FRSC and the Yorkshire Ripper

Between 1975 and 1980, Yorkshire in Northern England was the scene of sensational crimes involving the serial murder of 13 women most of whom were sex workers. The murders made headlines around the world because for five years the police failed to detect the criminal or criminals behind these atrocities. Finally, the mysterious monster dubbed “the Yorkshire Ripper” was arrested on January 2, 1981. His name was Peter Sutcliffe, a truck driver who lived in a quiet sub-urban home in Bradford with his wife. The unmasking of the Yorkshire ripper was achieved by routine traffic surveillance: a police patrol keeping watch in the red light district of Sheffield spotted a man sitting in a car with a known prostitute; a routine check through the national vehicle registration databank showed that the licence number plates of the car did not match the registration details of the vehicle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since Osita Chidoka, was appointed corps marshal and chief executive of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) last year in the twilight of the Obasanjo administration, there has been great optimism that at least the FRSC would complete the digital revolution which it began but failed to accomplish. The dust raised by forces opposed to his appointment had hardly settled when the young man unfolded his blueprint top of which was a plan to restore the integrity of Unified Licensing Scheme (ULS) and National Vehicles Identification Scheme (NVIS). Other goals which he thrust forward that boosted hope in his ability to restore the Commission to its founding vision included plans to maintain a credible database of all drivers in Nigeria and to develop a robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) network.

Indeed, the FRSC was one of the earliest federal agencies to embrace ICT. The idea behind ULS was to unify vehicle and driver licensing in Nigeria in order to create a national databank so that authorized personnel would have instant access to a vehicle or motorists’ records: vehicle registration particulars, national driver’s license including endorsements, basic medical records (age, sex, height, blood group, disabilities, etc). Similar schemes have long operated in developed and even developing countries with positive implications for road safety management and crime control. Today, the greatest failure of the FRSC is it’s inability to realize this target with the result that it is still possible for any person living or dead to obtain multiple driver’s licenses, to register a vehicle in as many states or local governments as he pleases or to operate a motor vehicle with a fake registration plate without detection! The issuance of drivers’ licenses remains a huge racket for road safety officers, revenue officials and the touts that litter licensing offices.

While the nation waited for FRSC to end this national embarrassment, last February the commission rolled out the drums, blew trumpets and recycled old ideas to herald the 20th year of it’s of existence. Throughout that month, the commission went into a self- adulating stunt to promote it’s achievements. Without a functional ULS, with the spate of ghastly road traffic accidents and motorized crimes occurring in every corner of the federation taking the lives of citizens of every social stratum, many wondered what it was exactly the FRSC was celebrating. Now that the party is over and the officers and men have recovered from the natural hangover that follows such a shindig, the nation still waits for the FRSC to wipe off the shame of a ULS gone awry.

The FRSC was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria vide Decree 45 of 1988 amended by Decree 35 of 1992 otherwise known as FRSC Act cap 146, Laws of the Federation (1990). The functions of the FRSC is to make the highways safe for motorists and other roads users: to recommend to the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing (FMWH) works and devises designed to minimize accident on the highways; to educate motorists and the general public on road discipline; to design the driver’s license to be used by all vehicle operators; to determine from time to time, the requirement to be satisfied by an applicant for a driver’s license; to design vehicle plate identification numbers and to control the use of speed limiting devises; and to standardize the highway traffic code.

Other statutory functions of the FRSC include clearing of obstructions on any part of the highways; provision of prompt attention and care to victims of accidents; conducting researches into motor accidents – causes and preventive methods – and putting the results of such researches to use; co-operating with bodies engaged in road safety activities; performing such other functions as may, from time to time, be assigned to the corps by the commission.

Thus, though road safety and traffic control are regarded as being on the concurrent list, the FRSC remains the principal organ vested with road safety planning, administration and enforcement in Nigeria. How has FRSC fared in these duties in the 20 years? That is the question! Inadequate funding and other logistic difficulties have been the bane of the commission but these problems have been receiving attention since the advent of the present regime.

At 20, therefore, new ideas and “new” strategies may be brought up to facilitate the fast-tracking of the FRSC for greater efficiency in the performance of its core duties. But it must be remembered that the FRSC has never been short of ideas. Nor has Nigeria ever taken the backseat at brainstorming sessions on road safety. As the current head of the African sub group of International Road Safety Organizations (GPA-PRI), Nigeria plays a leadership role in road safety matters. But can the FRSC in all honesty play leadership roles and expect to be taken seriously when it is unable to restore the integrity of something as simple as a drivers’ license which has become so bastardized that it is now difficult to distinguish between the real one and the fake? Today, private and commercial vehicle drivers defy FRSC officers with impunity: who worries about road marshals when it is easy to abandon a driver’s license impounded at an FRSC checkpoint and to obtain a new one without fuss?

Written by
Uche Ohia
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