Why okada riders disobey traffic rules — Ogun FRSC commander

The Ogun State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr. Clement Oladele, shares his career highs with TOBI AWORINDE

What is your job description as the Ogun State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps?

I was posted to the command on October 17, 2016. I worked in various places, but my last appointment was as the Head of the FRSC Planning Advisory Unit at the national headquarters. I had done some theorising for the FRSC, so I have had the opportunity of putting them into practice. We see how motorists react to some of our policies and why they tend to behave the way they do. We then set up programmes and activities, mostly as directed by the headquarters, and domesticate them to meet our local situations, and basically to see how we can meet the demands of the FRSC to prevent road traffic crashes. Where we cannot help to prevent them, when they occur, we promptly give assistance to victims of the crashes and clear obstructions promptly. We also relate well with all our stakeholders, both in and out of government.

Where did your career in the public sector begin?

I was enlisted in the FRSC in 1992. I have moved round between policy, planning, background, vehicle administration, special marshals, operations, logistics and various other departments of the corps. Eventually, I found myself here basically handling operational matters, but all in a bid to administer road safety (regulations). Earlier on, I worked in Adamawa State as the sector commander (2009/2010). There have been lots of exciting moments. If you are up and doing, you don’t see challenges that come as problems. You see them as opportunities and you provide solutions.

What did you do between your time as Adamawa sector commander and now?

I worked at the headquarters. I also worked at one of our sector commands in Ilorin (Kwara State) before I went back to the national headquarters, where I worked in the corps secretary’s office. Eventually, I worked at the Planning Advisory Unit.

In how many states have you served with the FRSC?

I worked in Sokoto, Adamawa, Kwara and the Federal Capital Territory.

What are some of the contrasts you can point out between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria?

I think there are just a few cultural differences. Otherwise, in terms of motoring, they are about the same thing. They (northerners) have roads. Where cultural issues come in is, in some cultures, it is a little difficult for some people to do certain things. But when they see their leaders doing them, especially traditional rulers, they quickly fall in line. What we do is to use mostly the traditional rulers; we talk to them (rulers) so that they can be of influence.

When we were doing enforcement on helmets, I had to go to the late Lamido of Adamawa. Even though when I got there, they said he was not going to wear the helmet, I told him he should help me wear the helmet. He said he was going to wear it, until one of his palace chiefs told him he shouldn’t wear it. I had a plan B: We made him put the helmet on a motorcycle rider and people applauded it. That enabled us to have some of the breakthroughs we recorded then in the enforcement of safety helmets.

In southern parts of the country, maybe because of their enlightenment, even when they do the wrong thing, they know that that is not what they are supposed to do. But for those people, it is not difficult for us to pass the message of road safety to them and see how we can convince them to do the right thing.

Do you encounter cultural factors in the South?

One of the cultural factors could be the misconception that if you wear a helmet, you could disappear. That type of issue could make enforcement a little difficult. Also, there are misconceptions that if you use safety belts and you’re trapped, you wouldn’t get rescued in time. But when you are in the vehicle and you don’t have your seat belt on, if there is a crash, you could be flung out of the vehicle. If a person is flung out of the vehicle and hits the hard surface of the road, another vehicle could run over them. So, the person is exposed to more risk. It is on rare occasions where people get trapped with seat belts and get consumed in a fire outbreak. It is very rare. From my records, we don’t have many issues around that. Besides, help could come to such a victim, even before the fire spreads, rather than not wearing the seat belt. These are part of the cultural issues in different parts of the country that affect how we do enforcement.

Have you ever got any report of someone disappearing on account of wearing a helmet?

We have never experienced it. It is just when people are saying, ‘No, we don’t want it.’ That was why I cited that example.’ There is also this misconception that if you share helmets with another person, you could contract some transmittable diseases. So, we encouraged people: ‘Buy your own helmet if you know that you have issues around it.’ But scientifically, there was no (reported case). When I was in Adamawa that time, I remember we had to bring a medical doctor who came to the studio to enlighten them that it was just a fallacy.

In some states, most notably Lagos State, there was strict enforcement of helmets for motorcycle riders and passengers. But over time, the enforcement has drastically relaxed. Why is this?

It is not that the FRSC is not enforcing it. There are so many issues that surround it. The first issue is to look at the psychology of a man that rides the motorbike. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is nobody in the country as of now that would say, ‘I want to be an okada rider.’ I haven’t seen any such person.

From some of the engagements I have had with them, most of them say, ‘I want to be a driver. I can retire as a driver. I will train my kids from it.’ Most of the people that are riding okada are doing it as a stopgap. If it is a stopgap, most times, you don’t want to obey or comply with rules and regulations.

Another thing is the psychology of the average driver/rider who rents his vehicle for a fee wants to make money. There are some of them that even the vehicle that they drive is on hire purchase and such people wouldn’t want anybody to stop them because time is very essential to them. Because they don’t want to be stopped, if any attempt is made to stop them, they would rather circumvent the rules, run away when they see you and the like. It is a collective responsibility that goes even beyond the FRSC.

Like I keep telling people, if there is a crash, even the FRSC must have failed. But then, you don’t know who the victims of the crash will be. It is not every time that they are road safety personnel or security agencies. It could even be politicians, people in academia, medical doctors or factory workers.

The essence is for us to prevent the crash. Let it not happen. And if it does not happen, then we are sure that nobody is going to die. It involves everybody working to ensure that people wear the helmets, so that it can provide safety and to obey all traffic rules and regulations.

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