December 4, 2013

Convoys as agents of death, torture and oppression


FOR the disabled and non-privileged children in Lagos Cheshire Homes, Wednesday November 13, 2013, could be described as the longest day in their lives. It was a day life played another cruel joke on them.
The day started with a ray of hope but turned out to be one the inmates would wish never existed. The events that unfolded that day reminded them about the cruelty of life. Little wonder they reportedly embarked on hunger strike in reaction to the untimely and unavoidable death of their caretaker, Mr. Adebambo Olumuyiwa.

The deceased was one of the victims of an accident that occurred at U-turn Bus-stop on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. He was allegedly hit by a truck which was trying to avoid the convoy of the Kwara State Governor’s wife, Mrs. Omolewa Ahmed.
He was said to have died about an hour after the accident at the Ile Epo General Hospital.
Coming at a time when the nation was still nursing the pains of the death of the former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof Festus Iyayi, who was killed by the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, CaptainIdris Wada, made the incident one death too many. That apparently explains the level of public outrage it is generating.
Vanguard Features, VF, checks show that many lives have recently been lost due to the recklessness of convoys of “very important personalities, VIPs”. The frequency of these mishaps leaves one wondering why hapless citizens should be sent to the grave by killer convoys of VIPs”?
VF recalls that in October 2009, the convoy of the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko killed six people. In the same vein, the convoy of his Katsina State counterpart was, in March 2011, involved in an accident that resulted in the death of five people, including his ADC .

Growing litany of unavoidable killings

Furthermore, on April 28, 2012, the convoy of the Edo State Governor was involved in a ghastly auto accident which resulted in the death of three journalists and injury to four others. The accident which occurred along the Auchi-Warrake Road, in the Etsako West local Government Area, involved a tipper lorry with the SUV conveying security operatives, the press crew bus and a Hilux van conveying other members of the Governor’s entourage
Also, in September last year, a journalist with the Pilot Newspapers, Mr James Umoh was knocked down at NNPC junction, Maitama Abuja while returning home from work by the convoy of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke. Umoh was taken to the NNPC Hospital where he passed on. Further checks showed that on September 24, 2012, the Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura escaped death by whiskers when his convoy was involved in a fatal accident in which he lost three of his aides.
Way back in 1995, the former Kano State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi’s convoy was involved in a crash along Airport Road in which two school children were killed.
Although convoys have existed for years ostensibly for the protection of VIPs, the litany of unavoidable waste of lives associated with them has become worrisome.

Wikipedia, the online dictionary defined convoy as: ‘’A group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, travelling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organised with armed defensive support. It may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas. Arriving at the scene of a major emergency with a well-ordered unit and intact command structure can be another motivation.’’ But the contrary is what is obtainable in Nigeria, hence the general conclusion that convoys have become agents of death, torture and oppression.
A former Lagos State Commissioner of Police (rtd), Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, is one Nigerian who is saddened by the development.
He told VF that: ‘’The idea of convoys is not bad because it is used all over the world. But it is unfortunate that lives have been lost as a result of their recklessness. The drivers should adhere to all known traffic rules. They should also be cautioned.’’
In an obvious reference to the death of Iyayi, Tsav added thus: ‘’The convoy of Wada is known for being reckless; this is not the first time this is happening. It does not mean that the worst roads are in Kogi State.I want to appeal to him to caution his drivers; they are reckless. He should caution them to be cautious on the roads, the roads belong to every Nigerian’’

Executive lawlessness

Lending his voice, a human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Odinna Errita, regretted that the Federal Government has done nothing to address the recurring abuse of convoy by VIPs.
He said: ’’The matter boils down to the mindset of the man at the top, who is always under pressure because they see politics as a do-or-die affair. That is why this attitude of impunity reflects in all they do. That is why you will find a governor talking to people anyhow, driving recklessly. For instance here in Lagos I have never heard a single compliant against Governor Raji Fashola. I am not saying that he is perfect but he has displayed a high sense of civility in that regard. Why would other governors not follow his example?
‘’They are always in a hurry. The Kogi State governor before the death of Iyayi was known to have been involved in a couple of accidents. Also Governor Oshiomhole’s convoy during his campaigns, was involved in two accidents. After that he realised the need to stop that culture of siren and intimidating convoy. Recently the convoy of the wife of the Kwara State Governor was also reportedly involved in another ghastly accident,’’ he recalled.
He was optimistic that the problem can be addressed. ’’For there to be an end to this, the National Assembly should pass enabling laws to regulate the use of convoys. The job should not end with the Federal Road Safety Commission. There should be attitudinal change on the part of the executive. Without the enabling laws, the situation might become chaotic. This executive lawlessness must be stopped urgently,’’ he said.
Another human rights activist, Mr. Asha Okonta, is particularly angry that the VIPs usually deny that their convoy was responsible for the accidents.
‘’Some governors no longer use convoys and I give them credit for behaving in a sane manner. I am worried that many of them are still oppressing the citizenry with their convoys. That act should be stopped because they can’t be sending those who made them governors to early graves. That culture should be modified by the Federal Government,’’ he said.
Eriabane wants the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency, make laws that would regulate the abuse of official convoys by VIPs.

Culture of denial

‘’The Federal lawmakers should not treat this matter with kid’s gloves. They should criminalise the abuse of convoys. That in my opinion, would serve as a deterrent to offending public officials. Can you imagine that each time such happens, the VIPs, through their aides, deny being responsible. That shows you that they are lawless and have no regard for the citizenry,’’ he added.
The legal practitioner’s argument on the denials and indifferent attitude by the VIPs, is not out of place, as further checks by VF showed that it had always been the case.
For instance, the Kwara State Governor’s wife, Mrs Omolewa Ahmed, had through the spokesperson to the government, Dr. Femi Akorede, denied the report linking her convoy with the traffic accident in Lagos in which two people died.
Akorede said: ‘’I have been reliably briefed by several people in the convoy, including the wife of the Governor and the facts indicate that Mrs Ahmed’s convoy narrowly escaped from the accident rather than causing it. On the said day, Mrs Ahmed was returning from visiting someone in hospital when her convoy narrowly escaped being hit by a tipper-truck, having left the scene of the accident seconds earlier by choice of providence. On noticing the out-of-control tipper truck racing towards them, the remaining drivers quickly left the junction and joined the convoy. The reported accident, tragic as it is, therefore had nothing to do with Mrs Ahmed or her convoy. However, any loss of life is tragic and sad no matter the cause.’’
Similarly, Kogi State government has meanwhile been debunking the allegation that Governor Idris Wada was responsible for the death of Iyayi, saying the accident occurred because of over speeding, recklessness and wrong overtaking by the convoy.
“Most writers have painted Governor Wada in bad light, tagging him a killer, murderer and hired assassin. They said the accident occurred because of over-speeding, recklessness and wrong overtaking by the convoy. This is sad. Those who know Wada know that the governor abhors violence.
His training as a pilot commands no contrary view. Aviators like doctors are trained to protect life,’’Wada’s Chief Press Secretary Richard Elesho said.

FRSC blames crash on untrained drivers

The Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission,FRSC, Mr. Osita Chidoka, corroborated the state government’s argument linking the accident to over speeding. He attributed the frequent crashes involving government convoys to the use of untrained drivers. “When we saw that convoy drivers were becoming a problem for the country, we started a process of training them (convoy drivers). We worked with the Governors’ Forum and many state governments submitted their drivers to training. After the training we decided to develop a category of licenses for convoy drivers in order to be sure that the person is actually qualified to be a convoy driver,’’ he explained.
Continuing, Chidoka said: ‘’Interestingly, the Kogi State convoy has not been involved in this training. I’m just told by the Sector Commander that the Governor has asked him to take all the convoy drivers in Kogi State for this training. Of the 700 convoy drivers we trained in the last two years, none has been involved in any road crash.
The only crashes that we have seen so far, are from people who have not attended that training because there were vital things they were taught about how to move in a convoy.”
He also disclosed that the Corps would enforce the compulsory installation of speed limiters on the convoy drivers’ vehicles in order to curb their excesses.
According to him, researches conducted by the Corps reveal that nearly half of the crashes in Nigeria are caused by excessive speed. Chidoka said: “Let me remind our drivers and other road users that maximum speed limit on Nigerian roads in the best of conditions, including road, weather, lights and vehicular situations remain 100kph.”