Why My Personnel Should Carry Arms - Boboye Oyeyemi
The Interview Magazine
Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi, as Corps Marshal and Chief Executive (COMACE), steers the affairs of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). He is a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) and winner of the National Productivity Order of Merit. Oyeyemi shares his ideas and experiences with The Interview, not just as the Corps Marshal, but also a pioneer officer of the Federal Road Safety Corps.
You have been with the Corps right from the beginning. How has the journey been?
Yes, I’ve been around from the beginning and more or less, I am the last man standing, among all those that started the Corps.
How did it happen that you are the only one left?
It is God. Some retired at the mandatory age of 60, some resigned at times appropriate for them and some just felt like leaving at one point or the other; others passed away in the course of the job. I was part of the foundation team that oversaw the engagement of the first batch of 250 officers who formed the nucleus of the Corps then. I was one of those who worked and contributed to the training. Communications is one of my specialties and I remember I was the one who trained them in the use of radio communications.
How was it at the beginning?
When we started there was no office in Ibadan, which was where our inaugural office was located. We used to stay under a tree and the office was a Peugeot 505 station wagon car. So we worked in a car located under a tree. But today, you can see that the Corps, to the glory of God, now has a national headquarters. We thank the government for giving us this place formerly used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; at least it can take about 80 per cent of the headquarters’ workforce.
Today the Corps has 12 zonal headquarters, 37 Sector Commands, 206 unit commands, 200 driver licence centres and three number plate production centres, in Lagos, Gwagwalada and Awka, in Anambra State.
We have two training institutions: the academy that trains graduates and the training school in Jos, for the marshals and diploma holders. So you can see the Corps is no longer an agency; it is an institution that has grown and will continue to grow and outlive all members of the Corps today. The only thing we can do is to continue to build. We build institutions in a continuous manner and when we look at what we all that belong to the Corps have been able to do, we have a sense of fulfillment that we have made a contribution to the FRSC, that we have contributed to or overseen what we can call the metamorphosis of the Corps from inception to date. And some people will take over from us in a few years to come. By the time I finish my tenure in a few years’ time, I will hand over to another person.
So I look back and thank my predecessors, from Dr. Olu Agunloye, the pioneer Corps Marshal, to General Hannaniya, to my immediate predecessor, Chief Osita Chidoka. When you look back, in one way or the other, all of them have made their contributions to the growth and development of the Corps, and that is how it should be.
I was reflecting with some of my officers recently and I recalled that before the establishment of the Corps, in those days of newspapers like the Sketch, Evening Times, Daily Times, New Nigerian, etc., all one saw in those newspapers, especially on Sundays and Mondays, were headlines like “Evening Ghastly Accident”, “Horror! 20 Perish in Accident”, “40 Die in Highway Tragedy”, and so forth. Fortunately that is not the case today. If you want to measure the effectiveness of the Corps now, you will observe that even though crashes still occur they are not as catastrophic or up to the frightening levels we were once used to seeing them. It shows that there is a declining trend from the nasty accident tolls of those years.
This fact is evident even from the records of the World Health Organization (WHO), and others like the International Air Transport Association (IATA). I must admit the latter has not fully verified the WHO records on Nigeria but they cannot be too different from that of the WHO. This will mean that the government in Nigeria has been taking steps towards ensuring a reduction in fatalities during crashes. While it is not the best to have crashes, but if there must be 1000 crashes, let the casualty figures be minimal.
For instance, if you are on the road in traffic and your car bumper hits that of another car, do you agree it’s a crash? Yes, it’s a crash but the issue is the number and severity in terms of human casualties - minor, major, serious or fatal. It is the degree of the crash, the degree of the injuries that the WHO is talking about.
The Declaration of the United Nations (UN) Decade for Road Safety enjoins member-nations to work towards reduction of road accident fatalities by 50 per cent. We are talking about lives; crashes might occur but let the lives be saved. Like the report I received yesterday about two crashes but where nobody got injured. It made me happy. It also let me realize we are working and that measures we are putting in place are effective, at least up to a certain level. The 50 per cent reduction-in-accidents goal by UN member-countries is what we are working towards; and so far, so good. I believe the FRSC has been able to justify its existence during the close to three decades it has been in existence.
Was becoming a Road Safety Officer what you always wanted?
I was trained in Communications and Electronics Engineering before I did my postgraduate studies in public administration, human resources management and also transportation management. When I graduated, there was no FRSC but when the call came, I felt that this was service. I was also happy to be a pioneer and also a foundation member of the Corps, and also to make my contributions. My first start as a young officer was to design a communications network for the Corps. I am happy I was able to do that and it has been functioning ever since.
What innovations have you brought as the Corps Marshal?
The first thing is that we have been able to bring in and integrate into our operations the concept of the Flight Ticket. Now, we have stopped actively pursuing offenders; instead we take down their plate numbers. We can proudly say that today, with the support of the government, we have the national database for vehicle registration, we have a national database for driver’s licences and we also have the offender’s database. If you have these three, there is no need to pursue anyone. It sometimes results into fatal crashes when you pursue offenders and there have been a lot of editorials and reports before now enjoining us to update our database infrastructure and utilize a scientific approach, rather than pursuing offenders. Once the structure is in place, and it is, we take down the numbers as is the practice in the developed world and nail the offenders. If we now summon them and they don’t report, you get a warrant of arrest, and if it is a company, the name of the company is written down and the plate number is there for follow-up. Just take the number and the name and you subsequently write the company to provide the identity of the driver.
But when you go to other countries where such methods are very effective there are usually CCTV cameras everywhere; how do you think this will work here without the relevant infrastructure? Won’t it be a case of your word against the offender’s?
Let me first of all, allow me to thank fellow Nigerians on this because people have actually been coming to us with such evidence. They call our toll-free numbers to report traffic infractions, reckless driving and even use their smartphones to take photos and record videos and upload to us.
There was an incident in Lagos a few weeks ago. Certain members of the public saw a woman driving on the curb, facing the traffic. They took a photo and also got details of the car, uploaded it on Facebook and we saw it. We then alerted the Sector Commander in Lagos to effect the woman’s arrest and that was done. We uploaded the process on Facebook. At the end of the day the public was very happy. It shows that we are transferring the power to the people. Once the public has the awareness, all of us will be on the watch for one another. That means if you are in traffic and someone is on the ‘phone and driving at the same time, you can easily take a photo of the person, get the vehicle’s plate number and forward it to us. That’s a proof. And again, Nigerians have written to me that they are ready to testify if such matters get to court. It tickles me that there is hope for this country, especially if that particular attitude and culture is improved upon.
That means people would always be careful because they may not know who is watching them, even as late as 10pm.
But we still need more infrastructure and to improve upon those we have...
It is not the responsibility of the FRSC to provide traffic lights or cameras but that of the state government or relevant administration. The state is expected to provided the tools to enable the different agencies, either the police, FRSC or Directorate of State Security (DSS) carry out their duties and responsibilities. For instance, Abuja as a metropolitan city has a good traffic light system but this is not properly programmed. And we have just written a letter to the Permanent Secretary (of the Federal Capita; Territory, FCT), drawing his attention to the issue. Some of the traffic lights are not functioning properly; they are on red permanently. When a motorist waits for five minutes and the light does not change, he or she just drives off. That kind of scenario leads to lawlessness. By the time that same motorist gets to the working traffic lights, he or she thinks it is like those ones malfunctioning. This will make more people jump or disregard lights, so we all realize adequate infrastructure and maintenance is critical to road safety management in any country.
Nigerians go to the UK, US and other developed countries. When they are driving in those countries, even before the traffic light turns red they have already stopped. When you enter their car, they will tell you to fasten the seat belt before they start the car because they know the implication; that the camera will pick any infraction and the next day they will just see a ticket mailed to their house. If you don’t pay, they will be accumulating it. The day they arrest you and they profile you that you have not paid the former fines, you are going to jail. That is what we are working towards; a flight ticket and fine system, which we have already introduced.
How has the implementation of that system been so far?
The enforcement we are doing now is based on information and computer technology (ICT). We don’t use longhand again for booking sheets, the patrol teams go with e-tablets and profile whoever they are booking. That is why if you look at the surge in the numbers of those getting driver’s licences, we have made nonsense of the issue of fake driver’s licences; when people talk about fake driver’s licences, I smile. It will “work” if you are not caught because if you are caught, you are prosecuted or you pay a fine, depending on your choice.
Again, I punish to correct. We make sure you are corrected; you go to the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), do the right thing and get your licence. When we arrest 10 people, at least three of them have fake driver’s licences; we impound the vehicles because the marshals now profile licences to ensure they are genuine. The procedure is that if you are caught, the marshal first profiles your driver’s licence and if it is genuine, they move on to the offence you committed. But if it is not genuine they book you for the driver’s licence violation, the original offence committed and then take you to the office. Your vehicle remains impounded, while you go to court or pay the fine. After that you go for your licence. First, you get the temporary licence and then return for the driver’s education segment.
You see, we are correcting what has been wrong with the driver violation system and that is why the tripod of advocacy, education and enlightenment is very critical to sustain this.
If you accumulate 10-14 points regarding your different violations and infractions, you get a warning, and come for driver’s education. For instance if you are caught for dangerous driving, that is 10 points. Different offences attract different points; it ranges from 3, 5, 8 and 10 points. Once you accumulate up to 14 points you come for driver’s education for five hours, one hour every day. That’s the practice in developed countries. Even in developed countries you go for community service.
Tell us, do people really attend driver’s education classes?
Yes, they come for driver’s education. Before you either pay your fine or are prosecuted, you do those morning lectures. Even before you get your licence today, you must do driver’s education for 45 minutes. We must institutionalise all these things. When you accumulate 15-20 points your licence is suspended for three months and you come back for driver’s education for about 15-20 hours. You are not required to do it in a day. The essence is you are required to attend the classes everyday; it is part of the punishment or sanction for your infraction. Next time you would think twice before you commit the offence.
We realize it might bring some discomfort to you because, for instance, you may have to take permission from your boss daily to come for driver’s education. If you now accumulate 21 points, your driver’s licence is withdrawn or suspended for one year. And we can enforce this because of the biometrics. Even if you change your name or even do plastic surgery, you cannot change your fingerprints; if you apply for another licence, our system will flag it. So if I confiscate your licence and you attempt to get another licence you will be caught. That is why we must commend Mr. President for that recent directive that all agencies involved in biometrics should harmonise their databases. That is the way forward for the country. It is a positive development since it will eliminate dual or multiple identifications or identities. Prior to this, you could have this identity and still call yourself Cynthia or call yourself Chukwuma in another place; it cannot happen again since you can only have one form of identification now.
What exactly are you doing to completely eliminate incidences of fake driver’s licences?
Education, advocacy, enlightenment and also enforcement now. I have been repeating it that education and enforcement is the way out.
But who are those issuing these fake licenses?
They are fake people. We do not process fake licences. You have gone through the process yourself and know what is involved. And I will repeat it here that anybody that has not gone through physical capture and biometrics administration has not processed a genuine licence. Anybody that has given his or her passport photograph to someone else to process, gives the person N15, 000 - N20, 000 for the processing, sits in his cosy office and expects that person to bring him a licence has been given a fake licence. A driver’s licence costs N6350, not more or less, so the issue is that we must remove bigmanism in our lives. People should learn to follow the process.
One thing I promised a year ago is that a license will be ready under 30 days. We were commended for that just last week by the Joint Tax Board. States are confirming that persons are receiving their licences within three weeks of biometrics capture. This is a success story and we are making progress on that. You see, Rome was not built in a day. We will continue to improve on the technology, improve on infrastructure, inter-agency cooperation and punish offenders. We must commend the DSS and the Nigeria Police because when drivers’ infractions occur, it is a criminal matter and require criminal prosecution. This is beyond the Act that set up the Corps, which means the Corps cannot prosecute criminal acts committed by drivers. But we have been getting tremendous cooperation and assistance from those two agencies.
The banks are also working with us already. They will start verifying driver’s licences for us soon. We are going to deploy the software to the banks soon and once we do this, once you produce your licence for a transaction at the bank, it is verified on the spot and if it is a fake they will call in the police.
When will that particular collaboration with the banks begin? It sounds interesting...
We have trained all the security agencies for the Phase 1 of the plan. The next thing now is to engage the Bankers’ Committee and make a presentation before it because our plan is related to a security effort and the banks will have to key into it, train their personnel and then deploy the technology. You see, we must continue to work as a team to eradicate this particular problem of fake licenses. Once the banks start deploying our equipment to all their branches and begin verifying people’s licences, law-abiding members of the public will not be deterred by the initiative and they’ll even want to go to the banks to verify their licences, to make sure that they are not fake.
There was a major controversy in 2007 when Osita Chidoka, perceived as an outsider, became the Corps Marshall. How did that happen?
I am a year and two months today (September 23rd) as the Corps Marshal and it is a privilege. When it happens we must thank the authorities for encouraging someone from another branch of government to take over the affairs of the FRSC. I have received a lot of support from the government to ensure stability and the 21,000 workforce in the Corps has also been supportive.
But how were you able to manage the crisis then?
You mean in 2007?
At the end of the day we had to respect the government’s decision. You see, we cannot challenge the government. The government said “this is the person we want as the head” and for those of us who were senior officers here at the time we resolved it was the government’s decision and we had to abide by it. So we pledged our support to the government’s appointee and continued working.
Do you think another "outsider" could become Corps Marshall in future?
Well, I believe that since we can manage ourselves, by the time my tenure is over, I will advise government on what the gains are of getting someone from within the Corps and the government has seen the gains of such.
Collection and remittance of funds for licence plates has been a perennial problem between the states and the Corps. How are you dealing with this problem?
There is no issue there. We don’t have any problems with the states’ remittances
But we are aware some states do not remit funds as at when due. How are you dealing with that?
Okay, let me say this: on the issue of driver’s licence, it is stress-free. The number plates are produced for the states and they sell to the public. We produce for the states, the MDAs, the military, para-military organizations and the diplomatic corps, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The FRSC does not really have any interface with the public in that respect.
But are the states remitting payments to the Corps as they should?
Some are owing us. We gave a kind of facility to them and with the change of government we have been appealing to the states that are owing us to pay up.
The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) once threatened to publish names of states indebted to it. Are you considering going that route in order to get them to pay what they are owing?
No, no, no, I won’t do that. From the last joint taskforce meeting we had, we have seen a lot of improvement. At the end of the day, WAEC didn’t even publish the names and the states paid. So I don’t think I need to go on air to mention any names because there is an understanding and I believe that with the change of power the records are being straightened out and they will pay.
Are these monies owed the Corps not affecting your operations?
No, what the states are paying is just the production costs; the driver’s licence administration is not being funded by the government. It is self-funded on PPP so it is not a profit-making venture for the FRSC. What we get from government is just the production costs and to drive acquisition of the required infrastructure.
Some states, like Lagos, have argued for decentralisation, even independence, of the plate licensing process, meaning the states should handle it. Are you opposed to such an idea?
From estimates, we have about 8.5 million vehicles in the country. That was an estimate but the reality has proved that we have 50 per cent of that. The total number plates that we have produced for the federal, states, local governments, diplomatic corps, military and para-military organizations and government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) is five million. The number in our database today is just slightly over three million. Lagos State has the highest density of over 33 per cent. It is not viable for any state to set number plates production because the running costs can be onerous and unviable for states that want to go it alone.
Today, we are running 250 generators nationwide, since the level of compliance regarding new number plates is 80 per cent. In Lagos it is 99 per cent. If you spend about 500 million to set up a number plates production plant, where are you going to market it? It is not viable.
Drivers, especially commercial drivers, often complain that some Corps members demand bribes. Do you receive such complaints and are there institutional measures to deal with them?
We are aware of such complaints but it takes two to tango. Even if the marshal demands a bribe, the driver gives the bribe and the marshal takes it; both of them are wrong. I have engaged the leadership of the various transport owners and drivers’ unions and have been appealing to them to warn their members to stop giving bribes. On the part of our personnel, if you are going out on patrol the maximum amount you can have on you is stated in the Operational Order or manual and anything in excess of that, you will have to explain. If you are caught you will be decommissioned immediately. So, we don’t take that issue lightly. I have zero tolerance for corruption. I have never demanded for gratification from my personnel and neither have I ever asked anyone to bring returns to me. If I don’t demand returns from you why must you go on the road to ask? And the government has been kind to us; we are well-remunerated, and the government strives to improve our welfare packages.
Apart from stating and monitoring the maximum amount they are permitted to have during patrols, are there other institutional measures to checkmate this trend of bribery on the part of corps personnel?
Yes. All the patrol vehicles are tracked. I know where all the patrol cars are at any point in time; I track them. Someone is always sitting in a room watching and if a patrol team stays too long in a place, they are queried immediately to know what is happening. And if they overspeed, I give them a citation and force them to pay the fine, which is deducted from their salaries.
One major problem with the security and paramilitary services, especially under past administrations, has been funding. The police formations in different states, for example, have had to depend on state governments to purchase patrol vehicles for their operations. What's the current level of funding for the Corps?
It is encouraging. We must thank the government. We have just taken receipt of our capital grant now for us to procure more vehicles. Our personnel are paid regularly. Even though there is room for improvement, I am satisfied because the government is doing its best.
There were moves sometime ago to get marshals to carry arms. We understand that a few marshals have started receiving training for this. Is that correct? How will it assist your work?
Yes, it is correct. We have been getting support from the Nigerian Police but the Police are overstretched and it is for the protection of our vital installations.
Last week our office in Yangoji was vandalised by an irate mob, before we could get the support of the Police from Kwale. Three weeks ago in Osogbo, our patrol teams were assaulted and the office was damaged. We need to make our personnel able to protect the vital installations. We have 200 driver’s licence workstations; they need to be guarded. Armed robbers went to the one in Ogoja and carted away all the computers and equipment used to issue the driver’s licence. That’s a big loss. Just last week in Warri the same thing happened. That mean we have lost a lot of vital equipment in just three weeks.
So the clamour for Corps personnel to carry arms is solely for the protection of your vital installations?
The phase one is for the protection of vital installations and also VIP protection. We still maintain over civil approach to the public. But again, in the course of enforcement for now, the patrol teams do experience violent attacks and they run to the office. They should be able to have some form of protection, for their own personal safety. So we need the arms for the protection of our vital formations and our personnel
But are some of your personnel who go out to patrol armed at this time?
No, we do not bear arms during patrols now. If and when it happens, it will be phased and at the appropriate time the government will make pronouncement on this. But what we have said and stressed is the need to have our vital installations protected by our own personnel.
Between 2006 and 2010, N8.6 trillion naira was budgeted for building and maintaining road infrastructure, out of which only N640 billion was appropriated. Do you think this shortfall negatively impacted road safety?
With the prevalent economic situation in the country, it is glaring government is having challenges in meeting the demands of road construction; it is very difficult for the government now. It is not the wish of the government not to construct the roads. There is a difference between appropriation, budgeting and release. The funds available are what determine the level of release. The vision of the government, especially this present government, is for all the road networks to be in perfect condition. And I believe the government is tackling this already.
But this report is between 2006 and 2010 and therefore has nothing to do with the present government…
All over the years government has not been able to meet the budgetary provision for road construction because of paucity of funds. And there is no way this will not affect road safety management. Where the roads are good, we are managing the situation; where the roads are bad, we are still managing the situation. That is why the government is working on the establishment of the National Road Fund. When we have that Fund, monies will also be coming in from other sources, which can be used for maintaining our roads. I think the government is accelerating action now so that the National Road Fund Bill is passed. It is operational in Ghana already and it will also assist us if it becomes a reality in Nigeria also.
What exactly is this Bill going to do?
You know, the Road Fund will primarily take care of road maintenance needs. It will appropriate funds for road maintenance. That is the ultimate goal. All other sources of funding that the government can utilize, like maybe insurance, petroleum tax, depend on approval by the National Assembly. With the Road Bill, it is not going to be subvention or appropriation from the National Assembly; rather, funding will be from other sources, so at any point in time there will always be funds to maintain the roads in one form or the other.
When do you think this bill will be passed?
Well, that is beyond me. It is with the National Assembly and I can hear the calls from the professionals already, appealing it is necessary for the National Road Fund Act to be in place and that it will solve a lot of problems with road maintenance. My counterpart in Ghana is already benefitting from the National Road Fund in place there.
During the last election the Corps was among the services that received the lowest amount of funds for (election) monitoring; some people in the Corps complained that they were short-changed. What actually happened?
No one was not short-changed. During the 2011 elections that were phased and our personnel were paid once in a lump sum, many of them were around for the first election and then invented excuses during subsequent elections; they did not turn up for the other elections. I was in charge of operations then and therefore reviewed it. So, this year, I decided to structure the payment into three: pre-presidential, pre-governorship and post-governorship tasks and I communicated this to them. Anyone complaining is engaged in mischief. I paid them three times. After they got the first one, they started shouting. And you see, what we received is different from what the Police or what civil defence personnel received. I am not the lead agency for election monitoring, so you cannot expect the allowance paid to the police to be the same with the FRSC.
Our own primary task was to safeguard the highways and ensure there was no unnecessary vehicular movement during the election. Our personnel was not as large as that of the police, so the fund we received is not the same. And I structured payment of the funds into three phases to ensure maximum participation by our personnel. But by the time those you said were complaining they were short-changed received the third payment, they kept quiet and didn’t tell the world that they had received complete payment.
There has been talk of the Corps introducing speed limiters. Do you think that's the most important safety initiative at this time?
It’s very important. According to data, 50.8% of road crashes last year was as a result of speed; loss of control accounted for 16%. In 2013, it was 48.6%. If I can eliminate speed, you will commend me. That is why I have devoted a lot of my energy to this. Once I can commence the enforcement of Phase 1, I will cut down the speed of all commercial vehicles. I am also happy about what the National Automotive Council has done. All the vehicle manufacturing and assembling plants in the country have been mandated to put speed-limiting devices in the vehicles they are producing; that is a plus for me and the nation. The Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) will also soon direct that all importers should ensure vehicles coming into the country be fitted with speed-limiting devices; that is the ultimate. So I believe that before December 2016 when we expect the directive on speed limiters to be fully in place, we will see a better driving culture. If you are travelling on the highway, you will not exceed 100km/H, and you will not die. Even if a crash occurs, the severity will be minimal.
You are no doubt a busy chief executive; how do you unwind?
I play tennis and every morning I walk and jog. Health is wealth. For all Nigerians, for everybody, we need to take our health seriously. If you wake up in the morning and go for even a 20-25 minute walk, four times a week, you will not see any doctor for a year. You will be healthy and it will control your blood pressure and burn out some of the fat.
When you do exercise, it will help you with your mental and reasoning faculties and you will be looking younger everyday.
What kind of books do you read?
I read a lot of books. I read the scriptures and then I read a lot of motivational books. I also read a lot on road safety management because this job requires that you keep updating your knowledge and skills.
Of all the books you've read, which one has fascinated you the most?
There is one by Myles Munroe. I cannot remember the title now but it talks more about attitude, culture and generational change. That was what drove me into this issue of attitude. You see, one fundamental truth in life is that if you have a bad attitude, you cannot be a result-oriented person. You must have a positive attitude to things.
What are you passionate about?
I have a passion for taking care of widows and the motherless and I have a foundation for that. I equally have a passion for touching lives and lending a helping hand to people and this I do with a lot of joy.
Any particular reason for your interest in widows?
Widows are the most stranded people in the community and most people take advantage of the widows; God has a way of punishing anyone who takes advantage of a less-fortunate person. When you take care of these categories of people, you have a sense of fulfillment.