Let me start with a quote attributed to the famous Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This quote simply says good solutions require innovative thinking. The alternative is to say that without good thinking, we cannot solve problems, or at best, we would solve one problem by creating another. This alternative seems to be enshrined in the policy guidelines inspiring several decisions by the Nigerian government.
A colleague recently brought to my notice an article, which announced the approval for operatives of the Federal Road Safety Commission to bear arms. In the article, the FRSC boss, gleefully informed Nigerians that the number of legally-licenced killers on Nigerian roads was set to increase by several thousands. Apparently, the Nigerian military, the police, the civil defence corps, the Nigerian customs service, and the Nigerian drug law enforcement agency are insufficient to ensure safety on the highways and inner roads.
To be fair to the Corps Marshall, he painted a picture of the Corps suffering from loss of its operatives’ lives. He said in 2016 alone, he has lost about 70 of his officials on the roads. In addition, to the dead, several others have been injured by speeding drivers. The obvious solution: get the officers armed so the killings and injuries would stop. He appears to have the law on his side; saying the enabling legislation gives room for road safety officers to bear arms. Subject to final approval, over 5000 officers have undergone arms training in anticipation of when they would be free from harm.
Now we come to the thinking part. Is bearing arms the best way to solve the problem of officers losing their lives? The way this solution has been presented, one can infer that this is the scenario foreseen by the Corps boss: Officers flag down a vehicle. If the driver does not stop, borrow a leaf from the police and shoot the driver. If the driver stops but fails to pay the prescribed extortion, use the police method: shoot the driver and claim “accidental discharge”. If the driver for some reason, fails to stop; whether it was intentional or not, and in the process, hits an officer, shoot the driver. Seems Nigeria is going to witness more shootings on its roads. In a less lethal scenario, use the displayed guns in police fashion to scare drivers and make them “voluntarily willing” to squeeze some Naira notes into concerned officer’s palms.
I wonder if the Corps boss ever bothered to think about why his officers are getting killed, apart from viewing it as a traditional we-versus-them war. While I concede that there are crazy drivers on the roads, the Corps has many unbelievably crazy officers. Who sensibly jumps (suddenly) in front of a moving vehicle? On the roads, we see officers who believe that at the mere sight of their uniforms, all cars shall stop. Even Jesus, with all his powers, would not take the kind of risk some officers take. In addtion, some of the reckless actions by some drivers is due to paranoia. They see the FRSC officials as agents of extortion, and so try to avoid them at any cost, even if it means speeding past a checkpoint.
Instead of seeking the “easiest” and definitely lethal “solution”, could we think of a real, sensible solution? Developed countries do not need guns to enforce road regulations. If FRSC officials had some form of camera system to capture licence plates of moving vehicles, would they need to jump in front of speeding vehicles? Any driver who does not stop when flagged down would simply get a visit from the police later; with sufficient fines or criminal prosecution as a deterrent. This however assumes that there is a way to match licence plates to real home or office addresses. In present-day Nigeria, this is likely not the case, as driving licences and vehicle registration licences can be acquired with unverified addresses. A holistic solution would first be to fix Nigeria’s problem of non-existent or inaccurate databases, then leverage on valid databases to enforce traffic rules as may be required.
Taking the easiest way out is not always a smart move. Water can easily flow downstream. However, for water to go upstream, some pumping mechanism would be required. In this FRSC case, that mechanism is the capacity and willingness to think. Implementing policies that would lead to more deaths should be avoided. The number of murderous monsters on Nigerian roads is sufficient. Let’s not create another set.
PS. The announcement by the FRSC boss was carried by a national newspaper on December 2, 2016. However, from online checks, this proposal has been touted for at least the last ten years, and some sources seem to indicate that some FRSC officials already bear arms.
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