The new Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC), Segun Ogungbemide, is humble, thorough, passionate and audacious.
In this exclusive interview with ROTIMI ASHER, Lagos Bureau Chief, Motoring World, he shone light on what his activities since appointed in June, 2020 and the action plans he has put in place to take Lagos Road Safety command to the next level.
Road Safety is one of the most challenging jobs in the country. Because of the position of Lagos as the commercial hub of Nigeria and the busiest in terms of vehicular activities, what do you think informed your appointment?
If anybody says it is easy being a sector commander, the person needs to have a rethink. It is either he is lazy or he does not know what he is doing. Or maybe he does not know the importance of what is given to him.
I was once the unit commander, Lagos Island for about four years. And I think it was a training ground for me as regard operation aspect of the job. I was also the unit head of Operation Badagry where I actually started as a platform to enter Lagos. At another time, I was the Zonal Public Enlightenment Officer, Lagos and Ogun State for about two years before leaving Lagos.
So, for the Corp Marshal, in his wisdom, to have asked me to come to Lagos after my promotion, I want to believe he must have looked at my antecedence and what we have achieved in the past, because all these position that I have analyzed, there was no one where I was found wanting.
By virtue of the grace of God, I was able to perform excellently well.
Even after leaving Lagos, our activities outside Lagos also spoke well of my performance. So coming to Lagos is a very huge task, because I know it is a dynamic city. So many things happen every minute but I leverage on the fact that the government of Lagos has a passion for safety on our roads. You will agree with me that for a Governor to have chosen transportation and traffic management as his number one out of a six-point agenda, the state is really passionate about sustaining safety on our roads.
Among all the state in Nigeria, Lagos State has the strongest agency in the name of LASTMA compared to others. So if I have LASTMA managing the metropolis, my stress is reduced. I can now focus on the corridor where we record most of fatalities that we normally have in the course of movement.
When I look at the analysis, 95% of the crashes we record within Lagos metropolis are minor and serious. While just 5% result in fatality. But the bulk of the crashes that result in fatality happen on the highway. So I come to Lagos more as an interventionist. When there is extreme gridlock that is overwhelming for LASTMA, we always come in support.
When there are crashes involving tankers, container or fire inferno, you see us. This is because (1) our strategic goal for the year is to reduce the rate of crashes involving fatality, (2) reduce road traffic crashes by 15% and (3) reduce the one involving fatality by 20%. For me to achieve that, I have to focus on that area where the fatality is recorded more.
Apart from building on what your predecessor has done, what are your plans for Lagos in term of road safety operation?
What all the commanding Officers appointed by the FRSC within this season must do is to cascade the activities of the headquarters to the field; your own domain of operation. I just told you now. You pick your strategic goal and create an action around it. Reduce road traffic crashes by 15% and road traffic crashes fatality by 20%. So, I revolve my action plan around that directive.
How do I reduce road traffic fatality by 20%? What was it before I took over? What are the features on ground that assisted my predecessor in achieving what he did? I work in line with action plan in exhaustive collaboration with sister agencies.
When we had about 25 tankers impounded, I did it with VIO. I didn’t come to Lagos to compete. I am in Lagos to work in collaboration with all the agencies on ground to achieve the goal and mandate given to me. I made up my mind that I won’t be able to achieve the mandate alone irrespective of the blackmail that have been going around that more than ten agencies are doing the same job.
W e saw what played out in the last protest. Where are the agencies? If you have a state that has more than 20 million people with wide road network. There is no single agency that can solve the problem of Lagos. So if I come with that idea of coming here like a hero to solve the problem, I am deceiving myself. The only thing I can do is to see what we have as challenges; invite like we have been doing now the stakeholders and see the problem we can solve.
That is how we have been able to solve the problem of Kara, that is when you are going outside Lagos from Berger. That is the bridge before the long bridge. Kara was almost becoming a nightmare. Every day we see crashes. I called my team. One of the major action plan I have is to work as a team and carry everybody along. From your own end as a journalist, you have a role to play. I am close to you and you are closer to the public. You know their mindset and complaint. So if Kara was the problem, let’s come together. Why are the crashes? When I came two or three week, three major crashes were recorded along Kara.
I called my Accident Investigation Officer. Go and find out why we have been having accident at Kara and they did. I compared what they gave me with what Julius Berger had and we realized the problem with Kara is a good road versus bad road. When people are coming from Berger, very smooth road but hilly; descending the hill, they come across the rough edge at Kara. The truck or tanker ahead slam break suddenly and the one behind coming with same speed ceasing with the break light suddenly and slam his own. As a result of the weight of the load he is carrying on hilly place, pushes him ahead and hit the next one, then you see crashes and inferno depending on the content of their product.
We realized that why must we have these edges? Is there no bulk solution to that? We know the road is still under construction but the palliative is that rough edge that is creating the crashes lets smoothen it. And since it is smoothened, the rate of crashes has reduced. That means there is no ‘Iya alaye’ that is sucking blood there.
For Otedola bridge , we had another meeting there again last week. The minister of works called for that meeting. That means government is worried. What is the problem with this road?
I realized that the differential elevation from kilometer zero to Otedola bridge is not as stiff or sharp as what we have at Berger to Kara. So what is the problem? Otedola is like a valley. The trucks descend and ascend. For them to sustain ascending, they will take up speed from the valley so that it will take them up the hill.
But due to the load they are carrying since majorly the problem is with articulated vehicles, they rolled back because the capacity of the engine cannot sustain the load they are carrying. When they are ascending, they press the break and the break fails, they rolled back. How I got this conclusion: outward Lagos is where we majorly record the crashes. Inward Lagos when they are not carrying load, they don’t have problem. So you see that the capacity of the engine to move that load across is the problem. But when we say it is the road, how many years has the road been there. If the road is the problem, we would have been recording crashes every day. That hill is not as stiff as Oke-alamojuto in Ondo state that you see heavy truck climbing. So mostly the problems are lack professionalism, vehicular and human factor. When you are a good professional as regard the vehicle you are handling, you know the vehicle has the capacity to do what is right.
Then we talk of building capacity of our men as part of my plan too. I cannot stand our men being uncivil to members of the public. The problem we shared was never FRSC problem. We are firm but fair. Since I came, I have been building the capacity of our men on how to render the best of all services to members of the public. How to know it is not a do or die affair. We have been attacked severally but despite the height of provocation, we still sustain our job. We calm our nerve and do what is right. So we have been fair on that so that they will not embarrass us.
In term of compromise, FRSC is an establishment that does not have return syndrome. Whatever evil you see our men perpetrate on the road is an individual problem. We have zero tolerance to it. That is why on regular basis, if I showed you the record of the number of men we have sacked, you will be amazed.
The ones we have reduced their rank and those that have lost their seniority all in the name of one compromise or the other. As human being it will happen but when the institution does not tolerate it, then you give kudos to that institution.
The capacity building is to know this is the vision of FRSC. Our core value has to be sustained. I picked on that and build the capacity of staff.
Then we talk about collaboration of all stakeholders. Looking at the problem of tankers and containers falling and getting burnt, by virtue of number of tankers and trucks we have in Nigeria today, how many will you run after on the road?
It will even be counterproductive for you to be running after a tanker that is loaded with fuel. If in the course of running after it, it catches fire or run into other vehicles, the calamity you are trying to prevent will be worse. What we do is to make the best of collaborators, our partners and stakeholders.
Lets go to the basis. These tankers, where are they loading? We have people that supervise the loading. Those are the people we should discuss with. That is where our collaboration comes in. We reach out to these people to be of help to us; to make sure there is a standard. We have MOU with Nigeria Port Authority (NPA). When a vehicle is not fit for the road, don’t allow it to load. It was a unified MOU. We had MOU with Shipper’s Council. When a vehicle does not meet up with minimum safety standard, don’t allow it to load.
People just see crashes happen. The human nature is that crash must happen but when it does, the ability to do quick intervention for immediate response is key. When anything happen we are there, 15 minutes response time. Before lives are lost we are there. That is how we have been managing it. There is no system in the world today even in the western world that is perfect. They have their problem too. When commitment and political will is not there, nobody is perfect. A political will enable you to do what is right; FRSC has it than any establishment.
The last of our strategic goal for the year that has been the guiding principle in Lagos is building and improving the products of FRSC. It tends towards reducing road traffic crashes. The first one, Road Transport Safety Standardization Scheme where we put all organized trucks and containers, any haulage business that has more than five vehicles in its fleet is registered under that scheme. We give them criteria, drivers’ safety standard, vehicle safety standard and operator safety standard. What must you have as an operator for us to accept you? What must you have as a driver to qualify to be under that scheme and the status of your vehicle?
Then we talk of the driving school standardization too. For us to get it right, we must get our driving school right because that is where it starts. A man that is not well trained will misbehave when he gets his driving license. Without going through the rudiment of training, you cannot qualify to drive because driving school now is not just cut papers and give to you as certificate. It is automated. It is after 26 days. If you go to a driving school and they give you certificate after two or three days, it is fake. It must run its course for 26 days and you will see the code being generated. That is the code you are going to use to access portal for drivers license.
Don’t you think the process of getting driving license in Nigeria is too cumbersome and encourage corruption? What is your take on the issue?
The fact that it is cumbersome should be celebrated. When it is easy come, easy go like it used to be in the past, anybody can pick it up at the road side. Even when you go through the back door, you will still meet a brickwall, because I just said you will spend 26 days before your driving certificate can come out. There is no back door you pass through. If anybody generate certificate for you, it is fake. You don’t have a code to access the portal.
Cumbersome or no cumbersome, it is because people are not willing to do what is right and in the course of surcharging yourself, you meet brickwall. We are trained to get it right. In the western world, people spend months to get drivers license and they celebrate it because it is outside the country but when it is their country, they rubbish it and call it time wasting.
In the western world, you spent months before getting drivers license. If you don’t pass, you go back. It is rigorous to get. They won’t call it cumbersome. They call it rigorous and strict but when it is home, it is cumbersome. The truth of the matter is there is no ambiguity there. You go through your driving school. You go for proficiency test. You are passed by VIS. Make payment. After making payment, you go to FRSC for capturing. I know there could be one hiccup or the other which is normal in every human endeavour.It is not enough to rubbish the process.
Then we have our safe to load concept where we have safe to load. It is still about the tankers and truckers. I am just telling you what we put in place to reduce crashes that people don’t appreciate. Assuming we don’t have all these, what would have been happening?
Safe to load is: we have trained operatives that have been tutored on how to inspect vehicle like Vehicle Inspection Officers. They are distributed to all the tank farms where fuel is loaded. Any vehicle that does not have minimum safety standard is not allowed to load. As we have them at tank farm, we also have them at terminals, NPA terminals. We know there are west cargo and dry cargo. So the essence of them like the containers, you latch open dry cargo while you containerize, you twist-lock containers. To be double sure, you twist lock and still unlatch. You notice the incident of falling tankers has reduced but before when they come out from the port, they unlock. From our investigation, the reason why they unlock is that when the vehicle tries to fall because of bad road, they don’t want to fall along with the vehicle. To them, since the containers are insured but the vehicles are not insured and their life are not insured too, the driver will now allow the container to fall and his own vehicle will not fall. He will drive the vehicle away. And when the container fall off a truck, it falls to a distance. When it falls with the truck, it is still firm with the truck. So it won’t push to the point of hitting other vehicle or falling on them. That is why the effect of fatality involving containers now has been minimized drastically because when it falls, it will go with the vehicle. It will still hold on to the vehicle but when it is not locked and is thrown off, you cannot measure the distance it can go. That is what we have been able to achieve as regard containers falling off.
We also confirm that most of these containers that are falling are not going on transit outside Lagos. They are these ones within the metropolis moving from port to warehouses. What they do is when they come out latched or twis-tlocked, they handover to those ones within the metropolis and those ones don’t care. Those are the ones you see with one wheel when they fall off. You must have seen the video. But we have intervened. We are not yet there but I am sure we are going to get there. Those are the effort I build my action plan around; the strategic goal of FRSC.
What are you doing for the ember month? There is usually a lot of carnage during this period. What have you put in place to avert destruction of lives through crashes and fatality?
It is unfortunate the perception of people. January is not different from other month. It is the way people see it. From January to August, we play with time; all of a sudden in September, we realize we have lost a lot and the year is coming to end, we start rushing. These are the things that accumulate to chaotic situation leading to crashes and death. A man that goes from Lagos to Ibadan and did not see anything wrong with two trips as a commercial driver. By September because of financial pressure, he tries to go on four. This will affect speed and recklessness on the road. These are the things that lead to crashes. What we do mostly at this period is to give advocacy. I have been able to break our preparation towards the ember months. We start with advocacy.
Advocacy is telling members of the public what the motoring public should know. We are enjoying support from the media. We have our public enlightenment unit within the system. All our staff is involved this time around. If not for the protest, you would have been seeing us all over the town with road show distributing handbill, advocacy in all the three languages and what have you.
The second face is street enforcement. Where there are no rules, there are no offences. For as long as there are regulations, we have to sustain those regulations. An average Nigerians does not want enforcement. People celebrate us when we remove obstruction from the road, they pray for us when we rescue people during crashes. People pray for us when we do traffic control. The same person if he commits traffic offence and you arrest him, he starts pouring curses on you. Then you wonder. Everybody wants to be free but want a lawless society. See gridlock everywhere. These are the things the law is there to checkmate that they don’t want. So our second emphasis is irrespective of their impression, enforcement must go on. If not, the number of death that FRSC will record these ember months will be many.
The third and the most important is the rescue operation. When we say there will be no crash, we will be living in utopian world. There will be crash. We are just trying to make sure there is no crash that leads to death. We are vulnerable. Crashes must always happen. When it happens, what is our intervention? Under fifteen minutes, that is what the rules say. We are expected to be on the road to assist the victim.
And we have trained many artisans along the corridor. Within short kilometer when there are crashes even when we are not there, somebody is there to attend to you before we arrive. We also have 30 days follow-up where we follow the victim to the hospital and see how they are fairing. So these are the plans we have for this season.
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