Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Osita Chidoka announced in Abuja last Saturday that the era of collecting fines from motorists who violate road safety laws of the country had gone.
The FRSC boss said the system was no longer a deterrent to errant motorists. He said the corps would now prosecute violators of its rules, especially the one prohibiting the use of telephones while driving, and ensure they are sent to jail.
The law may push many errant motorists to prison, even though on the list of offences and penalties posted on the FRSC website, the offence currently attracts a N4,000 fine.
But this does not seem to concern the FRSC as its spokesperson, Mr. Jonas Agwu, said the duty of the corps was to ensure the total eradication of deaths brought about by such prohibited practices.
Agwu shed light on the new strategy in a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH on Wednesday. He explained that the decision to introduce the prison dimension came about when it became clear thatmany motorists would rather be caught and pay the prescribed fine than obey the law.
He said, “The typical Nigerian motorist will ask you, ‘How much is your fine? Let me pay and go’. What many do not realise is that getting them to pay the fine is not the issue here, but ensuring that they do not endanger their own lives and those of others.
“We realise that in order to effectively put such motorists in check, it is necessary to get the judiciary involved. This is because the average Nigerian does not want his reputation dented by a conviction. A conviction by a court of law, even when it has to do with a mere traffic offence, may hamper one’s future ambtitions.”
Agwu did not want to make a categorical statement on the length of sentences for violators of the telephone rule. According to him, the courts would have to use their discretion.
The FRSC spokesman said, “The reason we are not going to prescribe such is that sometimes a violator may be picked up while exhibiting bad behaviour on the road. When such a person gets to the court, he or she may become humble. This may become part of what would be used by the judge or magstrate to deliver the sentence. The violator may go to jail for a few months, weeks or even days.
“Even when the court asks the violator to pay a fine if found guilty, the purpose of deterrence which the FRSC seek will be fulfilled. A motorist may not be jailed.
“You need to understand that being asked to pay a fine at an FRSC office is different from being asked to pay a fine by a court, after being found guilty. The conviction enters court records and dents the person’s imagine for ever.”
In a country where traffic cameras are non-existent, how will the commission effectively carry out this new rule?
Agwu replied that apart from ‘native intelligence’, which officials would be expected to deploy in their patrols, FRSC might approach mobile service providers for call logs to back up a charge against a suspected violator.
“Apart from these, our patrol vans are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, which include cameras. All these will be in use to ensure motorists change these bad habits on the roads,” he said.
However, some motorists told our correspondent that they were sure the commission would not go ahead with the plan.
“How many people will they arrest and put in jail? Almost everybody receives or makes calls while driving,” a motorist told our correspondent.
A commercial bus driver, Muniru Adetoro, laughed when our correpondent informed him the offence would now attract a jail term.
“Do you know how many laws are being flouted in this country? This kind of law cannot stand against rich people. Who will arrest a rich man using a phone while driving?” he asked.
The FRSC has said that in addition to the mobile courts that had previously been hearing traffic offences, conventional courts will also be involved.
The police and other traffic agencies will also be involved in the campaign, as the FRSC spokesman indicated.
“The police don’t need to arrest anybody and bring them to FRSC. All they need do is arrest violators, charge them to court and give us a report for record purposes. The only way this can work is if other security agencies who are stakeholders in traffic management collaborate with us. The enforcement has started,” the FRSC spokesman said.