Of public policies, waivers and amnesia

Of public policies, waivers and amnesia

Once upon a time, it was against the law in Nigeria not to use the seat belt in a moving car. In fact, the Federal Road Safety Commission made so much noise about the subject that you just had to know about it, unless you were living under the rock.

It was the main news from Nigeria, such that the British Broadcasting Corporation Africa Service talked about it in their news bulletins. While the FRSC was pushing about that, many citizens couldn’t be bothered and in fact, complained about the fuss, as we are wont to do anyway. I recall one listener from Kenya sending a mail to the radio service and wondering what the whole hullabaloo was, as the use of seat belt is a normal thing in other climes.

I equally recall when the FRSC began the enforcement of the use of crash helmet by motorcycle riders, just as they restricted the vehicles from major highways. The reason was simple – to prevent or limit accidents and casualties on our roads. But, as usual, it became the source of much public debate and protests.

The enforcement of the rule starting falling apart when, in its implementation, there was an unwritten rule that exempted personnel of the military, police and other para-military services from being subjected to the rule. They, thus, flouted the law with shameless impunity. I remember making fun of the silly exemption by asking if the exempted persons had heads made of rock (or blockheads, if you would).

And who else remembers that in many major cities like the Abuja Municipal Area, there was a policy some years ago banning the operation of commercial motorcycles? Surely, there was a policy. There still is, but it is observed more in breach. In fact, they do it with ‘reckless abandon’, as the cliché goes. I am often bemused these days to see the commercial motorcycles operators and their passengers without helmets ride past FRSC officials on the road. What is more? The FRSC team may actually be on the road to ensure that motorists comply with traffic rules by motorists. At such times, they seem to have no business with what the motorbike operators are doing.

By far the most annoying introduction and enforcement of rules by the FRSC was the instruction of the reflective (red and white) stickers that motorists were forced to stick to the rear of their cars sometime in 2009 or so. The FRSC made so much fuss about this, as if it was some talisman that would ward off every accident on our roads. I daresay, the policy made a few businessmen laugh to the banks and created room for extortion by unscrupulous enforcement officials. It also defaced many cars with little addition to road safety. After all, car rear lights are already designed to be reflective. But our road safety people pushed on for a few years. Today, we don’t talk about it or seem to remember it.

Who remembers the ‘law’ restricting the use of tinted glasses for vehicles? While I agree that some of those tinted glass cars pose serious security concerns, I also think the law enforcement agencies unduly make a fuss of some of the cases. Some of the tints are light enough, just to prevent the direct impact of sunrays on the passengers in the vehicles. But our security agencies make a mountain of the molehill. The police say it is their duty to issue the exemption papers to those who have the factory-fitted tinted glasses. To get it, you must apply and they would use their discretion to issue it. Like the notorious police bail, it is meant to be free. But within the police formation, some dudes laugh to the bank through the issuance of this permit.

As if that was not disturbing enough, two years ago, we in Abuja had the misfortune of having the controversial police officer called Joseph Mbu, posted here as Assistant Inspector-General of Police. Trust him not to miss a chance to stir a controversy. He arrived with a bang and threat. He declared all previous permits issued by the police as invalid, unless signed by the Inspector-General of Police personally. And he gave all car owners two days to go get the ‘proper papers’ or risk their cars being impounded.

Today, there is a new policy about to be enforced. It is the one on the installation of speed governors in motor vehicles. A speed governor is a device that ensures that the car does not travel faster than the speed set for it by the governor. Certainly this is a useful and life-saving device. But how many citizens are aware that from April 1, the enforcement shall commence. Don’t take that as an April Fool’s joke. It is official from the FRSC, even if the information is not widely known. Apparently the implementation will start with the commercial vehicles and at some indeterminable time in future, it would be extended to all vehicles.

My only concern is that before moving to implementation, it doesn’t seem as if enough enlightenment has been made. Nor has the basic infrastructure needed for the implementation been sorted out. For instance, do we have enough of the devices, in commercial and competitive rates, available? If not, I am afraid, the FRSC may just end up creating another set of millionaires whose stock-in-trade would be to milk Nigerians of their money in the name of affixing speed governors in cars.

The other possibility may be like what happened in Lagos State some years ago when the Lagos State Government introduced the Ministry of Transport’s road worthiness certificate to cars on Lagos roads. Suddenly, so many car repair shops owned the license to issue what was simply called ‘MoT’ to vehicles. Soon, the certification became an all comers’ affair, such that the acquisition of same had little to do with the state and condition of the vehicle. All you needed to do was to pay the amount fixed for the processing (testing and certification). It was simply put, a source of income for many political jobbers.

Like all the other policies and regulations mentioned above, the MoT policy too did not last long, but many people had initially been put through different levels of inconvenience. Enforcement officials had extorted so much from other Nigerians that in the end, the policy, which was not thought through, ended up not achieving much for the society.

As we can see, the country has a long list of public policies that go into desuetude because they were not properly considered or well thought out, the pros and cons were not weighed or the stakeholders engaged with and possibly orientated. Too often, they are brought about for pecuniary reasons, either for revenue generation to the government or to privileged individuals. That explains why in many cases, these policies do not really yield a good purpose or last long enough.

If this speed governor thing is to work, the policy must not be rushed into but made to pass through the above proper steps to passing a policy. When eventually this policy is extended to non-commercial vehicles, would we be ready to fully implement it to all, including the VIPs (in both the public and private sectors)? If the speed governors would not be extended to government officials, politicians and their convoys, then we better drop the policy. Enough of these policy summersaults and waivers, please.

(Published in The Punch newspaper of February 22, 2016. http://www.punchng.com/of-public-policies-waivers-and-amnesia/)

Written by
Obo Effanga
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