The Lagos State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, tells TOBI AWORINDE that the agency’s restriction in Lagos State conforms to federal legislation
How would you sum up your experience so far in the Federal Road Safety Corps?
This is my second year as the sector commander. Looking back so far, it has not been easy but God has been our strength. The challenges are quite enormous, given the vehicular density of Lagos, the attitude of Lagosians to the use of the roads and the construction work on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The construction has been ongoing for the past two years with the perennial traffic challenges that were created; this has kept all of us on our toes. Looking at the finances available to do what we need to do, I can tell you that it is quite challenging.
Our passion in what we are doing has been propelling us. We see our services as humanitarian in nature. Everybody cannot mount the pulpit to preach the gospel or be the chief imam, but I know that in my own little way, I am contributing to humanity.
Can you compare Lagos to other states in terms of traffic compliance?
Like I said, there is so much impunity going on. People flagrantly disobey traffic rules and regulations to one’s greatest amusement, despite all that the government has done, especially in Lagos State. The Lagos State Government has done so much in terms of improving the road infrastructure that would aid free flow of traffic, but we still see people not utilising these facilities as they are supposed to. A good example is the issue of traffic lights. You can notice that Lagos State has tried to signalise all critical junctions and those traffic lights are working. Each time you get to those junctions and there are no Lagos State Traffic Management Authority personnel, traffic warden, FRSC officer or any other officer of a traffic management agency around, people do the opposite of what the light is indicating. That gives me concern and it’s just lawlessness.
There are zebra crossings in front of schools, churches and some critical areas where pedestrians are supposed to cross the road. Yet, nobody is obeying the zebra crossing law. When a pedestrian puts a foot on the first white line, vehicles should stop there for the pedestrian to cross. Again, that is just flagrant disobedience to road traffic rules and regulations. Also, look at what the Lagos State Government has been able to do in creating lay-bys at bus stops. We expect people to go into those bus stops and pick or drop passengers. But if you don’t have a LASTMA officer there, they would not go inside properly. So, I am worried about the attitude of Nigerians and Lagosians to the regulations. It is quite worrisome. Despite all we are doing in terms of enlightenment programmes — (motor) park advocacies, road shows, being visible in the media, talking to people, educating people — and enforcement strategies, we still have a high level of impunity.
How does the restriction of the Federal Road Safety Corps by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode affect the operations of the corps?
It is good that we get this in the right perspective. The FRSC (Establishment) Act empowers the corps to operate on all public roads. But the same Act also mandates the corps to encourage states to set up their own traffic management agencies. So, when we have successfully midwifed a state to have their own traffic management agency, it is natural that we just concede to them the responsibility of managing traffic within the metropolis, while we focus on the highways and federal corridors, with high severity index. To this end, the corps marshal gave a directive that where the corps has been able to midwife state traffic management agencies successfully, and they are working, we should allow the state traffic management agencies to manage traffic within the city centre, while we concentrate on the federal corridors. We have been doing that, even before the governor’s announcement on Tuesday during the commissioning of the Berger pedestrian bridge. When you see us (FRSC) in Lagos State (it is), an intervention.
You have a crash (for instance); a container has just fallen on Apapa Road. During rescue operations and critical gridlocks, we intervene, giving LASTMA back-up, support services. But mainly, our enforcement operations include Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Mile 2-Iba-Badagry Expressway, Lekki-Epe Expressway. Those are the three major corridors within Lagos where we have always carried out our enforcement operations. Looking at the governor’s statement, I have been seeing all manner of headlines, ‘Gov. Ambode bans…’ It is not correct; I was there and I heard him clearly. He said, ‘The Vehicle Inspection Office has been permanently put out of Lagos, while the FRSC is advised….’ Go and play the tape again. He used the word ‘advised’ because he knows that there are certain things that have to do with Acts of the National Assembly.
Is the FRSC Act in agreement with the governor’s advice?
The FRSC (Establishment) Act is an Act of the National Assembly that goes beyond states. So, he (Ambode) said, ‘FRSC has been advised to stick to the fringes and highways, rather than the main streets of Lagos.’ This is quite in order because the corps, as I said, had earlier given a directive. I have it in black and white, considering holistically how many states whose traffic management agencies we had midwifed by giving them all the support needed in terms of training, logistics, etc. so that they can manage traffic. For some of them, we trained their personnel. I participated in training some LASTMA personnel and that is how it is done in other states.
What is the biggest challenge of your job?
There is nothing that the FRSC is losing sleep over. If you look at our strategic goals for 2017, one of them is to ‘advance road safety administration.’ One key strategy initiative under that goal is to encourage states to help their traffic management agencies, so that the job can be easier for all us. What is the total workforce of the FRSC that you think you can be everywhere at the same time and do everything? LASTMA is doing very well in Lagos. Let them manage the inner city and we concentrate on federal corridors. Talking about federal corridors in Lagos, if you look at Lagos, because of its status as the former Federal Capital Territory, majority of the roads you see today in Lagos are federal roads. Western Avenue down-Ikorodu-Sagamu is a federal corridor. Others are Western Avenue-Third Mainland Bridge; Nigerian Ports Authority-Badagry, Lekki-Epe, Oshodi-Apapa, and Lagos-Ibadan. So, if anything is happening in any of those places, I will not be looking the other way because of headlines in the newspapers. What the governor is saying is that ‘we don’t want to see FRSC at Osborne, Acme Road, etc. going into streets.’
Is the reason for the governor’s removal of VIO from Lagos roads related to his restriction on FRSC?
The VIO issue is different. If I heard him very well, he said, “due to public complaints.” The VIO (was criticised) for its modus operandi. The VIO is also an institution that has its statutory function. The VIO is responsible for testing drivers and checking the vehicles for their roadworthiness status. You can’t take it away from them. The FRSC is not mandated to do that. It is their (VIO) work. Inasmuch as I can arrest owners of vehicles that are not roadworthy, it is the statutory duty of the VIO to inspect vehicles and ensure that they are roadworthy. If there is a crash today and you are doing an investigation, you must invite the VIO to check that vehicle. If the man (driver) is claiming it is brake failure, you need to involve VIO personnel to see if truly that vehicle had brake failure. So, if the state government feels otherwise about their modus operandi, it is a state issue. I don’t want to get entangled in it.
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