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Convoys, Carnages and Caution

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By Lekan Alabi

I am substituting my original piece for this week, that is my speech at this year’s national/awards ceremony of the School of Education, Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo, with this article in view of the statement credited to the President-elect, retired Major-General Mahammadu Buhari in the media on Thursday, 7th May this year.

In that widely-published statement titled, Obey traffic rules, Buhari tells his escorts” General Buhari inter alia, was quoted as saying through the Director of Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Mallam Garba Sheu, that: “The President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday ordered  all security personnel attached to him as well as his official escorts to obey traffic rules.”

Buhari was quoted as saying; obedience to the law would be the guiding philosophy of his administration, adding that “without leadership by example, the ordinary citizens would become copycats of the lawlessness of their leaders.

The President-elect explained that the “arrogance of power, lawlessness and disregard for the rights and convenience of fellow citizens will have no place in his government.”

According to him, for leaders to inspire respect, they must obey the laws, adding that when leaders treat the country’s laws with contempt, they would be sending the wrong message to the citizens.

Buhari lamented a situation where fellow citizens “are punished at traffic points and public roads because of the arrogant lawlessness of the leaders.”

As I said, I dropped my intended article because Gen. Buhari’s call is in tandem, with due respect, with my longstanding campaigns against the abuse of siren and convoy protocols by many public and private users.

Each time Nigeria’s’ big’ man and woman violate society’s sensibilities with their mis-use of siren and convoys, oftentimes, resulting in fatalities or serious injuries and damages. I am pricked to shout out caution to and prosecution of offenders.

Now that Nigerians and our friends all over the world look with eagerness of the much needed change(s) to uplift the rule of law, governance, public conduct, utterances, efficient management of public/private resources etc, the reported admonition of General Buhari on convoys is most welcome and a good pointer to what is forthcoming viz the Buhari/Osinbajo government.

As a take-away for Gen. Buhari’s protocol team and reminder to current and future users/controllers of siren and convoys in the country. I reproduce below my article on convoys earlier published in some national newspapers (for ease of reference, The Guardian issue of 20th February, 1994) and in this column in this magazine issue of 23rd January, 2013.

I am constrained to recall my February 20, 1994 article titled, “Blowing Their Killer Sirens” due to the recurring fatal road accidents in the country, especially on the part of convoys of public officials.

The caution article published by some national weeklies was inspired then when a minister’s convoy hit four pupils, killing one in Lagos that February.

In the article under reference, I experienced, I expressed my modest views on some causes of convoy (traffic) accidents and how to prevent them. The recall of the slightly edited 1994 article now titled, “Convoys Carnages & Caution” has become very imperative in view of fatal cases recorded in the last quarter of the year just ended. Convoys of government officials or any class of that matter, are supposed to be ‘majestic’, gliding through traffic, with the flag(s) of the country fluttering, and not the ‘gbua-gbua’ that we now see.

As occupants of convoys are not rushing to war, passing motorists, pedestrians, and bystanders are supposed to pay respects, wave and admire their leaders, with the youth in the crowd being motivated to dream of stepping into their leaders’ shoes in future. Many of us had been privileged to watch convoys of our past leaders in the 60s and 70s and those of foreign leaders. In Britain, I recalled that on the day the immediate past Prime Minister, Mr. Gorden Brown, in 2010, went to submit his request for the dissolution of his government to the Queen, we saw two police outriders ahead of his ‘gliding’ two-car convoy on the Parliament- Buckingham Palace London street. Maybe we too should bring back outriders to our convoys, as they were abolished in the 90s.

Following is my 1994 article which I pray will stair the souls of all concerned convoy riders on the proper use(s) of an arm of government protocol. Convoys are not designed to maim or cause the untimely death of innocent souls

For two reasons, I am responding to the story titled “How a Minister’s Convoy Hit Four Pupils, Killing One.” First, to commiserate with the family of the late Miss Atinuke Fadipe and other victims of that horrible incident. Second, to postulate what I consider to be reasons for the rising torment of the public by our ‘siren lords’ and how to keep this growing menace in check.

Permit me to say, with utmost modesty, that I was a member of the siren-using convoys in old Oyo State for six years (1983-1989) where one civilian and three military governors restricted the use of the siren to the barest minimum and within the ambit of its original design.

In our days, governors instructed their protocol officers to visit and uncharted routes in advance to enable us know the appropriate time of departure and speed limit for accurate arrivals at venues. Where it was impossible for advance timing, for example, during inter-state travels, we departed early enough from base.

I am proud to say that this great sense of responsibility on the part of my former bosses accounted, in part, for our accident-free and unobtrusive journeys within and outside old Oyo State. Credit also goes to their ADCs and protocol officers who ensured that stable, enlightened, and responsible offices manned our pilot cars fitted with sirens. Once an office/driver displayed vulgarity in the use of siren, out he went!

But what do you have today? Too many public and “unpublic” (private) figures blaring away at the slightest need, even on the expressways! Snarling officials and drivers, often with whips or sometimes guns in hand, laughing their heads off as they watch frightened motorists and pedestrians bolt out of traffic lanes as their siren-blaring convoys tear away, oftentimes with their “ogas” empty cars in tow.

Compounding the already bad situation are the nouveau riches who, as part of their egocentricity, acquire siren-blaring cars driven by equally egoistic drivers, drilling their way to such inconsequential engagements like night parties! These acts of “terrorism”, if one may say, are sometimes not wholly blameable on public figures permitted by law to use sirens, as statistics show that indiscriminate/vulgar uses often occur when VIPs are not in the convoys.

Their protocol/security officers cannot however escape blame. It is their duty to monitor and control convoy drivers. Once a driver exhibits vulgarity, talk less of barbarism, he ought to be penalized and kept away from such sensitive beats. There used to be a state pilot car driver nicknamed, “Oyinbo” who, dexterous behind the wheels as he was, had a penchant for driving motorists on opposite lanes into the bush, besides jumping out of his car while in slow motion. His daredevil gimmicks came to a halt the day a new military governor who could not stand those suicidal antics assumed duty in that state.

To curb siren menace, I advise that the police should wake up from their slumber and impound unauthorized vehicles fitted with sirens by some individuals who see them as status symbols. Drivers of ambulances and bullion vans should be properly trained on the use of sirens. In addition, regular medical check-ups to ascertain their psychological stability ought to be carried out to ensure that only sane, careful, and sound minds sit behind the wheels of such vehicles.

Sirens are meant to herald arrivals, alert motorists and pedestrians, and forewarn traffic controllers, but not to harass, maim, and kill.

The best users of sirens on our roads today are drivers of the FRSC. Maybe they would do well to organize clinics for other siren users. It will not be out of place, however, to advise impolite and stubborn motorists and other road users to stop and let convoys pass. Quite often, the ‘I-don’t-care’ attitudes of some motorists attract dire consequences.

In conclusion, the siren menace is part of our national decadence whereby unsuitable persons man sensitive positions at the peril of the experienced, capable, and endowed majority who, sadly, are apathetic.”

In conclusion, I pray that this humble contribution will help in fine-tuning our road manners. Thank you.

Oloye Alabi, Aare Alaasa Olubadan of Ibadanland, first wrote this piece for CITY PEOPLE on May 13, 2015.

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