He was cheerful, serious minded and confident, when he spoke with Motoring World, bearing his mind as a complete gentleman full of the charisma that makes a Corps Marshal of an organisation like the Road safety. Amiable, Mr. Nseobong Akpabio is an Assistant Corps Marshal and Zonal Commanding Officer at Zone RS2 of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Lagos Headquarters and a foundation member of the Commission.
The pragmatic Light complexioned, Road Marshal, who is very passionate about road safety of persons and property in Nigeria, was there when the Nigerian Federal Road Safety project started in 1988. And he has contributed immensely to the development of the corps ever since, helping the agency perform its traditional role of ensuring all round safety on our roads.
In this exclusive interview with Motoring World’s Editor-in-Chief, Femi Owoeye and Lagos Bureau Chief, Rotimi Asher, at his Ojodu, Lagos office, Akpabio recalled while and how he got enlisted into the FRSC and his first dramatic experience before he got trained.
He also spoke about what the Corps is doing to enhance performance of its personnel, reducing road traffic crashes and the achievements of his zone.
We found out there has been certain positive changes in the conduct and activities of FRSC personnel under your command, talking about punctuality to duty posts, civility in their manner of approach and lots more. Recently, Motoring World reported about the Ogere Unit personnel of FRSC, who were filling potholes along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. There seems to be major revolution going on in your command.
AKPABIO: Yes, What has been happening is that, when I resume duty in zone 2, which covers Lagos and Ogun state, I decided to carry out capacity building programme for all personnel of the corps, especially those who go on patrol, those who have contact with outsiders and personnel in their various formations. We talk about human relations; because without the publics, our work will not be there. I talk to them about civility, on the aspect of driving, in order to ensure that they deliver their service effectively. I discussed with them how to comport properly while on duty.
For instance, if they approach somebody while on duty or making an arrest, they should communicate to the person or those involved why they are stopped. By doing so, they are not misunderstood or misinterpreted. So the issue of civility has been a topical discussion across various formations in FRSC.
I introduced quarterly awards. If a Marshal goes on patrol repeatedly, and there is no negative report against him or a team member, he will receive an award, as a way of appreciating his effort for representing FRSC effectively on the road. We do this quarterly. It can be two, three or four, depending on what happens. Some reports may be that, after due investigation and due diligence, the person is not found guilty, he will also receive an award. So because of the capacity building programme and focus on what I want to do to represent the Corps Marshal on the road and to favour the value of FRSC, they have to key into the new drive of FRSC.
Motoring World is also aware that you are one of the first set of personnel recruited into the Corps, when it started. What informed your decision to join the FRSC?
AKPABIO: Whao! That is a difficult one. Anyway, I was in the NYSC camp in Enugu state then. We were told during the parade that the Federal Government had just established a new agency called the Federal Road Safety Corps. That was in 1988. I finished from the university in 1987. They said those who were interested should collect, fill and submit application forms; we were informed that the training would be the military type of training. ‘If you cannot not survive, you quit, but if you do survive, well and good, you continue,’ we were told. I must have been the last person to submit my form to the director of NYSC.
There were no reasons for me to collect the form other than the fact that when you finish the NYSC, what next? Is it not to get job? So I thought it was an opportunity to get a job, instead of having to wait. It was not all of us who collected the form that got the job. At the end of the passing out date, we were told that those who hear their names should report that same day in Zaria for their training. That we were going to form a new clause of FRSC. So, I left the camp and boarded a bus that ended up in Zaria in the night. On arrival at the army depot in Zaria, at the gate, we were asked to carry our boxes on our head and frog-jump. We were four in number; in fact that was the tip of the eyesberg.
We carried our boxes on our heads, frog jumped to the end of the compound and back to the gate. When we got to the gate, we were told, ‘sorry, your training has been shifted, come back on this date.’ We wondered why they did not tell us on arrival. We left and by April we reported at FRSC headquarters in Abuja for the training. So we commenced our training and that lasted till August. It was a rigorous training. I must commend the effort of the founding fathers of FRSC for putting up the structure.
To what extent would you say the corps has been able to stick to its traditional role?
AKPABIO: Well, our core duty is to educate the motoring public on the sane use of the road towards reducing road traffic crashes, prevent obstructions on the road and create awareness. So I must say that between 1988 and today, it’s hard for anyone in Nigeria to say he has not benefited from FRSC values. On daily basis, our personnel, across the nation carry out public enlightenment campaigns, at motor parks, churches, mosques, communities, schools, markets, among other places. And if you look at the data of road traffic crashes before the advent of FRSC and now, you will agree with me that if not for the establishment of FRSC, it would have been hard know who and would still be alive today. So, FRSC has lived up to expectations.
Tell us about your strategic goals for 2016 and to what extent you have achieved them?
AKPABIO: Every year, the corps will meet and draw up what we are to do all over the country. This year, we are going to (1) to improve fleet regulation and sustain stakeholders’ consultation. (2) Collaborate with states to improve road safety administration. (3)Improve enforcement and public education. (4) Reduce RTC by 15% and (5) Reduce fatality by 25%.
As we head towards the third quarter of the year, to what extent has the Corps achieved the strategic goals set for the year?
AKPABIO: I will say you should allow us to finish June, when we can have performance index, then I can confidently tell you, this is the way they are. But from the first quarter, we have done marvellously well.
For collaboration with states and improve road safety administration, we want state governments to establish road safety agencies like Lagos LASTMA. Already, Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, Anambra as well as Edo States have established traffic management agencies. So we are championing the course of helping the states to establish their traffic agencies, because the United Nations declaration of action involve issues like this that will enhance collaboration with the states toward reducing road traffic crashes by 50%.
We can’t do it alone but we want other groups to join hands with us. Though the work is heavy, it will help in the knowledge and skills to enhance safety on the roads and reduce traffic crashes on the road drastically by 2020.
We know your zone covers Lagos and Ogun, what challenges have you faced being the Zonal commanding officer so far?
AKPABIO: I don’t always look at challenges as challenges. I look at challenges as opportunities for me to excel. If you look at it as challenges, it will weigh you down. So, what people call challenges, I regard as opportunities to excel.
What is the attitude of road users on the road? Even if our roads are good and you have different kind of vehicles on the road, the road itself cannot cause road traffic crash. The vehicles cannot cause road traffic crash. It is human factor that either increases or reduce road traffic crashes. If you had a sane driver driving a vehicle and he has been told not to over speed; and he drives within speed limit, he is unlikely to be involved in any crash. He will give other people right to pass; he will not overtake dangerously and he will not carry excess passengers. He will check the tyres of his vehicle before driving out. Such a driver is not likely to be involved in any crash.
But, if you have a driver who feels he is driving the chief executive of a company or big political person in a country, you know some of them extend their statuses from their offices to the roads, forgetting that the road is very patient but does not forgive.
So those kind of individuals need to change.
During some weekends, you must have noticed how we battle with people who instead of driving sanely on the road, drive against traffic, especially along the Mowe area. And just last week, we insisted they must all go back to the Shagamu axis of Lagos – Ibadan Expressway and turn, because if you allow them to face the traffic, they will cause accident.
In a country like United Kingdom, they will be taken to psychiatric hospital for test?
AKPABIO: I have told my men, not necessarily Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, but any of the corridors, any driver apprehended for driving against traffic should be made to go to the psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Because I don’t believe anybody who is sensible enough will want to commit suicide, especially by killing himself on the Express Road. What they are doing is that they are attempting to commit suicide and FRSC want to preserve life.
So, I have given a standing order that any driver caught driving against traffic, for dangerous driving or violation of traffic rules must go through psychiatric evaluation and the vehicle impounded until that person is cleared by a government psychiatrist. Otherwise he will remain there. He should not be on the road. It might appear harsh. It is better to do that to save lives than to allow such individual to continue to be a menace and give wrong impression to others.
Who pays for the psychiatric evaluation?
AKPABIO: The culprit will pay for it. It is even better for the person to go and get the evaluation that he is sane. He might say ‘I am not mad.’ Let him go for evaluation. When he comes back, he can tell us the story. He is not going to tell it by words; he must bring the evaluation papers, stamped and signed by a government psychiatrist, not a road side person.
What is the level of compliance with speed limiter?
AKPABIO: On the speed limit device, I want to tell the public, there is nothing FRSC is doing that is against the interest of the public. But rather, in accordance with the law establishment act which permits FRSC to regulate the speed of vehicles in all public roads. And the law also gives us authority to bring about guidelines on how safe to use the roads, authority to recommend to the general public what will be useful for every one to be alive while using the roads and the speed limit devices on vehicles will definitely help greatly.
Based on research and the fact we have on ground, almost 80% of fatal crashes in the country are attributable to speed limit violations, whether commercial vehicles or private. So after series of stakeholders’ consultations for over one year plus, all stakeholders agreed that based on the indices available, there is the need to jointly tackle this issue and the best way to do it is to commence the installation of speed limit device in commercial vehicles.
Why only commercial vehicles and not in all vehicles?
AKPABIO: We look at the fact that commercial vehicles carry large percentage of passengers and goods. If there is a crash, there will be mass casualties. Imagine a luxury bus with about 45 passengers on board, travelling at about 180km per hour and there is a crash, nobody knows if any passenger will survive. If it is a private vehicle with one person or two; we are not saying if one person dies, it is nothing. No, we want to curtail the excesses of this set of drivers.
The Federal government and other stakeholders are so keen for its commencement. What we are doing now is having discussions with stakeholders for the installations. The government has accredited about 38 vendors all over the country and some of them are coming up.
Concerning sub- standard tyres, analysts are wondering whether the campaign was prompted by the death of a minister of Environment. Or is it a coincidence?
AKPABIO: Let me say this, in 2005, I did a study, when I was a sector commander in Kaduna state. I did a study on the danger of Tokunbo and Sub- Standard Tyres. Over 250 brands of tyres used in the country have danger inherent in them. And since that time, there has been campaign going on, day in day out, but not because of the death of the minister. FRSC has some areas they work on every quarter. Some takes place everyday. Concerning the issue of tyres, it is going to be a continuous awareness campaign.
We will not just stop, because the interface between vehicles and the roads are the tyres. So we believe if everybody is fully aware about the dangers of used and Sub-Standard Tyres that alone will reduce crashes. There are many cases of tyre bursts resulting in deaths on the roads. Not the minister only; what about others? The minister and his family are one group of people, there are many others. We are doing a campaign that will bring value to the system.
If you are buying a tyre this year, check when that tyre was manufactured. If you see 1103 for instance, it means that tyre was manufactured on the 11th week of 2003. If you see such tyre in the shop again after today, that is 1103 in the shop as brand new tyre, will you buy such tyre again? That tyre was manufactured in the 11th week of 2003 and it is supposed to last for four years. 4 plus 2003, that is 2007. Definitely, that tyre should not be on the road again. We have found such tyres available and people are bringing them.
In essence, you are saying the information you just gave is part of what you are disseminating to the public in your campaign, because lots of people do not know that tyres expire?
AKPABIO: Yes. That is why the campaign is going on now. We are doing aggressive campaigns on this. We are talking to vulcanizers, mechanics and car dealers. Some people go to a car dealer and buy a Tokunbo vehicle, drive to the church and celebrate that they have bought new car. When the person travels in the car with his family and die, then people will begin to say: Ah, somebody from his house or working place is responsible for the accident. It is not true.
We are talking to the car dealers so that when somebody buys Tokunbo vehicles; he should be informed to change the four tyres immediately, if need be, because you don’t know how long the vehicle has been packed or shipped. The awareness is ongoing. We want the media to help us create this awareness.
Would you recall a significant achievement you have recorded since you became the Zonal Commander of FRSC?
AKPABIO: Let me get back to when I was the sector commander, Lagos State. I came in 2012 and resumed duty as sector commander, Lagos State, FRSC and Lagos were at daggers drawn and would not see eye to eye. I am very sure before then no commanding officer, Lagos State had visited the governor of Lagos State. When I came into the system, I said no, that will not pay us. We need to work together to deliver service. So I made serious attempts.
And I must say I laid a foundation of harmonious relationship between Lagos State and FRSC. Today the two agencies, FRSC and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) are working very closely. That is one of the achievements I recorded. In fact I have a letter that was given to me by the former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola. He couldn’t attend my send-off party, because he travelled out of the country. But he sent the commissioner for transport to represent him, Mr. Kayode Opeifa with a letter, stating that my tenure had been a turning point between FRSC and the state government and that enhanced relationship between federal agencies and the government of the state.
I was then moved to Zone 5, which covers Edo, Delta and Anambra state. My problem in that area was the Benin-Asaba expressway. In fact, there is a place called Useluku. People were dying almost every day. I came up with what is called Local Initiative. The initiative was the commencement of a Special Intervention Patrol on Benin-Asaba corridors. And I moved patrol team from the hinterland to the Routes. So from Benin to Agbor; Agbor to Useluku and; Asaba to Onitsha, you will come across various patrol teams on a daily basis along with Special Marshals. That has reduced accidents on the routes.
Drivers have begun to drive responsibly. If you are caught misbehaving, you are arrested and charged to court. So the drivers became sane on the road. We reduced road traffic by 62% in the first three month of the exercise. They soft-pedalled till I left. I was later moved from Zone 5 back to Lagos as Zonal Commanding Officer in 2015.
When I was in Lagos as Sector Commanding Officer, we used Special Intervention Patrol on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and road traffic crash reduced. I have a data to that effect. For sixteen months, when I was Sector Commander, we reduced road traffic crime by 32.8 % in Lagos state. So when I came back this time as Zonal Commanding officer, I have to re-invigorate that Special Intervention Patrol on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. I have discussed with my Chief Executive, who gave me a lot of support. As I speak with you, last week, we received new Patrol Vehicles.
For Lagos State Command alone, two vehicles, five Motorcycles from Lagos state, 2 motorcycles from Chevron. On daily basis, from Lagos to Ibadan, I have not less than 24 vehicles with Ambulances, Patrol Vehicles and Towing Trucks. I will invite you to come next Thursday when I want to re-launch that scheme on the road.
Like what you saw on the road that day, it is part of the work I am going to do. I am trying to give back to the society. For God to give me an opportunity to work in a system like this, I should give back to society what is good. When I retire from system, what would be the legacy that I am living behind? That is what is on my mind.
You seem to have a busy schedule; do you really have time for recreation activities?
AKPABIO: Laughter… Well, I attended Harvard University. I did a course called emerging leaders. We are looking at things the other way, issues that are difficult and find a way of solving them. I have a four years scheme I am running now to mentor people on how to survive in turbulent environments.
I will welcome any of you to participate in our programme one of these days. For instance, you hear people complaining about the government. The govt cannot solve everything. As an individual, what is your role towards solving societal problems? The government will not make food for you to eat, what it does is to create enabling environment.
What about sports?
AKPABIO: I do exercise before leaving my house every morning. I ride bicycle too.
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