The Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps, Lagos State, Olusegun Ogungbemide, in this interview with OLAMIDE FAMUWAGUN explains the challenges confronting the agency in managing the traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the steps being taken to manage them. Excerpts:
Since you assumed the position as sector commander in Lagos, can you tell us what has changed in road traffic management?
When I came into Lagos, I was welcomed by the crash at the Kara Bridge; about three tankers were involved. Two carried 45,000 litres of fuel each, while the third carried gas. So, it generated an inferno, a very huge one. The roads were blocked, and two people died. A few weeks later, another crash occurred at the same spot. As a newcomer in Lagos, I was forced to ask what was unique about that spot. Before this, I had studied the Otedola Bridge, where accidents were always occurring. So, I combined the Kara situation with my study. I conducted research in line with one of the responsibilities of the FRSC. I later realised that the major problem was that while approaching Berger, there are smooth roads till after Otedola; from there, you encounter rough patches, and crashes usually occur at late hours or very early when there is low visibility. When a car runs down a smooth road, and on getting to the rough side, the driver unconsciously slams the brakes, those coming behind will hit the car from the rear.
I met the construction company and asked them to smoothen the road so it could blend with Berger Road. So, when trucks are coming from Berger, they just enter the smooth road and push into the Long bridge; that way they can avert the crashes.
Also, we reinvigorated our safe-to-load process. We have depots where wet cargoes are loaded and ports where dry cargoes are loaded. Dry cargoes are loaded in containers, wet cargoes are loaded in tankers. So, what we do is to position our operatives at all the depots; anyone that does not meet up with the minimum safety standard, including the engine capacity to carry the load it is carrying, will not pull out. The process started in 2017 and that has assisted in reducing the rate of crashes involving articulated vehicles. When you compare what it used to be with what it is now, there has been a tremendous reduction in road crashes in that corridor. Our men are also on the road for enforcement at all times.
What peculiar challenges has the FRSC been facing in the state?
When you talk of vehicles, roads, and response time, they are all within our power. The challenges are the ones beyond our control, including human errors and misconduct. We can insist that vehicles not meeting the minimum safety standard should not be on the road right from their parks. We can go to parks and talk to drivers about how to use roads and passengers about how to maintain safety. But I don’t know the heart of a man who has decided to drive against traffic. Laws are made for the majority, but enforcement ideally should be for the minority. But the problem is when the majority fails to adhere to the law, enforcement will be for the majority and it becomes overwhelming for enforcement agencies. Most people now want to be against the rule. It’ll look like the law enforcement agencies are not doing much, but they are doing their best. It’s only that the rate of impunity has increased.
The traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has become a major source of concern to stakeholders. Aside from road construction, those driving against traffic are major contributors to the problem. Why is the FRSC not arresting them?
It involves discretion and common sense. For vehicles in an emergency, like ambulances and convoys, we can’t stop them. But the unfortunate thing is that when these people empowered to drive against traffic are moving, you see a line of vehicles following them. So, when it is overwhelming, the best we do is to manage them. We arrest, but we do not make arrests to the detriment of our safety. If in the course of wanting to arrest my safety is jeopardised, I should use my common sense and ascertain the priority at that time. It’s not that we are toothless; it’s only that we operate with discretion. We may see that the minority is leading the way, but our priority at that moment is to keep the road free for the majority. If arresting that driver on one way will bring discomfort to others, I’ll put him aside. When we’re at the peak of the problem, we get some of the offenders as scapegoats and keep them for hours. During traffic control, we stop our men from conducting enforcement simultaneously so they don’t get distracted. You can spend one hour arresting one person. Now, imagine leaving traffic management for one hour; road users will suffer, so we try to balance it. What we do more is more of an intelligent patrol.
What are the plans of the FRSC and Julius Berger in terms of creating alternatives for users of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway?
I’m not a technical person when it comes to road construction, so when they (Julius Berger) give the impression that this is the best way we can run it, the only thing we can do is to think of our own best way of managing the traffic. The major problem we have is not Julius Berger, it is the road users. Julius Berger must do the road and we must create an avenue for them to work. Assuming it’s a road that does not have alternative routes or diversions, won’t they construct the road? That’s why every day we sensitise members of the public. Our major problems are the commercial drivers; they’re always in a hurry. If you stand and see 10 people going against traffic, nine of them are commercial drivers. We have spoken to them, but there is no other language than enforcement, and since we can’t do it alone, we mobilise other agencies. We are working hand in hand with Julius Berger; it may not be enough, but we’ll continue to interface with them to make the road seamless for users.
Does the FRSC intervene when hoodlums extort money from road users seeking alternative routes in the bush?
We don’t intervene in what is not our business; our business is to monitor and manage traffic on the road, not in the bushes. If they’re creating obstruction on the road, I can go and talk to them, but if they’re not ready to listen, we can call the police and get them arrested. But if we leave the road that we have been assigned to and meet someone under the bridge, the question will be, what took you to that place? When people are having challenges, the road and the vicinity must have protection so they can alert security agencies. But ours is to manage traffic, and where do I manage traffic? It is the road structured for vehicles to pass. Those that decide to go offline are the ones that create problems, so why will I celebrate them? If they stay in their lane and are patient, they won’t be paying miscreants under the bridge.
In the last eight months, what is the accident rate in Lagos?
Between January and August, we recorded about 87 injuries and about 56 deaths. However, we observed that the fatality rate was higher at odd hours. During the day, you have more visibility; you can see what to dodge, and the agitation of insecurity is reduced. But many pranks play out at night; at times, a driver will put off his headlight, forgetting that there may be another vehicle coming from the other side; that one too may have put off his headlight, then you’ll see head-on collisions at odd locations at night, when there is no available help. There are also limited places that security agencies cover. They can’t cover the entire route and the tendency for road users to run at excessive speed at night is high because of insecurity. It’s still all about the discipline of road users, especially internal distractions like the use of phones while driving. Nothing distracts the driver more than that.
What plan does the FRSC have for the ‘ember’ months?
The plan we have is always improving. One of the plans is to build the capacity of our operatives and recruit more members of the public. The man that is recruited becomes one of us, and it’ll be an act of sabotage and betrayal for anyone as a road safety officer to go contrary to what the rules say, so we are winning more souls. Those people who have been recruited will now understand the tenets of safety, their driving culture will improve and they’re now helping hands when there are crashes.
Apart from this, we now have more tools to work with. I just received them; more cones, more first aid and more vehicles for visibility. We believe with more mobile patrol, we will have wider coverage and visibility. Our men have also been given the correct frame of mind; their welfare has been taken care of. I will also continue to engage the construction company, so that the travelling time will improve.
The advocacy, however, will be directed at speaking to the conscience of the people. The government is doing its own, and FRSC is and will continue to do its own with various policies put in place and with continuous enforcement. But it takes road users’ cooperation with us to keep roads safe. Any crash that occurs while your speed is below 100km per hour has a lesser impact and is not likely to claim lives. It’s an indication that we must bring down our speed. As we often say, speed thrills but kills.