Penultimate Friday, the Federal Road Safety Corps [FRSC] announced that from next year, traffic light violations will attract a N50,000 fine, twelve times more than the current N4,000. Saying that traffic light offences were becoming worrisome, FRSC’s Corps Marshal Boboye Oyeyemi said the proposal to jerk up the fine is already before the Joint Tax Board.
Speaking at the first Ember Month Stakeholders Forum organised by FRSC in collaboration with Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Corps Marshal said his men would continue to arrest and sanction motorists who use cell phones while driving. Oyeyemi also lamented the increasing rate of alleged traffic law offenders who get their lawyers to write to the agency, threatening to sue. Saying FRSC now has 120 lawyers, he promised to recruit more next year in order to meet the threat of motorists.
This is not the first time that FRSC would undertake an increase in traffic offence fines. In October last year, Oyeyemi announced an increase in fine to between N50,000 and N100,000 chatting and texting on mobile phone while behind the wheel. He said increasing the fines on “reckless drivers” became necessary because the existing penalty had failed to serve as deterrent. Piqued by FRSC’s propensity to impose fines, many private citizens had gone to court to seek redress. This resulted in the much celebrated decision of Justice J.T. Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Lagos in 2014 in Tope Alabi v FRSC Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1234/13.
The judge ruled that FRSC had no powers to impose fines on road traffic offenders and that such would amount to a usurpation of the functions of courts. While the corps argues that the court decision is no longer the law as several other pronouncements of the Court of Appeal have overridden it, the fact that these cases are increasing should give the agency ground for introspection. Some of these cases include FRSC V Emmanuel Ofoegbu, FRSC v Okebu Gideon Esq and Barrister Moses Ediru v FRSC & 2 ORS.
We agree that the menace of road accidents has been on the increase. For example, every year, over 39,000 Nigerians die in road crashes. In the 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated road traffic fatalities in Nigeria at 39,802, while the estimated rate per 100,000 deaths stood at 21.4. So, this important road safety agency should not just gloat that it has statutory and constitutional powers to arrest, detain vehicles of road traffic violators and impose fines. Agreed that Nigeria, like many other countries, has its fair share of too many irresponsible drivers, but this quick resort to increase fines isn’t the cure-all solution to road safety. And granted that penalties for some offences may be due for review, it should not be to such outrageous levels.
Incessant announcement of increase in fine makes many to wonder if FRSC is a revenue generating agency. Moreover, this drive for fines/revenue is making FRSC personnel behave like other para-military agencies who openly indulge in corrupt practices on the nation’s roads. It is time for FRSC to pay more attention to enforcing road safety measures instead of turning itself into a revenue generation agency. N4,000 fine is quite high by Nigerian economic standards. To jack it up to N50,000 when the new national minimum wage is N30,000 a month is unconscionable.
FRSC should go for the hearts and minds of motorists by mounting enlightenment campaigns on their activities. They used to have radio programmes on their activities and other media events in order to draw attention to their activities and what is expected of road users. And as the year draws to a close, while appealing to all road users to use the road carefully and wisely in order to have a crash free, peaceful and joyful yuletide, FRSC should go for other options to get its job done.