My attention was drawn to a report that officials of the Federal Road and Safety Corps (FRSC) are likely to be bearing arms in the course of carrying out their official duties. The genuine concern of those championing the proposal is that it would stem the supposedly growing insecurity and killings of FRSC personnel across the country.
We recall that at its inception in 1988, FRSC was born strictly as a road safety regulating agency and in response to the increasing cases road accidents, which ranked Nigeria then among the worst hit nations unlike what was obtainable in other developing countries that were able to control road accident-related deaths. The formation of the public agency was ordinarily meant to add value to road safety and administration in Nigeria through the pioneering work of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka by assembling intelligent, hardworking and committed persons to serve their fatherland.
However, over the years, the great respect that many Nigerians had for FRSC appear to be waning. This is due to internal and external challenges facing the organisation. Some of these range from inadequate working tools such as operational vehicles and modern technology that are required to enforce regulatory compliance. Many motorists also violate rules and disobey the officers at will. According to plans, when the proposal sails through, FRSC would operationalise its armoury in Gwagwalada, Abuja and other weapon rooms in all commands of the corps after getting government’s gazette of the approval to equip the armoury in line with the establishment Act.
In this regard, the House of Representatives had supported the move on the need for the Federal Government to facilitate the procurement of arms and ammunition for FRSC. The lawmakers’ rationale for the support was hinged on the alleged rampant violent attacks, harassment and intimidation of corps personnel by motorists and hoodlums in some parts of the country. The legislators had argued that Section 19 of the FRSC (Establishment) Act, 2007, which gave the privilege for the commission’s personnel to bear arms, should be enforced.
Furthermore, the law stipulates that FRSC officials, who are exposed to high risk in enforcement of the Act, shall have same powers such as those granted to the Nigeria Police Force, to bear arms. Another argument is that the target of the United Nations Declaration on Reduction of Road Accidents by 50 per cent by year 2020 may be a mirage, if the continued attacks on those that are supposed to curb road accidents in the nation, is not put to an end. The Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, recently lamented that over 70 marshals lost their lives in the current year alone attributed to reckless motorists. Oyeyemi said that such a high number of losses could have been avoided if FRSC personnel were carrying arms, as allowed by the law.
With due respect to the various arguments adduced in support of equipping FRSC with arms, the truth is that the officials do not need to carry guns before they can perform their duties very well. Bearing arms would only expose the personnel to malicious attacks by criminal elements and gangs on the roads. A common and sad reminder of what we are talking about is the rampant cases of accidental discharge and illegal use of arms on innocent citizens. Rivalry among security forces tends to promote such hostilities and killings.
What had always been a great source of concern for many Nigerians is how to curb arms proliferation and abuse. Some of them get into the hands of criminals in which they use to torment innocent citizens. It is logical to state that equipping FRSC personnel with arms would likely increase the volume of arms and ammunition at the disposal of security personnel that could be subjected to abuse, especially now that we are getting closer to the 2019 general elections.
In a nutshell, FRSC can still be relevant without carrying guns. To begin with, there is need for refocusing in order to restore its lost glory, win back the respect and confidence of the people. In doing this, FRSC should adhere strictly to its statutory functions of making our highways safe for motorists and other road users, checking road worthiness of vehicles, recommending infrastructure to eliminate accidents on the highways and sanctioning offenders. They should intensify efforts at educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of road discipline, respecting others as well as possessing relevant documents and safety equipment.
There is no amount of arms bearing that would make motorists to become better citizens. Attitudinal change on the part of Nigerians is key. People should be law-abiding, exercise patience on roads and accord due respect to public officers while serving the nation. They should realise that no right-thinking person government official is out there to impound vehicles or cause untold hardship for the people. All they need from Nigerians are their total cooperation and respect. When these measures are put in place, the urge to bear arms and unnecessary militarisation of the polity, as is currently obtainable, would fizzle out.