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See Us As Partners In Progress In Traffic Management --- DESTMA D-G

By Kenneth Gyamerah
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Since the inauguration of the Delta State Traffic Management Authority (DESTMA), to enforce traffic rules and regulations on Delta roads, the agency has had it fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly especially with the public.

In this exclusive interview with our correspondent in Asaba, the Director-General (DG) of the agency, Olorogun Stephen Dieseruvwe, cleared the misconception about the agency and its personnel. The DG also spoke on the need for Deltans to see the agency and its men to be carrying out its/their statutory duties.

Excerpt:
What has your agency achieved since inauguration? The point is that we are still at the very early stages because this act was signed into law on the 24th of October 2013 and it was left in the cooler up until 14th of April 2016 when the agency was formally inaugurated and between that period till the end of June, we were more concerned about enlightenment and sensitization.

But I want Deltans to understand something which is that, currently we are carrying out pilot scheme in three cities: Asaba, Ughelli, Warri and Efferun as one zone for now though they are supposed to be two different zones. So, around the end of June, enforcement started in Asaba, that was followed by Warri in July and Ughelli.

DESTMA enforcement started June, July 2016. Now with regards to very visible achievement, Deltans are beginning to understand the fact that there is an agency that will check what drivers do on the road because the main aim of DESTMA is to allow free flow of traffic and to reduce road traffic accidents on the roads by adopting the most modern traffic management method and the use of modern traffic management device.

So, with regards to that, I will say Deltans are beginning to understand that there is an agency will check them. So, that enlightenment alone has led from when the enforcement started till now that the awareness of Deltans who are motorists that there is an agency that will definitely hold you to account for your contravention of traffic rules regulations.

And one major one was that on the 6th of December, set up a taskforce which included all the major sister agencies. We have the police, army, the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corp, DESTMA, Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Environment.

Now, with all these agencies working together, the sole aim was to allow for free flow of traffic during the Christmas period on the Benin-Asaba Expressway up to the head-bridge and because of the collaborative approach used at the end of the exercise, the Delta State Police Division agreed to the fact that for the first time nobody slept on the highway and that at no point was there any holdup beyond the ‘B’ Division which is around the Abraka area.

So, that in itself, the role of DESTMA then was more about enlightenment. So, we were on radio, TV, giggles and it paid off because what people were pleased about was the fact that yes the entire problem was not resolved but at least it eased the pains of travellers along that road and one thing we must also understand is that it was also in collaboration with Anambra State. So, we did up till the head-bridge and Anambra State took off from the other side. Those are some of the very visible aspect that we have gone into.

Before now there has been this outcry from the public against the attitude of some of your men but for some time now that aspect coming from your men have been eluded. What is the magic? Yes! It has not totally disappeared but what I can tell you is that every report about misdemeanours from our officers, have been taken very seriously even if they are fabricated stories. We are not bothered about whether they are fabricated stories or not.

The most important thing is that when we cater log these information, we sit down in the office and begin to strategize on the way forward and currently, we have a very good relationship with the Delta State police. We had a meeting with the Commissioner of Police and if you look at some of our beat areas, you can see policemen there.

If you look at DBS, you will find out that there is an added number of policemen apart from the traffic policemen and that has been as the respect of the directives given by the Commissioner of Police and currently also, he has also given us a tactical approval for DESTMA to work very closely with the traffic division of the Nigerian Police who have the powers to enforce traffic rules and regulations on all roads including federal and state roads.

So, we are working collaboratively with the police that has helped in this regard. Again, that collaborative approach we are having with the police has also paid off because we are currently having a two days seminar organized by the Nigerian Police, Delta State Command for us and we are having various topics that we are treating. For instance, those topics include the key modules for operational efficiency, the second topic is the power of arrest and contravention and we also have scene of accident investigation and procedures and traffic offences.

Now tomorrow’s programme is the 24 of March, we are going to have three topics: Improving interpersonal relationship with sister agencies, conflict resolutions, strategies, friendly communication approaches with motorist and how to avoid friction with uniform personnel and the general public and the final information will be how to manage beats effectively. So, what we are saying is, these courses that are taking place now is as a result of the complains we have been having from the public and because we don’t want to sweep anything under the carpet, we believe that any complain we have, we log it and when trainings are to take place that should be as a result of us keying into some of the complains that we already have.

So, the relaxation of the conflict between DESTMA officers and the public is as a result of the fact that yes the public might not see this but we are working round the clock, making sure that we are allowing training to be a continuous process which is training and retraining, is something that we take very seriously. So, that is one of the reasons why there is a reduction because every time we have discussion with our officers, we tell them about the complaints from the public and we also try to educate them of the fact that it is not the public versus DESTMA. DESTMA and the public have to work in tandem and we must be on the same page to be able to succeed.

So, we cannot have conflict with the public then at the same time we wanting to succeed. That is not possible, I think that is one of the reasons why there is really reduction of the regular conflict that people see in our officers on the road.

What mark would you want to make that you will be remembered for at the end when you bow out of DESTMA? Now, the point is this, if you look at the key thing we are going to do, we are going to use the most modern techniques in traffic management that will have very minimal contact with offending motorists. So, what I mean by that is, there are some proposal that are in the woodworks at the moment. One of them for example is the enumeration of all vehicles in Delta State manually and there will be a database and that database will be used to enforcing traffic and by so doing what is going to happen is that there will be CCTV in flash points and there will be hand held devices whereby traffic offenders can easily be identified and because there is a database, that information for all motorists will be, it will be easier for us to actually carry out our work.

And we will carry out our work 24/7, it is not only during the day because the cameras that is going to be in place will have infra-red facilities where by they can actually still detect offending behaviour of motorists at night.

At the end what we intend to do is, we want to make sure that there is free flow of traffic, reduction in road accidents and that compliance level of traffic offences will be so low that you will find a disciplined number of motorists on Delta ways. That is our big aim, it is not going to be easy to achieve but we are going to try our best but that we cannot also achieve without the support from the public.

Like we tell the public, we hear of complains of corruption. We cannot be everywhere at every time and for us to be able to investigate any of these, we want to work with the public. If you see something that is not right about our men, we need evidence to be able to carry out our work and discipline those who have erred, putting them through the right channels.

Do you have mobile court in place where cases are tried and how many persons have been found wanting and convicted? Yes! The act establishing DESTMA, allows for the establishment of a mobile court for DESTMA. Currently, the mobile court for Asaba, Ughelli, Efferun and Warri have been inaugurated by the Attorney-General and what is happening is that because of paucity of funds, we cannot be out there every time.

So, occasionally we have the mobile court in place. I will give you a typical example, between the 15th of March and 16th in Warri and Asaba; in Asaba, we have three mobile court sitting and over 50 persons were put through the system. In Warri, during that period we had four mobile court sitting: two in Efferun and two in Warri and in total we had close to about 100 motorists put before the mobile court and the mobile courts are headed by Magistrates who normally sit in their various courts. We use them in the days that they are free to be able to help us. So, you put any offender before the court.

There is a misconception that DESTMA are the people who are apprehending offenders, they are the judges and they are also the sentencing body. The point is when somebody is apprehended, what they do is that they have the option either to pay a penalty fine. We call it a penalty fine and not a fine par say because it is only the law court that can issue that. Now, you are given the chance to agree to paying it and if you do that you tick the ball that you are waving your right to go to court.

Those who have refused to be booked, what they do is that we keep the records until when the next mobile court is sitting. We put them before the mobile court for them to be tried.

What are the things your men check to see while on the road? We have over 50 traffic offences that we check for but in the process of implementing those laws, there will be the need to ask for some other documents. Now the training we just had which was an eye opener to most of our officers is that one thing is when somebody contravenes a traffic offence, what you do is this. Yes, there is a primary offence but the point is that in your discretion, you are going to find out, is that offence committed as a result of ignorance? And if it is as a result of ignorance because the person does not understand the traffic rules, the only way you can test that is to ask for the drivers licence because anybody driving on the road, who commits a traffic offence who does not also have a drivers licence, that goes beyond a traffic management affairs.

It turns a criminal offence because you are driving a car when you are not licenced to drive. So, the point is I want people to dissuade their minds from the fact that we stay on the road asking for documentation of vehicle licences. The only people that can ask for any document from, are those who in the first place have committed traffic offences. We don’t mount road blocks, asking for particulars, driver’s license.

Let me give you a typical example, if you beat the traffic light, our men by the cinema, will stop you and when they stop you they will tell that you beat the traffic light. Now, they want to know whether you are licenced to drive a car because anybody who is licence to drive a car should know that you should not go through red light because of the dangers that are attached to that. So that why they will ask you in the first instance of your driver’s licence to ascertain whether you actually licenced to drive. So, nobody is stopped arbitrarily or at random and they begin to ask for their documents.

What are those thing you think the public are in doubt of that you would like to clear? What we want to clear with the public is this, with the seminars that are going on now and with the training that we had before is that we are assuring the public that our men will carry out their duties in the most civilized manner. I am not saying that they are not going to be defaulters of those who are rude but the point is, the public need to bring that to our notice and the essence is this is not to punish the individual per say because punishment should be the last resort.

The point is that you use that as a training aid to our officers. It is not the public versus DESTMA, it is the public and DESTMA on one page. What we are appealing to the public is this; let them cooperate with our officers. When they stop you, don’t be aggressive that they don’t have the right to ask you questions but I know that if our officers stop motorists in a civilized manner, I believe that conflict that currently exist will disappear with time. So, there is this issue of we need to balance, let the public cooperate with us and when they cooperate with us, the areas of conflict will be reduced to the barest minimum.

For example, if somebody stops you and tells you to pull off to the side and you do that and he says I saw you beating the traffic light and you say oh I am sorry, I was not concentrating. You know the manner of approach might actually allow the officer to let you go because what the police officers who are carrying out this training are telling us in the three topics we had today, there was one underlined thing across the three subjects, which is ‘use your discretion’.

And you know the moment we begin to use our discretion you will find out that the point of conflict is going to reduce and when that is reduce the public will even appreciate that DESTMA has even helped me because I have a friend who has an accident because he/she is not wearing seat belt but because of DESTMA, I am into the habit of wearing seat belt and I know the implications of that. So, you know there will be that synergy between all of us working together and what I will also appeal is, in any way that our officers have been rude to the public, I am taking responsibility and apologizing on their behalf that we are sorry for our men if at all it has happened for them being rude and that we are ensuring, promising Deltans that we will keep working on that aspect until we are satisfied with the civilized and civil approach in dealing with all our traffic offenders.

How much has your agency generated for the state government since inception? One thing I want us to understand is, traffic management is not a revenue generating or IGR generating agency. The most important thing is this, we want to allow for free flow of traffic and to reduce road deaths but in the process of doing that, they are going to be offenders and the offenders will be the ones that will pay not because the government is trying to force everybody to pay money, it is only traffic offenders.

At the top of my head, I don’t know the figure but what I know is that the figure has been reducing since we started. So, what that means is this, if there is a constant reduction, that means compliance level is high and the essence is this, if compliance level is high, that means we are achieving the original aim which is to allow for free flow of traffic and if there is free flow of traffic, the chance is that the number of road crashes will reduce also, so off head I don’t know the exact figure but I know it should be in a very few millions.

What is your take when your men allows uniform men and politicians who drives against traffic to go unpunished? Is the law met for some? This is a very difficult area but let me make this absolutely clear. His Excellency, the governor of Delta State, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, has made it clear even at EXCO meeting that this law, there is no Deltan that is above the law. The governor said if my driver offends, the driver should be apprehended. I am not going to be in the business of calling names now but very top people in government have been apprehended or their mothers or sisters have been apprehended.

And when they came to the scene, you know there will be distress calls all the time. Oh! Some Agboros have held me somewhere but when they come and we discover it is DESTMA, but come if you don’t have money we will give you money to pay. What I am trying to say in effect is that very top government functionaries have been apprehended and they have paid.

But the situation that you just talked about now from one of the lectures we have just had this morning, what they said was that the moment the police is involved and there is escort involved, carrying of guns are involved in those situations, you need to just let go because of the high rate of kidnapping now going on.

And most of these kidnapping cases have involved be important personalities. That is the truth, so when you see that kind of situation, we cannot say that people cannot be kidnapped within town. People has been kidnapped within town. So, if somebody is protecting a VIP person, they shouldn’t in any situation break those laws but if they do and because of the high speed that they tend to get involved in, our men cannot put themselves as human shield in front, trying to enforce these laws.

That is why the issue of discretion comes in. it will be sad to actually state here that gun shots have been left off to scare our men. Not once, not twice, not thrice. We have all these incidents recorded and in that kind of situation, we have advised our men that when you encounter a situation that has to deal with arm bearing individuals, let go.

We are talking about human lives here anything can happen and if anything bad happens, there is no way we can say they were supposed to allow them to go but they did not allow them to go but if there was no gun bearing person, I can assure you that they would have booked them.

What are your major challenges? The major challenge is that we know that if we say that the country is broke, I have not said Delta State alone. If we say the country is broke, is something that everybody knows because the point is, this year or the last two years is one we have seen that there is so much money been pumped in from the centre to state government to even upset salaries.

So, if salaries are a major issue which has not been met at the moment, then you know that all that areas are going to suffer. We do not have all the equipment that we need to do our jobs. We have a few but we need more. We need more patrol vehicles, we need more operational vehicles, we will need a situation where the funds will be there so that we carry out these training and retraining and to have very few gadgets in our hands.

But the point is that now we need to think outside the box and thinking outside the box, most of the proposals that we are pushing to government will help us operate effectively. I involve in public private partnership whereby the public will come, help provide those facilities and maybe they will build, operate and maybe transferred as we go along. So, the operational tools are key for us to succeed and the truth is that this government has been helpful and we are hoping that 2017, is going to be the year that most of our requests for effective implementation of our law will help us in carrying out that. So, vehicles and manpower, because we need to also expand to the other zones which we have not expanded to which is Agbor, Udu and Sapele.

But you know the manpower is not there. We don’t want a situation whereby government will say expand to those areas but they begin to owe them salaries from the beginning, instead we prefer to make do with the pilot scheme that we are having at the moment but I believe things are going to be on the up this year.

Sir, how many of your men have so far been dismissed? Dismissed! None but people have been sent back to their parent ministries. Let me just elaborate on that. Because of the paucity of funds, majority of DESTMA staff were deployed from other ministries. They were not employed by DESTMA, so they are civil servants. Majority, a very few were employed. Over 75 per cent are from the civil service and you know that when there is anything involving the civil servant comes in, you know the bureaucratic bottled neck involved because you have to prove your case beyond reasonable doubt. You cannot just dismiss somebody easily and because these people are actually deployed from ministries, the power DESTMA has at the moment is to send them back to those ministries and think we have sent about three people back to their ministries when they have gone through the disciplinary process for been unruly, maybe one of the cases was to do with asking for bribe and stuff like.

So, we have not dismissed anybody but we have sent about three people back to their parent ministries but currently DESTMA did not employ them so we cannot really dismiss them.

What is your general message for Deltans? Let them look at DESTMA as an arm of government for the effective control of traffic. Let them not look at them as enemies, they should look at them as friends and I know that friendship can be built upon by our men been very civil to them. So, the moment there is this collaboration between the public and ourselves and we do things amicably, everything will go well. So, we advised Deltans to obey all the rules and regulations of the road.

Obey the traffic officers, don’t beat them up, do not go through red lights because the dangers are very high, it could lead to traffic crash and somebody might lose his life, don’t drive against traffic; which is one way driving because the driver that is used to a particular road might not envisage that there is another car coming and if is at night, you know the dangers. People have been killed in such situations, so it is just obeying the rules of the road and we will be fine in the long run but the point is that it is not DESTMA versus Deltans. We are just carrying out a particular function that has been bestowed upon us by those we elected. We are just enforcing what our representatives have asked us to do.

It is nice having this time with you sir. It is my pleasure, thank you very much.

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