The Inspector General of police, Service Chiefs are some of the big men in Nigeria who use sirens illegally
By Yekeen Nurudeen
No one could tell what was going on in the mind of Francis Janet, a banker, when she stood up from the ground with dust all over her body, her beautiful blue jacket and skirt browned by dirt.
The once beautiful makeup on her face was now smeared. Etched on her face were visages of anger and sadness.
Nearby, also on the ground, lay the operator of a commercial motorbike, known locally as ‘Okada’, tending to wounds on his legs; his motorbike still lying askance close by as sympathizers gathered.
“Na that motor wey dey speed with siren push them comot for road” said a bystander among the crowd.
Janet was on her way to the bus stop to catch a taxi to the Federal Secretariat Complex, Abuja where her office, a commercial bank, is located that fateful Monday morning when suddenly a siren blaring convoy stampeded the motorbike conveying her off the road.
The convoy sped off. The vehicles number plates were covered and the glasses heavily tinted so no one knew who the occupants of the vehicles were or their destinations. The Traffic Wardens controlling traffic nearby also watched helplessly. The scene was at the popular Dutse Alhaji junction, along Bwari Road, Abuja.
But Janet and the “Okada man” were lucky to escape from that encounter with only minor injuries. James Momoh, a journalist with Pilot Newspapers, Abuja, was not that lucky when the convoy of former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison – Madueke ran into him on September 12, 2012.
The minister’s convoy knocked down Momoh, who was on his way to work, at the Nicon Junction, Maitama in the federal capital. He was rushed to the NNPC Hospital where he later gave up the ghost. Neither the minister nor the driver of the vehicle that knocked Momoh down was ever charged for manslaughter.
Who is entitled to use siren?
On a daily basis, on Nigerian roads, in many major cities, ordinary citizens face threats of harassment, intimidation, vandalism, brutality and even death in the hands of supposed public servants and other prominent Nigerians whose egos walk on wheels.
But checks by the icirnigeria.org indicate that most of the public officials who use sirens on Nigerian roads, terrorizing innocent citizens, actually do so illegally.
Officials who illegally use sirens include ministers, service chiefs, the Inspector General of Police, Assistant Inspectors General of Police and police commissioners, heads of para-military services such as the Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, Nigerian Prison Service, Nigerian Customs Service and the Federal Fire Service.
Others are heads of federal government agencies and parastatals such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission, ICPC, National Agency for Drug administration and Control, NAFDAC.
All these officials along with other prominent figures, including state and federal lawmakers, wealthy businessmen and flamboyant religious leaders illegally deploy the use of siren blaring convoys when they move around either in major cities or while traveling around the country.
The National Road Traffic Regulation, which specifically deals with “Use of Sirens” clearly spells out that only the President, Vice President, Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, governors and deputy governors are permitted to use siren.
Section 154 of the National Road Traffic Regulation, NRTR, 2012, Part XIV states: “No person other than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Vice President, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Deputy President of the Senate, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors and Deputy Governors of States shall drive a vehicle on any public road using sirens, flashers or beacon lights.”
The law also provides that any person who contravenes the provisions of the regulation “commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N3, 000 or to a term of seven months imprisonment or to both”.
The traffic regulation also stipulates penalty for any driver or vehicle that obstructs persons authorized to use siren.
According to Section 155 of the regulation, “A driver or person having control of a vehicle who knowingly and without reasonable excuse obstructs a vehicle authorized by this regulation to use sirens, flashers or beacon light commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N2,000 or 6 months imprisonment or to both”.
Investigations by the icirnigeria.org revealed that many public officials continue to use sirens illegally because even the agencies that should enforce the law regulating its use are confused.
Our checks, for example, show that the police and Federal Road safety Commission, FRSC, do not even know of the existence of any law regulating the use of sirens, flashers and beacon lights. So, they formulate their own regulations, which run foul of the law.
At different times, in an attempt to stem the tide of recklessness and brazen use of sirens by prominent Nigerians, the police have issued directives, stipulating who can use the devices and spelling out stiff penalties for offenders. But an examination of some of these regulations shows that they are not only self-serving but also patently illegal.
Before he left office, former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, in 2015, issued a stern warning that the Police would arrest any person not listed in the categories of persons authorized to use siren in the country.
The threat of arrest was contained in a press statement issued by the then Force Public Relations Officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police, ASP Olabisi Kolawole.
According to the list, those entitled to use siren included the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President, and Deputy Speaker. Others are all the 36 State Governors, all Service Chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police, General Officers Commanding, Deputy Inspectors-General of Police, Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and Commissioners of Police.
In all, according to Arase’s list, a total of 158 public office holders are authorized to use the siren. Interestingly, while including state police commissioners, the list, excluded the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN and Deputy Governors who are among those authorized by Section 154 of the National Road Traffic Regulation.
Arase’s directive against the unauthorized use of siren was preceded by a tough stance by one of his predecessors, Hafiz Ringim who in 2011 also read the riot act against indiscriminate blaring of siren.
Ringim, like Arase, also issued a list of those who could use siren, though his list was shorter and closer to what the road traffic regulation prescribes.
His list indicated that only the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Vice President, state governors and their deputies were authorized to use siren on the public highways.
The former police chief hinged the ban on security report on the unlawful use of the siren by some government officials and private individuals, especially in the South east and South west, whom he noted care less about other road users and endanger the lives of pedestrians and commuters.
He then ordered a total ban on the use of siren by unauthorized person or group of persons across the country. Reports indicate that he consequently directed all the Zonal AIGs and Command CPs to arrest any person or group of persons found violating the order and charge them to court accordingly.
With the continuing illegal use of siren blaring convoys by all manner of people today, it is obvious that the police warning fell on deaf ears.
What the Police, FRSC say on discrepancies?
When contacted, Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, admitted that some Very Important Personalities, VIPs, are entitled to use siren due to the offices they occupy.
On the discrepancies between those the law recognizes to use the siren and the list issued by the former Inspector General of Police, the Police spokesperson pleaded for more time to get proper briefing from the Police Legal Department.
But he was quick to add that the Inspector General of Police who is among those listed by Police as being authorized to use the device does not drive with siren.
But that assertion is not true as past and present IGPs use convoys with escort vehicles bearing sirens, flashers and beacon lights.
Efforts to get the police spokesman, after his consultation with the legal department, to throw light on those allowed by law to use siren did not yield results. The FPRO did not pick or reply several calls made to his GSM. He also did not reply text messages sent to get his final opinion on the issue.
Contacted for the same reason, spokesman of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, Bisi Kazeem, stated that Police has the power to issue permit for the use of siren besides those stated in the Traffic Regulation. Though the National Road Traffic Regulation is under the FRSC Act 2007, the corps spokesperson said what FRSC does is just the enforcement of the regulation.
He said only the IGP who according to him has powers to include others in the list of those entitled to use siren can give reasons behind the long list of users of siren.
“By law, some VIPs are allowed and these particular VIPs are being regulated by the Police because they are the ones giving the permit for the use of siren. Apart from this, except organizations and agencies that are in charge of emergencies that probably hospitals where they have emergencies, law enforcement agents, Police, FRSC, the Army. But it is equally being regulated because when you are not having emergencies you are not allowed to use siren”, Kazeem said.
He explained that siren is mainly “to clear the way” for easy access for certain categories of persons.
When asked to clarify the issue of who the VIPs could be, the FRSC spokesman said, “That’s why I said Police would determine. It is the Police that will determine who they give it to but mostly I know the governors are permitted, president is permitted, and most of the ministers are permitted by law from the Police to use the siren. I cannot sit down here and say I know the kind of people that police give permit to. That’s why I said VIPs”.
He also admitted that many public officials abuse the privilege of using siren on the highways.
“Yes it is being abused I know. You can even see a local government chairman using it and that is why I said we can stop such as person and find out who has given him the permit to use”, he said.
But when our reported reminded him of the National Road Traffic Regulation, which spells out who is authorized to use the siren, Kazeem responded by saying that the Inspector General of Police by his own bye-law has the prerogative powers to issue siren permit to VIPs and any other person that applies for it.
“I have specified VIPs and emergencies, but I equally told you that just as you give permit to somebody who wants to carry gun, it is equally possible that a permit (to use siren) is authorized by the Police.
The Police and the FRSC are the agencies that should enforce the law on siren use. However, little is apparently being done by the agencies in this regard.
The police have no record of arrest and prosecution concerning the abuse of use of siren. Jimoh said he would need time to get to the 37 Commands in the country to collate data on such arrests. During a chat in his office with the icirnigeria.org, he said such information was not readily available at the Force Headquarters.
When contacted by our reporter on what the police have been doing to stem the tide of unauthorized use of siren in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, the spokesman of the FCT Police Command, Anjuguri Manzah, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP, indicated that no arrest had been made.
He however said the police had been doing a lot of enforcement of the ban on unauthorized use of siren.
“We have been doing a lot to that effect. We have carried out enforcement. As a Force we know that certain persons are not entitled to use it and those who are found defaulting, we apply appropriate sanctions,” he said.
Asked what legal sanctions were in place to punish violators, he said he could not be specific.
“It is not for me to spell out but it is within our purview as an institution to look at what the law stipulates and any violation of it. We would now go into the book and see what clarification is given to such violation”
On his part, FRSC spokesperson insisted that many offenders have been punished, though he did not have statistics to back his claim.
“We seize such things if we know or if we are informed. If you use it somewhere and we are notified, we will yank it off. We have had cause to remove sirens from vehicles; we have had cause to remove flashlights. If you go to Lagos office now, you will see a particular section where various types of flashers and siren seized are kept. But the unauthorized use of siren is not common in Abuja” he said
Though, he affirmed that the FRSC has the power to stop anyone using the siren without permit, he also lamented that it is always difficult to enforce the ban on the use of unauthorized siren.
“It is only somebody that is suicidal that will enforce the law at his own risk. Most of the time, what we do is to take the number. For example, if we see a bullion van using siren carrying escort, you don’t jump in front of such vehicle that you want to enforce law because if you are killed there is nothing for you.”
“What we do mostly is that we take the vehicle number, we detect from the spy number. It could be any bank and this has been done several times. We ask them to produce the vehicle and pay the fines. In terms of enforcement, I know Road Safety has the right to enforce, and Police too. The challenge is that it is always not easy stopping a convoy that is using siren; number one, they outnumber you, number two it is quite risky for you to stop on the road and stand on their way. What you can do is to get their number,” explained Kazeem.
A senior officer of FRSC who did not want his name to be mentioned, however, said most of the offenders are politicians who usually put calls across to the Corps Marshal once arrested for violation of the ban.
Quoting a former Corps Marshal, he said “discretion has become the Commission’s operation manual when politicians and top government officials are caught in the act”.
The inability of the Police to enforce the ban seems to have emboldened violators. In Abuja, the seat of power, heads of government agencies that are not listed among those authorized to use siren daily blare the device, constantly harassing other road users. Convoys of the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, DG, National Agency for Food, Drugs, Administration and Control, NAFDAC, DG, New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD, have been sighted blaring siren, although they are not listed among those entitled to it.
Like the police, previous attempts by the federal government to curtail the use of sirens, particularly in the capital city, have also failed.
For example, the federal government in 2003 directed all ministers and other top government officials to stop using escort/pilot cars and sirens within the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
This position was contained in a circular issued by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Ufot Ekaette. The regulation was hardly ever enforced.
Ten years later, in June 2013, the government again threatened sanctions against the use of unauthorized siren and covered number plates by public officials.
It warned that any official caught engaging in such practices would be arrested and prosecuted. It added that the directive had been communicated to the Nigeria Police for enforcement.
The then Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Bukar Goni Aji, also directed all federal government officials to henceforth comply with the order.
Aji, whose directive was contained in a circular sent to all ministries, department and agencies of the federal government, said that such acts posed a threat to national security.
But it was all talk as no enforcement took place and no one is known to have been arrested or sanctioned for violation.
Not long after the 2015 general elections, former Inspector General of Police, IGP, Arase also directed that henceforth, ex- public office holders and other unauthorized persons who violate the ban on the use of siren would be arrested and prosecuted.
In the directive, he said that such vehicles would be impounded and the siren system deactivated. But, again, it turned out to be all sound and fury but no substance as no one is on record to have been arrested. Complaints by Nigerians against unauthorized use of siren
As the abuse of the use of siren grows without any serious check by the appropriate government agencies, Nigerians who are daily oppressed by those using the device have lamented what they described as road terrorism.
For instance, motorists and pedestrians in Bauchi, Borno, Adamawa, Gombe and Jigawa states recently called for a review of the rules and regulations guiding the use of siren on highways to curb abuse.
They cried out that the misuse of siren by both authorized and unauthorized persons had become a source of concern to law abiding citizens, noting that apart from causing accidents, such abuse sometimes constituted ‘noise pollution’ with all its attendant health and environmental implications.
Bauchi State chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Suleiman Adamu, described as ‘sheer madness’, the indiscriminate blaring of siren by some privileged individuals and in some instances, even criminals.
In Gombe state, the chairman of the NURTW, Ibrahim Bala, said the abuse of siren in the state was alarming, stressing that most times, siren-blaring convoys never obeyed traffic rules, including traffic lights.
But despite repeated warnings and threats of arrest by the police, no one has yet been arrested or sanctioned for violating the order. Some of the violators, who are highly placed Nigerians, are even known to have police escorts with them all the time.
Some lower class traditional rulers are also among those guilty of illegal siren use. Many of them use siren like first class traditional rulers when traveling on the highway and sometimes when driving in the cities.
Soji Oluwatoki, an Abuja based legal practitioner, lamented that it is difficult to get a legal redress against unauthorized or authorized use of siren as it must be proved in court that one has suffered damages as a result of the use of siren.
“This is called public interest litigation. An individual is not allowed to fight for the public. At best, you urge the court to compel the Attorney General to file such a case.” Oluwatoki explained
Leonard Joseph, a motorist in Abuja said the police cannot enforce the law as they are also guilty.
“Who will enforce this law? There is hardly a DPO that doesn’t use siren. Besides, all the sirens blowing vehicles have uniformed personnel all of different categories in their entourage. So my question is, who will enforce this law?” Joseph wondered.
Tina Phineas, a Yola resident and public commentator, advised that the use of siren should be restricted to the President, Vice President, Senate President and state governors, only.
Findings by ICIR reporter revealed that only Lagos State has promulgated law against the use of siren.
Section 24 (C) of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2011 made it criminal offence to use or deploy siren or other noisy device in a vehicle within the state.
By virtue of section 36(1) of the same law, convicted offenders may be fined up to N30,000 and/or imprisoned for up to three years.