In August 2011, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state, acting in his capacity as head of the powerful Nigeria Governors’ Forum, authorized a rare initiative.
Having the backing of majority of his 35 colleagues, Mr. Amaechi approved an immediate evaluation and retraining of hundreds of governors’ convoy drivers, a team known more for being notorious for unruly, lawless, and often times deadly road use.
Between 2008 and date, 12 state governors’ convoys have been involved in road accidents, many of them fatal, with 2012 alone recording three as of June. In nearly all of the cases, witnesses held the convoys to blame, accusing them of recklessness and speed.
The convoy drivers are often accused of acting with impunity and disregard for public order, adding to an existing public frustration and resentment for state executives.
So, at the behest of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), in December 2011, more than 604 drivers in the governors’ offices received physical and medical examination, and took specialized courses in driving in a convoy.
Poor eyesights, high blood pressure
The result of the examination is shocking, underlining the real reason for the reckless driving (by governors’ drivers) that has killed more than a dozen people in four years.
The results of the tests tell the story of the men behind the wheels of the racy utility vehicles blamed for the deaths of many and epitomizing the violation of speed limits and the intimidation of other motorists.
Obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES, the report shows that dozens of those who drive our state governors and cars in their convoys have abnormal eyesights and dangerously surging blood pressure.
It also emerged that nearly 300 drivers landed their jobs either without a driver’s license or have expired ones. The driver license of at least one driver had not been renewed since 1998.
The FRSC has not said there will be sanctions for such grave and clear violations.
In the post-training report, a copy of which was sent to Mr. Amaechi, the commission’s chairman, Osita Chidoka, made no suggestions for penalties as stipulated in its laws.
Mr. Chidoka instead tended to be conciliatory in his letter to the Rivers state governor, dated May 12, merely advising that violators be withdrawn from driving, or made to be properly licensed.
But spokesperson for the commission, Julius Agu, told PREMIUM TIMES the commission remained committed to enforcing its laws, suggesting that where violations were confirmed, there would be penalties.”
“It’s the same law for everybody; it does not matter whether it is a governor’s convoy. For driving without a driver’s license, there will be sanctions,” Mr. Agu said.
In all, 241 drivers who participated in the training had invalid license with expiry dates spreading from 1998 to 2011. Worse, 29 drove the governors for years without federal license.
Drivers with abnormal eyesight were 15, while those with abnormal blood pressure totaled 31, the report says.
The worst case of expired license use were recorded in Yobe state. A driver from that state had not renewed his license since 1998. Other states, including Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Taraba, Benue and Adamawa, have drivers whose licenses expired between 2001 and 2009.
Osun and Yobe states had the highest number of drivers with eye defect, which stood at four, while 13 drivers, the highest figure for those with abnormal blood pressure, came from Bayelsa state, the report indicates.
The examination restricted its coverage to mainly physical and medical indices although some of the drivers admit facing immense pressure, and relishing in the feeling of a quasi authority.
“Some of the convoy drivers are reckless and take advantage of being in the convoy to be irresponsible and misbehave in movements,” Emmanuel Uduaghan, Delta state governor said ahead of the assessment last year. “It is even worse sometimes when the governors are not in the convoy,” he said.
A festival of accidents
In the past three years, accidents involving the governors’ convoys have killed at least 17 people, amongst the dead, the erstwhile Gombe state deputy governor in 2011, and more recently, three journalists, reports on road crashes show.
Mr. Uduaghan’s convoy crashed in December 2011, and its victims fortunately had only injuries.
Some of the worst cases of governors’ convoy accidents involved the Ondo state governor in October 2009, in which six people died.
In Katsina in March 2011, five persons died in an accident involving the state governor, Ibrahim Shema.
August 2011, then deputy governor of Gombe state, David Albashi, died of injuries he received in a car crash on August 28.
In early 2012, three journalists were killed in an accident involving the convoy of the Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomole, sparking allegations the crash was planned by opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The party has denied the allegation.
The latest accident involving a governor’s convoy occurred in Zamfara state on June 25, 2012, killing a police officer attached to the governor. The Superintendent of Police, Ado Yahaya, who was the head of the governor’s Special Protection Unit, died instantly in the accident.
There were also relatively mild crashes that registered no fatality involving Governors Peter Obi of Anambra state -September 2008; Liyel Imoke of Cross River state – in March, 2010; Niger state’s Babangida Aliyu (March 2011) and Theodore Orji of Abia, April 2012.
The convoy drivers training was conducted at 12 locations, and 22 states took part, with the governors of Rivers, Cross Rivers, Edo, Niger, Plateau, Nasarawa, Enugu, Abia, Ogun, Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi and Akwa Ibom states, failing to send their drivers for the course.
Police authorities barred their officers attached to the convoys from taking part in the exercise over yet unclear reasons, an FRSC source said the then police Inspector General, Hafiz Ringim, contended that the FRSC had no right to train his officers.