© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
ALERT: Road safety in danger… ‘lack of fuel’ preventing FRSC from reaching accident scenes
Time was about 9:30 pm; two cars collided in a ghastly accident at the busy VON junction along the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Expressway in Lugbe on Thursday February 1. A policeman at the scene immediately called the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) emergency telephone numbers and spoke with someone on the other end.
The nearest FRSC unit was at the Berger yard along the Lugbe expressway, less than two kilometres from the scene of the accident. The voice promised that road safety officials would soon be at the scene. But they never showed up. After waiting in vain for the FRSC officials, good Samaritans at the secene evacuated the victims, who were in a pool of blood, to some hospitals inside Lugbe.
The police officer, who spoke to the ICIR but asked not to be named, disclosed that his friend and one of the FRSC officials at the Lugbe unit told him later that they could not come for the rescue because there was no fuel in their vehicles.
Also speaking anonymously, an FRSC official at the Lugbe unit said they no longer went on patrol because of logistic challenge. He added that sometimes the staff had to use their money to fuel patrol cars because funds were sometimes not released at all or mostly infrequently released.
“The truth is that we can no longer respond to emergencies the way we used to because of lack of funds,” he revealed.
“You will hardly see our vehicles on patrol these days, we only stay at particular locations to observe traffic. Even to get to those locations sometimes we have to use our money to buy fuel or plead with some of our special marshals to help out.”
The days may have gone when FRSC patrol vehicles were a regular feature of highways and city roads across the country. The days may also be over when men of the FRSC responded promptly to road crashes on highways or city roads.
Despite expressing commitment to meeting the goal of reducing road crashes in the country by 50 per cent by the year 2020, lack of funds for operations and logistics may hinder the FRSC from meeting this goal.
It is now common to drive from one state to another without sighting a single FRSC patrol vehicle on highway surveillance. Instead of patrolling the highways and roads on safety surveillance, patrol vehicles are now stationed at some accessible intersections.
It is no different in the Federal Capital Territory, where the headquarters of the FRSC is located. In the past, it was common to see FRSC men in their patrol vehicles driving along the Abuja-Kaduna highway to ensure road safety and prompt intervention in case of a road crash.
The same for the Abuja-Lokoja highway, which has one of the highest road traffic in the country. FRSC operatives on special duty would drive patrol vehicles to different inter-sections on the Abuja-Lokoja road while their ambulances were on designated locations on the road.
But recently, things have been looking down for the organisation, as most of its patrol vehicles have been grounded due to alleged lack of funds for maintenance. At least eight grounded patrol vehicles, including an ambulance, are parked at the premises of the FRSC headquarters in Abuja.
Although road crashes and deaths have reduced over the years, especially in recent years, this has been due largely to public enlightenment campaigns and the introduction of the speed limiter by the FRSC.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there were 8,560 road crashes across the country, resulting to 4,527 deaths. In 2017, the figure was slightly lower, with 7,937 road crashes and 4,410 deaths. There are fears that low budget may erode the gains made in the past years and make the roads less safe.
While a total of N32,738,177.299 was budgeted for the FRSC in 2015 — an increase of over N2 billion over that of 2014 — it fell to N30,693,265.509 in 2016. In 2017, the budget was increased to N34,797,349,549 but it was not fully released. The commission had to make special request for logistics from the Presidency for its public enlightenment campaigns last December.
This was acknowledged by Corps Marshal Boboye Oyeyemi when he addressed officers recently at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja. He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for providing “logistics support” that ensured a successful campaign in December. According to a press release dated December 28, 2017, by Bisi Kazeem, Corps Public Education Officer, FRSC, Oyeyemi expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for his support towards the success of the campaign for safer road environment in the country.
Also, in his remark last month during the celebration of 30 years of FRSC, the Corp Marshal acknowledged the support of the presidency but solicited more funding for the FRSC to enable it deliver on its mandate. Officers, who spoke off the record in reaction to the Corp Marshal’s speech, said he was “being diplomatic” so as not to ruffle feathers.
They disclosed that the FRSC now relies more than ever before on Special Marshals to improve traffic in city centres. In many parts of Abuja where traffic hold-ups have become regular features, it is common to see special marshals directing and trying to ease the flow of traffic.
ICIR took a trip to Kaduna and Minna in February to see what the FRSC was doing along these busy roads. No single FRSC patrol vehicle was sighted throughout the stretch of the road. Thus, if there was a crash on either of these roads, FRSC may not be able to make timely response to save lives.
A road safety official in Minna who also spoke off the record told this reporter that lack of adequate vehicles and funds for logistics was affecting the operations of the commission.
But efforts to get the spokesman of FRSC to comment on how budgetary constraint is affecting the operations of the commission were unsuccessful. When the ICIR visited his office on February 5, to interview him on the challenges of the commission, he said he was busy and needed time to get relevant information. He asked the reporter to call him the following week. When the reporter called, he requested that the questions be sent to his phone. This was immediately done, yet there was no response.
After one week, the reporter called him again, and he repeated his promise to get back to the reporter. But he never did. Last Monday, the reporter sent him a reminder and still no reply.
The Corps under the administration of the present Corps Marshal has earned notable achievements and recognition, they include: Winner, best MDA in Nation Building: NITDA-NIHILENT e-Governance, 2015; Award for excellence in Humanitarian Service in Nigeria, 2015; Award to exceptional commitment to Road Safety in the 2014 Premier Africa Road Safety Award, among others. However, it does loot ill-equipped to contribute to the saving of lives on highways.