Operation Scorpion Stings Erring Motorists
• Drivers Allege Sharp Practices By FRSC Officers• As Commission Arrests Over 813 Vehicles
IN February 2011, three men and a woman were crushed to death by unlatched containers, which fell off trucks in Lagos State, all within the space of a week. The first incident was at Ijesha, along the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway. A truck conveying an empty container veered off the road, apparently due to a break failure. In the driver’s bid to control the vehicle, the container tipped and fell on some commuters at Ijesha Bus Stop, mashing them up. One woman was severed in two.
Same week, another unlatched container fell off a truck, snuffing life out of a lone passenger in an SUV at the Ojota area of Lagos. It was also a black 2013 Christmas in Lagos; at least, 10 persons were feared dead after a container fell on a commercial bus along the Alaba Suru area of Lagos.
In January, this year, no fewer than four persons were crushed to death when a 40-foot container fell off a trailer and on to two commercial buses at Ketu, a Lagos suburb. Again, on April 9, 2015, eight Vanguard newspapers staff narrowly escaped death, after a 40-foot container fell off a truck and crushed five vehicles, four of which were Vanguard’s, at Berger Yard Bus Stop, along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos. The fourth belonged to a staff of Julius Berger Construction Company.
On Friday, June 26, 2015, over a dozen students of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, were crushed to death, while others sustained serious injuries, when an unlatched 20-foot container fell on the bus they were in at the Sagamu stretch of the Lagos/Benin Expressway.
Just last month, disaster struck in Awka, Anambra State, as a truck carrying a container crushed a man, his wife and their eldest son to death at the Agu Awka end of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. Three other children, however, survived the accident, including a six-month-old boy. A witness said the driver of the truck immediately bolted away to avoid being mobbed.
Worried, therefore, by the spate of accidents involving articulated vehicles across the country, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) recently launched Operation Scorpion, aimed at taming the excesses of commercial drivers. The operation, which has already arrested and prosecuted over 813 offenders, sets out to deal decisively with challenges posed by truck and trailer operations on the nation’s roads.
Covering 139 kilometers from the Ojota, Ikorodu Road interchange in Lagos, the exercise is being carried out simultaneously at the Ogere, Mowe, Shagamu and Ogunmakin areas of Lagos and Ogun States where majority of the vehicles pass through to various parts of the country. Neighbouring commands in Oyo State with Oluyole, Eleyele, Mokola and Moniya, serving as strategic units on that axis, are also involved.
An initiative of FRSC National Headquarters, Abuja, the choice of Lagos as launch pad for the special operation was informed by the high concentration of trailers and trucks, especially on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
On Tuesday, the Old Toll Gate area of Lagos was packed full with impounded vehicles – trailers, trucks, commercial buses, luxurious buses, pickup vans, and others – apprehended for various offences by FRSC officials.
As at 10.15am, when The Guardian arrived the scene, some of the offenders were seen in the Commission’s standby pickup van, waiting to be transported to court. Others were sighted at different spots trying to wriggle their way out, and avoid being charged to court.
Meanwhile, the premises of the FRSC at Old Toll Gate (by 7UP Bottling Company) was already packed full with commercial buses of different sizes, while articulated vehicles, some of which had livestock and other goods stretched out along the Old Toll Gate corridors. Stranded passengers, especially those with heavy goods, sought refuge under trees; those with lighter luggage made alternative arrangements for their onward journeys and left the scene.
Some of the passengers, who suspected foul play by the officers, however, stood their grounds, as arguments and counter arguments raged. Notwithstanding the rowdy atmosphere, men of the Federal Road Safety Commission were undeterred.
“I have nothing against this exercise, but the way road safety official go about it is dangerous. An ugly accident was just averted, here, now. The way some of these people jump into moving vehicles is reckless and dangerous,” complained Anthony, one of the passengers.
Narrating his ordeal to The Guardian, Thankgod Opatu, a bus driver with Chisco Transport Company, who drove all night from Abuja, urged the FRSC to give the operation a human face. Opatu, who was arrested for having more passengers in his luxurious bus than was recorded in his manifest, alleged that a robbery incident around Okene in the early hours of the day, had left him with no option but to rescue stranded passengers of the company, after the bus in which they travelled was damaged.
“I would have been here, earlier, before 5am, but there was an armed robbery attack in Okene, where we spent over three hours. One of our company’s buses was affected. By the time I got to the spot, those that were wounded had been taken to the hospital. So, I had to carry those who were ready to continue their journey to Lagos. The capacity of my bus is 55 passengers, but what I have here is 51 passengers. It’s not about overload. Their complaint is that the manifest did not include the names of people I rescued; how can that be done by 3am, considering the robbery incident,” he lamented.
Flanked by some of his Lagos-bound passengers, Opatu said the case has been reported to the Chisco management. “I’ve contacted our manager, here, in Lagos and he said he will contact their boss. They (FRSC) said that next time such thing happens, I should take the passengers to a safe place and then call our office to update the manifest. How can that be done at that time of the night? Look at them (passengers) here; they can testify.
“I’m a Nigerian and I was born in this country; I grew up here. What I have learned from this experience, in all my years of driving, is that when next I encounter such incident on the road, I should not help. Even if people are dying, I will not put them in my vehicle because I don’t want to suffer for helping people,” he fumed.
One of the passengers, who gave her name as Christy, defended the driver saying: “We woke up in the middle of the night and saw vehicles stopping, and people shouting, ‘Armed robbers! Armed robbers!’ They were screaming and running for safety. We saw a police van coming, but all of a sudden, it turned back and left us in the middle of the road.”
According to Christy, four tyres of the first Chisco bus conveying passengers to Lagos were damaged during the incident, a situation, which informed the driver’s decision to render help.
“How can we leave them in the middle of the road, in the cold? Where is it written in the world that you shouldn’t help someone? We are talking about 3am! For God’s sake, we’ve been in the bus since 4pm; we are women and we’ve not even taken our bath. You can see us standing by our driver because we knew that he did the right thing. If not, I would have gone. My destination is Surulere. That’s no distance from here? I would have gone since,” she said.
Another male passenger, who resolved he would follow the matter to its conclusion, said: “We’ve been here since 9am, but we cannot leave our driver because he did something many Nigerians would not have done.”
Saidu Sulaimon, a J5 driver from Kaduna, whose bus was impounded during the operation said: “They asked for my particulars and driver’s license and I showed it to them. They even returned them to me. They asked for my extinguisher, triangle, spare tyre, and I showed them everything. We have three spare tyres in the bus. But they said we didn’t use seat belts.”
Asked why he didn’t make use of the safety device, Sulaimon explained: “He (FRSC official) was the one that ordered us to get down. When you are going down, you have to remove the seatbelt. Now, he’s asking for N3,000. We came all the way from Kaduna to this place. We did not have issues with anybody. We’ve been here, now, for an hour and my bus is inside their compound.”
“They demanded N10,000 from me,” another truck driver quipped.
But the Zonal Commanding Officer (Zone RS2), Assistant Corps Marshal Nseobong Akpabio, who led the operation, said the FRSC has a four-point agenda: education, enlightenment, subtle force and full enforcement. He said enough advocacy and enlightenment programmes had been carried out jointly with the stakeholders in the sector, before commencement of the exercise.
“The UN projected that between the year 2011 and 2020, if something was not seriously done in all countries of the world, about five million lives would be lost through road accidents. We are going to continue this all through the ‘-ember months’ and beyond, until truck drivers understand the need to drive responsibly,” he said.
Akpabio, who called on stakeholder to support the operation, said: “We want to ensure that they must not drive drunk. When they are on the road, they must drive with good tyres and must not carry any container that is not properly secured. If you carry a container that is not properly latched, it will fall on somebody and the person will die. No amount of insurance will pay for a life lost. Some of them are without driving licenses; some have expired licenses, while others have fake ones. So, we are doing everything possible to ensure compliance is total.”
According to the Zonal Commanding Officer, Operation Scorpion is already yielding positive result, as some drivers are learning to comply with the rules. “Some of them are complying, but some are not; like the ones we arrested today. It’s about evaluation and we will keep on doing that. We want to appeal to the media to create awareness on this. What they need to do, as partners in this project, is create awareness for people to understand why we are on the road; we are saving lives,” he said.
Asked to comment on the case of the Chisco bus driver, arrested for disparity in his manifest, Akpabio explained: “The law says that every commercial vehicle traveling long distance must have a manifest; it’s on that basis that he was arrested. This thing has to do with law, and the procedures must be followed. We are taking them to court; it’s left for the court to decide. Lagos State has given us all their courts to expedite prosecutions. But outside Lagos, we make use of mobile courts.”
On the allegation of sharp practices by FRSC officials, Akpabio said: “On the issue of our personnel, we have supervisors and I’m sure that it will be looked into. We are doing a civilised operation; wherever you come from, you must drive responsibly. Even if you are from my village and you drive irresponsibly, I will arrest you. This operation cuts across board; nobody will be spared.”