By Mariam Mohammed Maktoub
There is a certain apprehension when one encounters the many wailing convoys of the ‘big men’, especially those of governors in this country. It leaves you with gut-wrenching anger, powerlessness and, or awe if you are the pliant and vainglorious type. It seems, despite several avowals by the police and Federal Road Safety Corps that the bawling of the meaningless long windy convoys of the ‘big men’ authorised or otherwise, will be long in stopping. There is not an hour that goes by that one is not rudely assaulted by the blaring sirens of a convoy somewhere in the capital city of Abuja.
Early in the year, in what has become a ritual of sort, the road safety corps sounded its intent to clampdown on the reckless use of sirens by the Nigerian ‘big man.’ The corps observed and lamented; “We have seen a lot of people abusing the use of convoys and we have taken it up with the appropriate authority; this year, we would take more drastic actions.”
The lamentation of the FRSC, like the Biblical Book of Lamentations by the Prophet Jeremiah on the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC, with the subsequent Babylonian Exile, seems to be without any hope and redemption. I will return to this presently.
Last Thursday, February 27, 2020 was one of those days of convoys and howling sirens as the governors made their way to the National Economic Council meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The noise was incessant, the convoys vexatious and the police escorts unruly, and speeding like demons on the chase, ignoring traffic stops and oblivious of other road users. Sheer lawlessness!
One would imagine that as servant-leaders, daydream I presume, those ensconced in the posh SUVs and sedans will urge caution and responsibility from those chauffeuring them, but it is akin to being on a ‘long thing,’ as said in street lingo.
As the governors waltzed their way into the villa menacingly on this day as is now the norm, other poor road users had to embrace road shoulders where there exist, or simply squeeze themselves off the road for their Excellences, their Feudal Masters. It is only those given to feudal tendencies, people who believe they are next to God for simply being governors, act the way they do. If they cared about the nuisance they rack up, they would not act so cavalierly and put other road users at risk.
Over seven years ago, the World Health Organisation noted that at 162 deaths per 100, 000kms, Nigeria ranks amongst the countries with highest road accidents and part of the factor responsible is the rate of road accidents involving convoys of top government officials, which have claimed scores of lives. Notwithstanding how embarrassing the situation is, governors remain the worst culprits.
Only a few days back, a former governor of Anambra state, Mr Peter Obi, had cause to express his amazement that when he was the helmsman of the state, he had a 30-car convoy, and most of the fuel/diesel guzzling SUVs and trucks were practically always empty. It is to his credit that he pruned down the apparently wasteful venture and is today celebrated for his parsimony.
Besides the social nuisance of these offensive siren-shrieking convoys, the sheer public expenditure is mindboggling. For a country with almost 100 million facing extreme poverty, cutting down cost of a convoy without a doubt will build over 10 boreholes every month in our rural communities in each of the 36 states. But if these governors were to reduce the number of the vehicles in their convoy, how would mere mortals on the road know that an overlord is passing?
While one maybe righteously angry over the wanton siren use in their states, it beggars indignation that even Abuja is not spared the wanton anomaly. You are not the governor of Abuja; you are not the minister of Abuja to exhibit such temerity. In case these ones are unaware, the Minister of the FCT, the landlord himself, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, uses just a three-vehicle convoy without sirens blaring. If the minister of the territory does not live the pretentions of the ‘big man’ of siren wailing, why should you a visitor like every other Nigerian who does not reside in Abuja upend the peace of the tranquil city? Why must you for the sake of being a governor engage in such malicious rascality? To fully understand the import of my angst, you have to live in the Asokoro axis of the city that leads to the Pilot Gate of the Villa or along Airport Road.
The unceasing whining of the sirens and the dangerous manoeuvres are not only migraine-inducing but recipes for psychological torture by people who ordinarily ought to be role models to other road users.
As terrible as the situation is, it is gratifying to note that Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State stands as a testament to decency and hope that all cannot be hopeless. He is one governor that is without the airs of sirens and convoys not just in Abuja, but in Ilorin where he holds sway. That should be the norm and not the exception.
It has become urgent and imperative that the police and the lead safety agency, FRSC, take seriously the National Road Traffic Regulation (NRTR) 2012. The guideline is aimed at eradicating road abuses such as the use of sirens. For the avoidance of doubt, while Section 154 (Part XIV), lists 79 Nigerians as being entitled to the use of sirens. Besides the President, his deputy, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and their deputies, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the 36 state governors and their deputies as those permitted to use sirens, it does not envisage the madding crowd that is obtainable today, therefore, like will wish to be Far From The Madding Crowd, apologies to Thomas Hardy.
Besides the siren abuse by governors, the institutional decay has assumed a Frankenstein dimension as Ministers, Service Chiefs, heads of MDAs, commissioners, police chiefs, top government officials, religious leaders, traditional rulers and even bank chiefs have all joined the unwieldy siren choir. What this simply means is that the NRTR is of no consequence, therefore should be consigned to the waste bin.
But it cannot be all doom and gloom if the relevant authorities take up the gauntlet and leverage on the graces of the president to bring an end to this terrifying medley that Nigerians are subjected to by governors and their likes.
It beggars belief that many a Nigerian has to endure threats of harassment, intimidation, vandalism, brutality and even death in the hands of elected and non-elected fellow countrymen who rather than be exemplary are mere egos walk on wheels. Enough is enough!
Ms Maktoub is Publisher, Maktoub Magazine/Political PR Consultant