By Phrank Shaibu
I have watched and read with enormous interest the on going debate on the introduction of speed limiters for commercial drivers in Nigeria and I must confess that the augments both for and against its implementation are clear hints that Nigeria’s road safety is still traveling on a long route of seeming undefined destination.
On the part of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, it is very easy to notice a mixed basket of unconvincing logic. First, is that its claim that about fifty percent of road crashes are caused by speeding beyond limits is mere guess work. Nigeria has no such facility to factually state what caused a road crash especially when it relates to driving too fast because we have no speed monitors. In fact, that ought to be the vital reason why the issue of speed limiters is even on the table. Attributing a chunk of road crashes to over speeding is far from truth and I consider it as a means of trying to bully Nigerians into endorsing the use of speed limiters. If the FRSC statistics would be considered accurate, then what it means is that our roads are now very good and well illuminated, drivers now drive very well, people no longer drink and drive, convoy drivers of most political office holders are no longer tailgating and driving oppressively, the vehicle conditions are perfect, drivers do not get fatigued anymore and we now have more caring pedestrians. I admit that human factor can be associated with about fifty percent of why road crashes occur but definitely not all are due to speeding above limits. In any case, inaccurate statistics should not be an issue because even if speeding too fast causes ten percent of road deaths, it deserves prompt National attention because one preventable road death is unnecessary.
In an earlier piece titled, ‘Nigeria’s FRSC and her penurious N58m media budget’ which was well circulated in the media’, I had brought to the fore that until the FRSC, Nigeria’s road safety regulating agency is able to garner the required public support for its activities, safe road use in Nigeria will continue to exist like an orphan. Infact, the recent action by the Federal House of Representatives relating to halting of the implementation of speed limiters, a device meant to curb the bad road culture of driving too fast, readily exemplifies my position. Candidly, put, after reading the arguments which led the Federal House of Representatives to suspend the implementation of speed limiters, the first thought that rushed to my mind was that if not for some bogus complacency on the part of the FRSC and the so called accredited vendors of the speed limiters, this initiative would have been a laudable project for saving many road deaths.
Specifically, I have read views of persons that have thrust the blame of the non approval of speed limiter to the doorsteps of Rep. Phillip Shaibu (APC-Edo) and Rep. Onyemaechi Mrakpor (PDP-Delta) because they championed the objection on the implementation. Unfortunately, these seeming advocates of speed limiter have not done justice to their matter as they have failed to advance any credible or superior logic on why speed control is important and can be achieved through the speed limiter initiative. Indeed, this is why one may be tempted to consider the action of the honourable members as triumph of rationality and responsibility over complacency. Let me state herein that in a contentious matter where information is deficient or is lacking, even the best judge cannot manufacture evidence rather he will be compelled to rely on the facts before him to pass judgement. That actually was what happened recently at the Federal House of Representatives when its honourable members conducted their task as true representatives of the Nigerian people by asking the FRSC’s Management to stay action until it truly justifies why such a policy should not be cancelled.
So, on this issue of speed limiter concept, I strongly believe that the problem hindering its implementation is not about any overwhelming doubt on its efficacy to reduce Road Traffic crashes but the inability of its promoters to sufficiently offer valid reasons why the many views against their speed control initiative should be discarded. Before dwelling on the merits or demerits of the speed limiters, let me clearly state that as a public analyst, I have had the opportunity of broad interaction with some credible and knowledgeable NGOs, thus, I have reasonable information on what works for safer roads in this so termed UN Decade of Action on road safety. My first and most important concern is on the manner of implementation for the proposed speed limiter scheme. Till date, I have not been able to see how the entire scheme reflects the modern realities on road safety funding for developing nations. Succinctly put, such a project which is assured to yield profit for vendors, unfortunately lacks the basic ingredient of contributing to the funding of road safety. Such funding ought not to be regarded as a social responsibility which can be discarded at any point but a firm social commitment from the merchants of the initiative.
For emphasis, recent recommendations on global road safety promotion especially in countries where the Government has shown gross incapacity to fund the lead agencies on road safety like the FRSC, the new trend is that all those who benefit from sale of road safety products by acts of compulsory implementation or through enforcement ought to contribute directly to the enhancement of road safety funding from their profits. In some instances, the list of such funding partners may even include companies whose products increase incidents of road crashes like alcohol beverage producers cum high fleet truck operators. It is therefore shocking that this important aspect of road safety development was not taken into consideration by the FRSC before granting approval to the so called accredited vendors. This is certainly a fundamental flaw which demands immediate correction; otherwise the public may just believe that the entire scheme was primarily structured for profit making for vendors of the speed limiters. Simply put, even though this has nothing to do with assessing the relevance or otherwise of speed limiter initiative, asking the vendors to dedicate ten percent of their sales to a special project on road safety like an Ambulance Enhancement Special scheme is a modest reasonable demand which will also help the FRSC in the conduct of enforcement should the project be eventually approved. Otherwise, how will it be narrated that these speed limiter merchants just used the FRSC’s platform to make money and stash same into their bank accounts without supporting the efforts of all those working for road safety including NGOs.
Another issue which seems highly objectionable is the installation cost of 1,000 naira. In reality, it will make great common sense if these vendors can just cancel such a burden because it is fair for them to understand that their product can only serve a useful purpose when it is installed, otherwise of what use will it be to the buyer?
Now, on the arguments advanced by our Honorable members based on the contents of petitions before them, let me again state that the decision of the House Members to halt the implementation of speed limiters is considered very noble. The question that stares us in the face is, why did FRSC not properly address the opposing views to this initiative before the House reviewed the petitions against it? On the converse, the issue is who should have been responsible for such an advocacy, would it the duty of the FRSC or the vendors? Certainly, the answer should be a shared responsibility but this may be impracticable because there is no way the FRSC can conduct relevant publicity with an annual media budget of about 15 million naira. Infact, that the vendors acted stingily by not conducting proper sensitisation is akin to a self inflicted injury because I guess they must be in a very shaky situation right now over their already huge investment. More so, that the voice of Civil society groups on road safety has not been heard in the long process, is gross error on the part of the FRSC. Indeed, I would have thought that by now, the FRSC despite its paramilitary status would have grown in knowledge to appreciate that in Nigeria’s self styled democracy, even if the government wants to offer free launch to students, it has to advance explanations not necessarily because the electorate will not appreciate the initiative but for the simple realization that the opposition must raise doubts to diminish its good intentions. This is exactly what the opponents of the speed limiters have done.
Besides these many lapses on the part of the FRSC and the vendors, let me quickly add that speed limiters are neither an innovation of the FRSC or a recommendation initiated by them. Any knowledgeable person on Continental efforts on road safety development would attest to the fact that the 2007 Accra Declaration, an acknowledged meeting of African road safety experts, an initiative of the WHO and ECA was actually what gave rise to a set of credible recommendations on road safety including speed control. Interestingly, speed control in the Accra Declaration was classified as a ‘quick win’ measure for African countries that expressed readiness to reduce their road fatality and injury rate by fifty percent in 2015. In fact, that the FRSC is implementing such a worthy recommendation almost ten years behind schedule should ordinarily form a sufficient enquiry for the House of Representative especially on why the FRSC should not be held accountable for the many preventable deaths that have occurred in the past eight years due to speeding too fast.
Ordinary, in a country with vibrant and credible Civil society group on road victim’s rights, I do not see why an organisation like the FRSC should not be made to pay compensational damages to road victims’ families over its neglect in not implementing the speed control initiative within schedule. In fact, if not for its inaptitude in implementing speed control measures as contained in the Accra Declaration which it willfully endorsed on behalf of Nigerian road users, perhaps thousands of road victims may not have died the way they did through speeding beyond limit. In any case, this will form sufficient discourse elsewhere, before this writer is misconstrued as instigating many people that have been orphaned and widowed by the loss of their bread winners against the FRSC. In fact, before our courts begin to receive an avalanche of cases, let me quickly add that credible evidence may lack on such legal pursuits as it is very difficult in Nigeria to establish that speed may have been the reason for a road crash. Be that as it may, the fact herein is that speed control measures like the proposed speed limiter are a part of best global practices on road safety and does not require any expansion of debate.
On the issue of speed limiters being an obsolete technology, my question is simple. First, what are the options and when has developing nations proved capable of acquiring best modern technologies? That there is a new device for controlling speed which is referenced by the petitioners as ‘spider web technology’ is an indisputable fact. However, in reality, can the Nigerian government afford such or would the FRSC be expected to mount such facilities on trees when it is an obvious fact that the FRSC as a road safety agency even lacks capacity to acquire sufficient patrol vans to cover all 774 local government areas. Without fear of digression, If one may ask, is the very important Boko Haram insurgency being fought with the latest technology or is the Nigerian government not aware of the existence of very effective but very expensive military hardware? For quick enlightenment, let me emphasis that the modern trend of road safety funding has moved beyond the era of over reliance on government for financial support to embrace the new concept of shared responsibility. So any thought that the so called Spider Web technology is an option is a waste of time because with Nigeria’s dwindling resources, such will be too difficult to fit into priorities of the Government. Thus, not implementing this speed limiter initiative will not only condemn Nigeria to another endless wait for a speed control measure but will produce more preventable road deaths. This is a reality we cannot pretend about and nobody cannot even say who will be the next victim.
On the price issue, a lot of objections have been expressed especially by NURTW members in their assumption that this may eventually thrust additional burden on road travelers. On this, I think the FRSC will do well to remind the members of the road unions that if really they mean well for the safety of their passengers such an argument should not even be brought to the table. First is that the speed limiter at thirty five thousand naira with a life span of about four years simply translates to a daily expense of less than thirty naira whereas the executive members of these road unions, for doing nothing, collect well above five hundred naira daily as union dues from commercial drivers. So, which is more important and relevant to the passengers and how will thirty naira expense by a commercial driver warrant to a direct burden to the average Nigerian road traveler? I think the argument that deserves attention ought to be how the road unions can guarantee their members so that payment for the speed limiters can be made in two equal monthly installments.
Again, on the argument that controlling speed will lead to dangers of armed robbery and kidnapping, I want to respectfully remind our honourable members that rarely travel by commercial vehicles that kidnappers do not regard persons that patronize commercial vehicles as viable targets. For armed robbery, it is not really the speed of a vehicle that determines the drivers ability to escape an incident because most of the time, the roads are blocked. That a commercial driver is lucky to evade highway robbery attack is mostly by divine intervention.
For Nigeria to curb unnecessary road deaths associated with speeding beyond limits, whilst not stating that the speed limiter initiative is perfect, nevertheless for now, it is the best of the available and affordable options. The important thing now is not only for FRSC to ensure it enforces but that it develops a credible scheme that will ensure that the herein proposed ten percent accruable to it from whatever the sellers of the speed limiters earn is dedicated to a special project that will be transparently conducted with the support of NGOs. Of course, such should have nothing to do with any Single Treasury Account as it is a private funded social commitment.
(Shaibu, a Public Communication Consultant and African Safe Communities Advocate, wrote from Abuja, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org)