Nigeria’s Frsc And Her Penurious N58m Media Budget
In Nigeria, road safety is still a very complicated, highly misunderstood and an under addressed issue. The reasons are very many but they all hang on a long chain of non appreciation of the magnitude of the problem as a major disaster which claims many lives unnecessarily. Besides the traditional beliefs cum fatalism attached to road crashes by many under informed individuals and the circle of ever emerging religious groups that deliberately associate such incidents to blood sucking demons on the roads, the inaptitude of both the government and the governed count most for retarding the growth of road safety.
Indeed, the recipe of ignorance, misinformation and neglect on road safety in Nigeria has now made the many daily preventable road fatalities and injuries appear as normalcy. Unfortunately, outside the shores of Nigeria, whenever and wherever, preventable road deaths in Africa are discussed, hardly will any objective analyst affirm that road safety development in Nigeria has overcome basic struggles. Back home, despite Nigeria being recognised as Africa's most motorized Nation with the best dedicated agency cum committed staff on road safety in the entire sub Saharan Africa, the reality is that there is still multiple challenges that tend to be making it seem as if addressing the many needless road deaths is an insurmountable task. This is obvious from the present huge record on road traffic injuries.
Presently, even though, the Nigeria's road safety regulating agency, the Federal Road Safety Corps, may have succeeded in stabilizing the growing trend of road crashes in recent years, there cannot be any realistic claim that it has effectively and drastically reduced road crashes even with the existence of acknowledged road safety experts in its fold. Candidly put, achieving safe trips on Nigeria's many bad roads remains an unaccomplished dream. Certainly, this has nothing to do with being pessimistic because a quick google search on the internet still shows an endless list of current road crashes resulting from highly preventable deaths and injuries. Specifically, in the words of Christian Purevoy, a CNN correspondent: “Nigeria's road safety has a long road to travel.” With all sense of modesty but candour, six clear years after these remarks of CNN on Nigeria's road safety situation, nothing credible seems to have disputed Mr. Purevoy's conclusion in terms of poor road safety conditions in Nigeria. Indeed, there is neither any credible proof that the awful roads are getting addressed nor evidence that may suggest that road users' behaviour has dramatically changed. Yet, Nigeria's dwindling economy is most likely to introduce more use of dilapidated vehicles for mass transportation at the risk of majority of the Nigerian populace that have limited options to meet their commuting needs.
Without a doubt, from the statistics available on Nigerian road traffic injuries either based on official figures that are considered highly under reported or the non verifiable estimates provided by civil society groups that lay claims to reliable data even from contentious sources, in all ways, it is obvious that what happens on the roads of Nigeria on daily basis is more than casualties recorded from the worst war times in the history of any African nation, yet desirable attention seems very far from both sides of the government and its citizenry. In fact, on issues of road safety underdevelopment, it is easy to assume that Nigerian citizens carry more blame than even the country's leadership. To be truthful, in Nigeria's present situation, even if the political will by government to confront preventable road deaths is more on paper than in practice, the venerable populace including thousands of acknowledged activists working on humanity related issues, have not demonstrated the right level of concern to warrant government's prompt intervention.
For instance, recently, it was highly publicized that the Nation's House of Representatives Committee on road safety genially increased the entire annual budget on publicity for the FRSC from N16 million to N58 million, approximately $200,000. In simple and straight terms, this money is expected to serve as funding for advertisement, sensitisation, public education and awareness creation for the interest of over a hundred million road users that are mostly uninformed about road safety practices. Arithmetically, even though the increase translates to a three hundred percent rise but in reality, this may just be about 10 per cent of what such a national agency on road safety actually needs to properly function on publicity, especially in a society like Nigeria with teeming illiterate population where a large section of the populace are not aware that there is gulf of difference between accidents and premeditated road crashes.
The clear truth herein is that road safety in Nigeria lacks support both from the government and even the civil society, which ought to serve as the voice of the masses. Otherwise, the nature of poor budgetary allocation extended to the FRSC to cater for the safety needs of Nigerian road users should be the occasion for mass protests over gross government neglect. Sadly, the daylight twist herein is that If a previous government of Nigeria can afford to use billions of naira from the national treasury to pay for Television publicity on its political party's campaign, then why should extending a token of 65 million naira to the FRSC be celebrated whereas such an amount will only be sufficient to put up adverts that can only just announce the existence of a road safety regulatory agency in Nigeria without the capacity to conduct any meaningful advocacy that will inform road users on how best to stay safe on the roads. Infact, this is one obvious area where politicians have failed Nigerians because in any functional democratic society, saving lives of the electorate ought to be a priority issue as the mandate of who becomes victorious in any credible election rests on voters' population.
The doubts about government's genuine concern on safety of its citizens are many and the answers can never be provided unless Nigerian citizens understand their fundamental rights and responsibilities especially that allowing the FRSC to present a very unrealistic budget that will only help it scratch the surface of a deep wound is not in the best interest of their safety on the roads. Another firm instance of great contrast to Nigeria's fight against road crashes is that about few months ago, a single Nigerian political office holder bought two bullet proof vehicles for personal safety for about a million dollars whereas an agency like the FRSC does not have enough patrol vehicles to attend to the safety of millions of distressed road travelers.
So, in this article, it must be fearlessly stated that what weakens road safety growth in Nigeria is not necessarily about the inefficiency of the FRSC but public neglect in addressing some genuine realities confronting the FRSC. Indeed, this is where the Nigerian media seems to have grossly failed because in making the inappropriate purchase of the said bullet proof cars by the Minister of Aviation headline stories for commercial gains from its readers, if failed to expose the fact that a Ministry like Aviation which caters for the travelling needs of few privilege persons least deserves such expenditure for personal safety of just a single Executive. Whereas, such resources could have made good sense if it were used to improve our airports, allocated to the Transport Ministry for road repairs or even channeled to the FRSC to protect the lives of millions of road users. Indeed, the Nigerian media is actually an accomplice on the issue of road safety underdevelopment in Nigeria because if records are properly documented, next to commercial drivers, journalists are ranked second on the list of professionals that die from preventable road deaths given their incessant use of the roads in the conduct of their duties, yet the media does not use their medium to question government's irrationality on issues of road safety.
To be specific, most times, reports in newspapers of road crashes make catchy captions as they are readers' attraction but with no follow up analysis on how a reoccurrence could be prevented. It is even possible for someone to assume that news reporters are more interested in capturing accident situations by showing pictures of victims waiting for help to arrive than assisting these victims because of the many pictures of helpless road victims in the internet. With all sense of honesty, this conjecture is really not true because Nigerians are known to be very sympathetic and help rendering to their fellow citizens. Even in worst disastrous instances like regular bomb blasts of recent times as induced by the Boko Haram sect, Nigerians have shown that their nation really has thousands of Good Samaritans. So, one may innocently but curiously ask, where then lies the setback on help for road victims? The actuality is that on rescue for road crash victims by fellow Nigerians, the major problem is lack of knowledge of what to do, where to take the victims, fear of police harassment, delayed response of emergency team and hospital rejection. All these combined, make road crash victims die quickly on the spot of road crashes. If the truth on road safety will make sense to the Nigerian Government, then it must be expressed openly that until the FRSC is properly funded, it is right to agree that the collective quest of Nigerians for safe road use may just be an illusion.
For avoidance of doubt, the views herein are in no way intended to condemn the efforts any particular government of Nigeria but to serve as a wakeup call for the present President Buhari's administration on an age long neglected priority and possibly create proper awareness that much can be done to prevent unwarranted road deaths with proper funding of the FRSC. Indeed, in a situation where Civil society operators or public affairs analysts like me continue to keep mute on this issue, then the road safety situation in Nigeria will remain doomed because it is hard to imagine that the FRSC Management will ever find the right courage to demand what it deserves to be efficient from the government without a backlash from some top government functionary that will always state that Nation's present limited resources will not permit such investments on the FRSC, whereas the focus of the present administration is on change which great emphasis on fighting corruption and safety for Nigerians.
In any case, no matter how harsh the above stated views may sound to some persons in authority be it the management of the FRSC or the leadership of the nation, it is just about the truth on Nigeria's road safety poor situation and what is necessary to save thousands of lives that are needlessly terminated on the roads. Simply put, on the roads of Nigeria, every road user is a likely victim of injury or fatality. Thus, any improvement or investment done for road safety in Nigeria is for the interest of all citizens because this is a country where everybody relies on the roads for their mobility. The earlier the authorities began to look into enhancing funding for the FRSC, the most likely, the Nigerian government will begin to enjoy greater collaborations from the international community especially in this era that the United Nations has generously dedicated Decade of Action on global road safety to help developing nations address their poor road safety conditions.
I have considered this narration as necessary background before expressing my opinion on the recent advice of Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria's Minister of state for Health on mandatory training of drivers on first aid as prerequisite condition for issuance of driver's license, a measure which though good is also neglected. Furthermore, this article gives me an opportunity to expand the debate for establishment of a national policy on first aid. In responding to the above stated subjects which deals with the important issue of enhancing rescue efforts for accident victims on Nigerian roads, firstly, I wish to state with no ambiguity that the proposal of the Minister of Health will certainly form a brilliant initiative anywhere that road safety growth in Africa is discussed. However, a critical review of his position reveals some hidden truths.
First Aid is already a settled matter on road safety for African countries given the popular '2007 Accra Declaration' on road safety which sufficiently addressed first aid in its emergency trauma care section of item 45, on the need to “Institute mandatory training: at different levels; First aid training to all drivers, particularly commercial drivers; first aid box mandatory in all cars; and Accident prone areas should be priority”. Indeed, First Aid is about both commonsense and relevant education for road users. Interestingly, it is also important to state that it is an act of reasonable coincidence that the head of Nigerian delegation to the 2007 Accra meeting, Boboye Oyeyemi is now the Corps Marshal of the FRSC whilst the head of the Civil Society coalition from Nigeria, Prof. Babatunde Solagberu, an erodent scholar with pioneering records of building international partnerships for the Nigerian Government on road safety, is now the present Dean, Clinical Sciences, Lagos State University College of Medicine. As such, the idea of mandatory First Aid training as propagated by the Health Minister though an excellent concept remains a decade long unimplemented policy by the FRSC, a Continental Declaration, which contrastingly, the same FRSC endorsed on behalf of the Nigerian government. In this long epistle, this is the only section; I have found it to apportion blame on the FRSC.
Nevertheless, besides the FRSC's unnecessary delay on First Aid training, the reality is that the implementation of first aid training of drivers and road users will not be a piece of cake for an agency like the FRSC that does not have resources to conduct its primary duties talk less of taking up additional responsibilities. Certainly, this is where the few existing NGOs on road safety will be required to use their status to build capacity and raise recourses for the FRSC. Indeed, even if the FRSC may be rated as the best agency with quality staff on road safety in sub Saharan Africa, the question herein is, can an eagle without wings soar in the midst of real eagles? So, whilst the First aid initiative must commence immediately as a vital and immediate intervention to save lives, we must not lose sight of the fact that funding for the FRSC remains the very big issue hindering reduction of preventable road deaths in Nigeria.
Right now, the FRSC even with very compassionate and smart working officers cannot boast of having one ambulance in every 774 local government areas in Nigeria. With such naked incapacitation to attend to road victims in need of help, why then should we expect the agency to act in an efficient manner without first turning their staff to magicians that can arrive at accident spots without vehicles? Certainly, with an army of volunteers administering first aid to road victims, preventable road deaths will decline but without adequate funding for the FRSC and support by NGOs, achieving safer road use and fuller lives will be a huge joke in Nigeria.
So, the major problems of the FRSC are really not far from under capacity, under funding, logistic inadequacy, gross budgetary neglect by the Federal Government of Nigeria and nonexistent community collaborative efforts on rescue for road crash victims. Luckily, none of the problems require rocket science technology. What is needed is a combination of genuine political will of the Nigerian government and citizens' actions to ensure that both the government and Civil society organisations provide appropriate support to complement the existing commendable efforts of the FRSC.
Written by Shaibu, a Public Communication Consultant.