I have had the good luck of travelling around and about Nigeria; because I liked to, because of demands of work and because of youthful exuberance. Consequently, I am well qualified to comment on the nature and structure of Nigerian roads, the actions and antics of our policemen, the performance of the officials of FRSC, that commendable outfit â€˜begottenâ€™ by Wole Soyinka, and every type of experience on our roads. Those were the days when the body and the car were young, the worries were few, the roads were actually roads ( now, some of them just look like roads), and those meant to manage the roads did just that.
My first encounter with FRSC officials was in August 1989, a few days after my wedding when I was transferred from Jos to Kaduna-by phone- and directed to resume that day. Within an hour, I had broken the news to my wife, parked a few things, and headed to Kaduna. My major concern was why the transfer (it came with a promotion though) had to be a â€˜now-nowâ€™ affair. I had just overtaken a car when I was flagged down by FRSC officials who charged me for wrong overtaking; that overtook that vehicle on a bend (an S-shaped road). I argued with them that the essence of the rule was to prevent the driver running into an oncoming vehicle but that since it was a grassy environment, I could see up to two kilometers ahead of me and that no vehicle was coming. They explained to me why it was wrong, that I may not be lucky next time and why it was an offence. They advised me to desist from driving in that manner and left me to move on because I was â€˜a first offenderâ€™. At that time, one of their commonest punishment for rough drivers was to delay them for about an hour and â€˜entertainâ€™ them with video recordings of accident scenes and accident victims.
My next encounter with them was about two years later. I was driving from Kaduna to Igboukwu with my wife, Nnena, my first child and only daughter and our special assistant on domestic affairs( you see, it is not only Governors that have SAs!). It was on the Abuja-Abaji road that they accosted me for over-speeding. Now, the truth was that at that time, my speed was regularly 140kmph.( what do you expect with a â€˜fresh, tear-rubberâ€™ car, smooth roads and an â€˜A gradeâ€™ young man?). I had gotten so used to that speed that once I was on the expressway and even without looking at the speedometer, I would be hitting 140. So there was nothing to argue , though the speed was lower than 140 because I had seen them from afar. The officials, who interrogated me, advised me that it was in my own interest to drive with greater restraint. He also reminded me that I was with my family and that it was not good to risk the entire family because I was in a hurry or for whatever reason. He allowed us t proceed with our journey and really, I drove reasonably for a while before I went back to the â€˜default-modeâ€™
My third encounter was on my way from Kano to Igboukwu, in December 1993. I had covered 90% of the journey and was at the Enugu-Anambra border when the FRSC stopped me for a routine check. There was something wrong with my driving license or one of the papers and they summoned me to their office at Enugu to sort out the issue. I explained to them that I was on my way home for Xmas and that it was not convenient to turn back to Enugu or even to go there with my whole family and our luggage. They asked me what date would be convenient and we agreed on January Second of the following year. On that appointed day, I reported there and encountered one of these foul-tongued front-office staff. The long and short of the story was that I could not see the officer I was supposed to see and my explanations that I would return to Kano the following day did not make any difference. So, I left and eventually, returned to my northern base. About two months later, the FRSC published a list of traffic offenders who had become fugitives and my name was there. I wrote from my base, and gave a detailed account of what happened and accused them of doing me grave injustice by publishing my name as a run-away traffic offender. We rescheduled the visit around Easter when I would be home again and I called at the office as agreed and that ended the matter.
I have gone through all these to show how the FRSC was then: a disciplined, committed, courteous and customer-friendly organization that explained and taught motorists the what, why and how. We all know that somewhere along the line, things started changing. They started discussing with drivers behind the vehicles, far from the customers; they started exchanging â€˜clenched fistsâ€™ with drivers, became more interested in convictions and lost all interests in explaining the what and why of their job to motorists.
But what made me recall these stories was the encounter I had with a different kind of Road Marshal at Ogerre old Toll Gate, in Ogun State, along Lagos-Ibadan Express way, on 25/2/14. I have never been stopped by FRSC operatives in that past 10 years that I have plied that road. So, when this dark and average sized marshal flagged me down, I was surprised but I parked properly and far away from the express way. You see, things have changed. I am no longer as young as I used to be; the car is no longer the tear rubber and the roads are nowâ€”(you know how they are). So, the issue of 140kmph is long over and because I am always on the road, my papers are always complete-especially, as I donâ€™t want to beg or bribe anybody. So, I stopped, wound down the glass with confidence and gave him my papers but my engine was still running. He looked at the papers, admitted that they were ok and asked for my fire extinguisher. He also advised me to switch-off the ignition. While I was searching for the extinguisher, he was examining the tyres (no luck for him, I thought; I just bought two fresh tyres a month previously). He then asked me whether the extinguisher was working and I told him that I tested it the day I bought it and that it had not been used since then and he declared even without looking at it that it was not working. (Here they come again, I thought).
He then took out time to explain that because of the nature of extinguisher I bought, immediately it was used-for testing or for real action- it had discharged all of its power and wonâ€™t work again. He then went ahead to lecture me on the different types of extinguishers and the type I should buy. He also explained why he was examining my tyres; that these tyres had expiry dates and that some of them (especially the fairly used ones) had already expired before coming into Nigeria and that buying such tyres was like signing ones death warrant. After the rewarding lecture and courteous enlightenment, he â€˜dischargedâ€™ me. I took a few steps towards my car and then I turned back and beckoned on him. I told him of my previous experiences with FRSC (as I narrated above), how his attitude and approach to duty reminded me of those good old days and how the public would be pleased and more cooperative if FRSC officials would be more customer-friendly and stop imitating their uniformed senior cousins. We had a warm hand shake and parted on that note.
I have not encountered him again since that day but anytime I see FRSC officials, I remember Gyang( I think he should be from Plateau State) and wish that all of them should be like him!
CULLED FROM BUSINESS DAY NEWSPAPER