullah Aminu, was shot by kidnappers along Abuja-Kaduna express way.
Aminu was among travellers who escaped kidnappers’ attacks on Wednesday along the dreaded highway.
The Nation gathered the broadcaster, who was once a staff of the Kaduna network centre of NTA, was traveling to Kaduna when the incident occurred.
Some unknown gunmen same last month kidnapped the Medical Director of the Ondo State General Hospital , Ido Ani in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State , Dr . Olufemi Adeogun.
The hoodlums also abducted two other people who are workers of the hospital alongside with the medical doctor.
It was gathered that the victims were abducted on the bad portion of Ipele -Ido Ani road in the evening and their whereabouts are yet unknown.
Same last month, heavily armed robbers attacked commuters along Benin-Asaba highway, Benin City in Edo State.
The bandits’ operation, which started around 4 p.m., lasted for more than 20 minutes, was witnessed by PREMIUM TIMES.
Many drivers drove their cars off the road while passengers ran for their safety into a nearby village, Ugoneki.
Gunmen on a typical midweek in September killed two people and reportedly abducted several others along the Lokoja – Abuja expressway.
The incident occurred at about 7:00 a.m. between Acheni and Gegu villages in Kogi State. In Ebonyi State around July ending, the Police Command in Ebonyi confirmed the killing of four officers by suspected armed robbers at Ezzamgbo junction of the Enugu-Abakaliki federal highway.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Phillip Maku made the disclosure in an interview with Newsmen.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.