In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Boboye Oyeyemi, the first ever official of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, to grow from the ranks to head the Commission since its establishment 27 years ago, speaks on its operations to reduce carnage on Nigerian roads.
Mr. Oyeyemi also speaks on how the Commission keyed into the vision of the Buhari administration, how it is assisting other African countries to reduce road accidents and the recruitment process into the Commission.
PT: You have been the corps marshal for how long now?
Oyeyemi: That’s nine months and seven days now.
PT: How has the journey been so far?
Oyeyemi: Well, so far so good. We give thanks to God. You know everything has its own challenges but it is the familiar terrain in the last 27 years. When you know what you are doing its more of a continuous process.
PT: You have been here for 27 years?
Oyeyemi: I have been in the system for 27 years.
PT: Even the FRSC itself is almost 27 years.
Oyeyemi: I am as old as the system (laughs). You know I am among the seven people that started FRSC with Wole Soyinka, Olu Agunloye, Major Wyse, Engineer Coker, Olubiji – my colleague who retired in November last year; and one Mr. Ifode. We were the administrative team that started the FRSC.
PT: So, who else is remaining in the system apart from you?
Oyeyemi: I am the only person standing.
PT: How did you survive this long?
Oyeyemi: It is God. It is God’s doing that I am the only man standing. Others are alive while two are late now. Engineer Coker is late and Major Wyse is late. I don’t know where Mr. Ben Ifode is but we are aware Professor Wole Soyinka is still alive, kicking well and he participated in our rally two weeks ago at Abeokuta. He spoke well and he warned us that if we don’t do well he would deal with us. He spoke on the need for us to be upright. Then Dr. Agunloye is still alive and then others. Well we thank God for the whole thing.
PT: It is believed that if you do not belong to a particular cult you will not reach the top in FRSC?
Oyeyemi: That is not true. I am a Christian and even now I am a deacon in church, I don’t belong to any cult. I serve God. I came in as a professional that is all. I was privileged to set up the communication department of the corps. I designed the communication network which is still being used till today. I trained the first set of National Youth Service Corps members on how to use radio communication in Abuja then. So, I don’t belong to any cult, it’s just an impression but it is not true.
PT: So you were not brought in because you had sympathy for pyrates Confraternity (National Association of Seadogs)?
Oyeyemi: No. I have been in the system since. You know, these are just hearsay. Nobody was brought in because he belonged to any group. Those things are not true.
The system has been working and of the first generation of staff, we have only few remaining. So you don’t need to belong anywhere. The most important thing is that we have been following the recruitment policy of the government.
You don’t need to belong anywhere before you get employed into the system. And so far the recruitment policy reflects the Federal Character, because you must get approval from the Federal Character Commission. So, it cuts across. If you see all those who are working from the South West to the North West to the East to the North East, South-South even the North Central, it cuts across. I believe that is the sustainability, the recognition of the confidence the government has in us. And that is why we have been able to survive all the challenges we have been facing because it has a broad recognition of all the personnel working nationwide.
PT: A man, Rasaki Salawu, a retired army major claimed he is the founder of the Corps and not Professor Soyinka. What do you have to say about that?
Oyeyemi: He was not, he was not! The Corps was set up on the February 18, 1988. The then Chief of General Staff, Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu of blessed memory, who later became military vice president, inaugurated the council members headed by Wole Soyinka. Others are Hajia Bilikisu Yusuf, Mr. David Oyegun from the cabinet office, Mr. Jack of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and most of others.
At that time there was nothing like directors of operations. I don’t want to start going into details. What we have done in the Corps now is that either before the end of this month or first week next month, we are bringing out a publication; “The Road So Far: The History of the Corps.” The authentic story is coming out. So I don’t need to argue with anybody. Everybody is free to air his views but the authentic story of the FRSC from inception till date is coming with pictorial evidences, so I don’t need to start arguing with anybody.
The records are there and will still be there till tomorrow. And if you go back to government, all these things like I said are there. I think we should use our useful time for positive things. I don’t think we should be arguing on these things but the whole world, the continent, Nigeria, the government know who established the Federal Road Safety Corps.
Let me tell you the background a little bit. On the October 1, 1987, the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida made announcement of the government’s efforts. He said the government is worried about the carnage on Nigerian roads and that the government was planning to set up an agency to specifically handle this. That was in his independence, October 1, 1987 speech. So it was the decision of the then government to establish Federal Road Safety Commission. And on the February 18, 1988, the inauguration was done at Dodan Barracks then and the Corps commenced work. The first was the handing over of all the vehicles being used then by the National Road Safety Commission. The National Roads Safety Commission then was just doing public enlightenment. All their bills were under the ministry of works. And the vehicles being used for highway patrol then were handed over to the Corps.
Then this was followed by procurement of vehicles by the government, which we received. I was one of those who followed Professor Soyinka to receive those vehicles with Mallam Dan Yaro Yakassai. So when you are talking about the history of the Corps, we know how it started and what we have done. And so far, the corps marshal of the FRSC when the Act that made the Corps a full paramilitary outfit by Decree 1992 was amended, was Dr. Agunloye and from him to Major General Halidu Hannaniya (rtd). Then he handed over to Mallam Dan Yaro now Dr. Dan Yaro Yakassai.
Then we had a brief stint with the police and so Engineer Nwakibe was the one coordinating. He was the Deputy Corps Marshal in charge when we were with the police.
Then after three years the then president, Chief Obasanjo demerged FRSC. He said he didn’t merge FRSC in the first instance. He demerged it again on November 7, 2003. So General Hananniya came back as corps marshal. When he completed his tenure, then Chief Osita Chidoka came on board. He was appointed the corps marshall on May 28, 2007. So he was corps marshal until July 23, 2014. He was corps marshal for seven years and some months before I took over on July 23, 2014. So that is why I said I am just about 10 months as corps marshall.
PT: Now that there is a new government, what kind of support are you expecting from it?
Oyeyemi: Well, it is a holistic approach. We have seen the manifesto of the new government and we have already made our submission. For example, the government wants to improve on the signage all over the country, which is so commendable.
PT: They said that to you already?
Oyeyemi: No, it is in the manifesto of the new government. You see, you study what the government wants to do and it is a kind of success story that most of the things they intend doing we have commenced already. And that means that we are getting there. It means the government already has a vision and we have already keyed into that.
PT: How true is it that the FRSC is also helping some countries in Africa to set up their own road safety agencies?
Oyeyemi: Yes, last year we had a delegation from Ghana. They came from about six different departments to understudy what we are doing. And don’t forget, we gave support to Ghana some years ago to set up its own road safety commission. And I was privileged to be one of those who trained the Kenya delegation that came to Nigeria in 1992.
Now, we have the government’s approval on the request of the government of Sierra Leone to deploy three officers to Freetown to set up a road safety commission there. It is just the prevailing health situation in the region that held back the officers from going. The same thing with Liberia! We will first of all conduct the country’s capacity to see how best we can go about it.
Then we are also trying to help Tanzania in one way or the other and it shows the level we are in now at the continental level. And that is why, our academy, the World Bank has conducted a lot of capacity building for our personnel. And we are looking at making our academy a regional centre for the training of personnel of other countries too in road traffic administration and safety management, which is the ultimate.
So we will continue to help other African countries even though it is something we have done over 27 years. But because of the prevailing financial situation, the global recession, we were just able to get to this level. What we’re telling them is that, ‘look at the whole template, look at the low hanging fruits, and pick the ones that you can easily grasp with because the issue of road safety is highly capital intensive.’ If not for the support of the World Bank, that provided some logistics for us, it would have been difficult. All these heavy duty 70 tons vehicles you must have seen on roads were procured by the World Bank through the Federal Ministry of Works to the Corps. The same thing applies to life support ambulances, the patrol bikes and the 4X4 patrol cars with mounted cameras and radar guns, alcoholizers.
Those are the things provided by the World Bank which we really appreciate. All these things have enhanced our work. We have been able to leverage on the World Bank policy in getting support. The same window is open to other countries which we are encouraging them to tap from. The issue about safety is that everyone needs to join hands together to improve on road safety management in their various countries.
PT: The World Bank support you talked about, is it a loan?
Oyeyemi: There are three types. We have the loan, the facility and the grant. There is a 2008 World Bank policy that stipulates that if there is any facility, grant or loan on road infrastructure development or rehabilitation, 10 per cent of it is for road safety enhancement. That’s where we get our derivation. So 10 per cent of such facility or grant or loan is for road safety. That is what we are encouraging other countries to leverage on. This is because there is no African country today that does not apply for facility development from World Bank especially for road construction or rehabilitation. And once you are seen as a serious organisation, you will get the best support. Even when you have utilized these they can assist you to get grants.
PT: How are you handling corruption here?
Oyeyemi: We try as much as possible to ensure the welfare services of our personnel is improved upon by the management and we also continue to look into this with the limited fund. While on patrol, they not allowed to take bribe or any form of gratification on the road. If you are caught, you are punished. That is why I punished some few months ago. I stood my ground that you cannot be caught and not afford to lose focus. Why the corps is being respected today is because people see us as – at least not hundred per cent upright – as serious minded organisation. So if you are caught you will be sacked.
PT: So, there is no issue of bribes collected going to the top shot in the corps?
Oyeyemi: In my 27 years of services nobody has given me and nobody can ever stand up to say he has given me returns. We do not encourage this. I can vouch for my personnel, senior officers. It is not from bottom to top, nobody gives returns to anybody. We detest this and I have told them God will punish anybody who indulges in such a thing. We are not for that and I have told them (the personnel), we are not for that.
Since my 27 years in service, I have never collected such and the day I start to collect, the hand of God will deal with me. I know why. It is because I have made a covenant with God on this kind of thing, so I cannot. I am contended with what we are doing and try as much as possible to improve the welfare of our personnel. Although you know, you can always have Judas, once you are caught you face the appropriate disciplinary panel.
That is why we have our own monitoring and surveillance team. I will take it to the highest level of the board for officers and they are punished, they are sacked and we terminate their services, thats all. I am not saying that we are perfect, but once you are caught you are caught. We always plead with the press to support us. Our patrol cars are coded. So, if any personnel demand bribe, just look at the body code of the vehicle.
Again, all of them have name tags. With the era of smart phones you can just snap the vehicle code, give me the photograph of the person, provide all the information and I assure you we will invite the person, get them investigated and try them. We need the support of the media to continue to hold men who are corrupt. As long as we are trying to remain upright, we will continue to flush the bad eggs out.
PT: There was a recent report that you did not pay your staff very well during the election. The government reportedly released a certain amount and what you gave them was not commensurate with what was released by the government.
Oyeyemi: That is not true. What was given was disbursed. Different organisations submitted budgets and what the government gave us is what we disbursed. All the organisations are not on the same pedestal and the money was given to them in batches. They thought the first one given to them was the total. At the end of the day they were paid in three installments and they got their money. I did that to ensure accountability and to get all of them to carry out their responsibility. They were all paid their entitlements on what we received.
PT: But why were they complaining?
Oyeyemi: You see, initially, when they got the first one, they thought that was the only thing that was going to be given to them. And there was a circular on the issue, which I believe they did not read. That was before they just went viral to say they were being short-changed. At the end of the day, everyone reasoned along because they were paid.
PT: Recently, some came to us to say you are forcing them to join the corps cooperative and that you were using the money in different ways. What is the truth about that?
Oyeyemi: I think it is just some disgruntled personnel that are saying this and it is for their own good. I did not start this scheme. The scheme started some years ago. It is called post service welfare scheme. This is going on in other organisations, not only in the uniform settings. You have it in Central Bank of Nigeria, Shell Petroleum and many other organisations where a certain deduction is made from your salary. When you are leaving, that money is paid back to you to cushion effect of retirement before you get your entitlements. Look at the pension scheme, when you leave service, it takes minimum of six months before you get the first instalment of your pension. What will you be doing to survive for the first six months? So, two years ago, management came up with this post service welfare scheme. The way it works is that a certain amount is deducted from your salary – a compulsory deduction – saved for you. We must encourage savings so that by the time you are leaving, you get the amount you have saved, plus interest.
PT: On the issue of fake licensing, how does that happen and what can be done to solve this?
Oyeyemi: The truth is as Nigerians, we need to be patriotic. Very few elements attempt to fake the license. But don’t forget, it is not only license; there are fake drugs too. What have we done to check this since we started this enforcement? The truth is that if you don’t go for physical capturing of data and biometrics by yourself, then the license is fake.
PT: People say your men are still the ones making these fake licences.
Oyeyemi: Well, investigation is going on. The cases received have been forwarded to the Department of State Services and the police and investigations are ongoing. If any FRSC person is involved, apart from dismissing the person he or she must be prosecuted accordingly. So, when investigation is going on like this, I don’t want to jeopardize it. I am not saying our boys are perfect; one or two maybe involved but that doesn’t mean everyone is involved. But again, with all the advocacy and enlightenment we have done In the last months, these incidences have come down. Driver’s license is also majorly for identification and so by the time the portal is up, the issue of fake licensing will be a thing of the past.
PT: And on number plates, are there fake numbers plates too?
Oyeyemi: I cannot say there are no fake number plates but there are also ways to verify it. With the e-tablet, personnel on patrol can verify number plates and license by checking whether the number plate was produced by the corps and whether the number plate is registered against the vehicle or not.
PT: So every patrol team we see can do that?
Oyeyemi: Yes. You see, it is a gradual process. By the time we finish our engagement with the bank and you go to the bank and they ask for your license, they verify and if it is genuine, they pay you or you do your transaction. If it is fake, they confiscate it. That means everybody will like to verify their license by following the right process.
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