On Monday April 15 2013, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) presented to the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) the NIS ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management Certificate; an award that would change FRSC and road safety management system in Nigeria. It was not an unlikely triumph seeing that the FRSC is one agency of government that, for the past five years, is bedecked with laurels and accolades that have continued to corroborate the Corps’ burgeoning national and international reputation. But this very award seems to be wrested from a moment of national gloom occasioned by spiraling reports of fatal road mishaps that have maimed, as well as claimed the lives of many promising Nigerians.
Following the high casualty rate recorded in the month of December 2012, in which 473 persons died and 1115 vehicles were wrecked in road accidents nationwide, April 2013 may go down as the bloodiest month in the first half of the year 2013 as regards road accidents. The carnage began in the wee hours of April 3 claiming 18 persons on Abuja-Lokoja road when a Marcopolo luxury bus collided with a J5 bus. On April 5, 36 travelers in a Marcopolo luxury bus and an articulated vehicle were set ablaze by a petrol tanker at Ugboguii village along Benin-Ore road. Again, on April 6, 20 persons lost their lives in an accident at Dazigan town about 11km from Potiskum, Yobe State when a mass transit bus rammed into an articulated vehicle. Five days later, on April 11, a bus speeding along Damaturu-Gashua road also in Yobe State suffered a tyre burst, somersaulted and burst into flames killing 10 of its occupants. On April 14, the Abuja-Lokoja road witnessed yet another fatality when a Volkswagen Golf car ran into an articulated vehicle leaving 7 people dead. The day after, on April 15, 5 people were killed when two private cars collided with an articulated vehicle along Asaba-Onitsha expressway in Asaba. The list goes on. Evidently, a close look at these reports would reveal two common features – overspeeding and involvement of articulated vehicles.
According to the Minister for Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria has the second highest road traffic accident fatalities among the 193 countries of the world. This trend, the minister said, is adversely affecting the health system in Nigeria and hampering its attainment of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5. Also, the National Focal Person for United Nations (UN) Decade of Action in Nigeria, Dr Sydney Ibeanusi, said over 80 percent of injuries in Nigeria are traffic accident related. Stressing that road traffic accidents are the third leading cause of deaths in the country, he said 1.3 million persons are killed and 50 million injured globally each year from road crashes. Conversely, the FRSC is being celebrated locally and internationally. At a recent workshop under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, FRSC was adjudged “the best lead agency on road safety management in Africa” by the World Bank. Some analysts argue that though the successes of FRSC’s ‘Safe Road Nigeria’ campaign may be overstated, the Minister’s statistics might as well be misleading and his conclusion a very serious indictment on the effectiveness of FRSC as a public service agency saddled with the responsibility of road safety management in Nigeria. Going by the 4260 deaths recorded for 2012, analysts have argued that the figure is so far below the international fatality average of 6736 and, as such, cannot place Nigeria as second highest among 193 countries. However, many have complained that the FRSC seems to have lost its initially intimidating clout; a quality that catalyzed its exploits of the late eighties and early nineties. This perhaps now accounts majorly for the laissez-faire attitude of motorists towards simple safety rules like use of seat belt, use of cell phone while driving, route violation, drink-driving, overloading, overspeeding, dangerous overtaking, light sign violation and many other simple road etiquette.
It is obvious that the old picture of FRSC with its fabled fangs did create some passing momentum; but the transformation of the corps by the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive, Mr. Osita Chidoka, will be of more lasting significance. The year 2013 therefore deserves its spots in the annals of policing history alongside 2003 when the Phoenix Police Department received the ISO 9001:2000 certificate, or even 2001 when 249 public service agencies in Malaysia qualified for ISO 9001 Quality Management System.
FRSC is not, however, in a mood for much celebration. Although the organization has transformed from power-point reforms to institutional re-engineering, as is endorsed by the ISO certification, it is still working doggedly towards adopting the ISO39001 standards for road safety management system. Incidentally, myriads of challenges abound, among which are paucity of funds to finance the implementation of Quality Management Standards, provision of the infrastructure and other requirements of the standards, which are capital intensive. Moreover, there are problems of poor road maintenance culture of government, poor vehicle maintenance culture of motorists, poor legislation on the use of roads, lack of formal driving training, and the cynical view of many Nigerians towards the efforts of the Corps in stepping up road safety standards.
Recklessness of articulated vehicles and general overspeeding by other vehicles are the commonest causes of major road mishaps and fatalities. According to Article 5 of the FRSC’s ‘Safe Road Nigeria’ campaign, most crashes are caused by the drivers’ behaviour and not always as a result of bad roads. It has therefore become imperative for the FRSC to launch fresh initiatives that would boost the effectiveness of the Road Transport Safety Standardization Scheme (RTSSS) in curbing the widespread menace of articulated vehicles on Nigerian roads. The recommendation for a Safety Manager for every fleet of articulated vehicles must be given fresh impetus to ensure the curtailment of the destruction articulated vehicles are causing through their carelessness, indiscipline and recklessness. Overspeeding is usually responsible for loss of control, which has spelt doom for many motorists. Perhaps, it is time to have further testing before the issuance of a Drivers’ License. The government urgently needs to fix dilapidated road pavements, and to come up with proper legislation on road rules as the existing ones no longer spell out strict and commensurate penalties for traffic offenders.
The NIS IOS 9001:2008 Quality Management Certificate came as a result of Mr. Chidoka’s commitment to reforms in the Corps and his unparalleled passion for the job of road safety management. But to improve traffic law reinforcement, driver education, and driver reorientation requires motivating and monitoring the Marshals out in the field especially at the critical highway corridors where they cope with traffic peculiarities resulting from upsurge of vehicular and human traffic. The Federal Government has demonstrated commitment to the campaign to reduce road crash fatalities by 50 percent on Nigerian roads by the year 2015 with its collaboration with the World Bank under the Federal Roads Development Project. This represents the way forward for all critical infrastructures in line with the Federal Government’s policy of promoting partnership with multi-lateral and private sector financiers. Now it is up to State and Local Governments to ensure that funds meant for roads construction and rehabilitation get spent in the right places and FRSC officials are held to account for showing up and enforcing road rules.
If the tasks now facing FRSC are different, so are its circumstances. Despite the global recognition, Mr. Chidoka has expressed his worries about the current accident statistics in Nigeria: 161 deaths per 10,000 crashes. Compared to the figures of decades past, this is an improvement, though it is true that every life is precious. But given the Corps Marshal’s target of 2 deaths per 10,000 crashes by the year 2020, FRSC has a hard road to travel.
Thanks to the Corps Marshal’s vision. FRSC’s decision to improve quality, ensure standards and subscribe to continuous process improvement is now authenticated by a third party with a global seal. The award of the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System has elevated FRSC to the elite group of law enforcement agencies and public institutions united in the quest for excellence.
“Finally,” Mr. Chidoka said, “let me use this opportunity to call on other government agencies to adopt the ISO 9001 standards and seek to benchmark their outputs with their peers in the top twenty economies of the world. The certificate we receive today is not permanent, it will be withdrawn, if we fail to abide by the standards. Nigerians should, therefore, hold FRSC responsible to always maintain this certification as the irreducible minimum indicator of its long term viability and good health.” Politicians and transport industry stakeholders are hereby called upon to make noticeable improvements in their various units and help Nigerian motorists see the need to make a detour from the famished road.
Member, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT)