by Gerald Konwea
Cc; The President of the Senate, Inspector General of Police and the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission
I haven’t written to you before and I am happy to do so on a matter that is of great importance to our nation. I am using this opportunity to congratulate you on your anti corruption efforts, even though it is already raising a lot of eyebrows, like mine, and leaving questions unanswered. I wish you good luck at it and every of your endeavor that is aimed at moving Nigeria forward to the ‘permanent site’.
The leadership of the Senate, the Police and the Federal Road Safety Corps have been copied, as the matter being addressed also concerns them in no small regard.
In a few countries, dashboard cameras (dash cams) are gaining popularity, especially in Russia where the government has, particularly, removed legal barriers that inhibit owning and installing one. The reason for that, which is similar to our own domestic situation, is to help investigate road crashes, help deal with police misconduct and bullying and to help solve bogus insurance claims.
In Nigeria, we are plagued with police bullying on our roads that manifests in forcefully extorting money from car owners and sometimes a resort to brutality. Majority of these cases have gone unsolved for many years due to issues that range from ‘who to actually report to’ (in a country of rotten and corrupt police and judicial officials) to inability of the victims to prove their cases if they really intended to proceed with opening a case against the police.
I was involved in a case of police robbery sometime in May, where the police somewhere in Kogi extorted an excess of 20,000 NGN from my sister and myself. This ugly incident happened while I was traveling to bury my grandmother and the police stopped us to verify documents. I handed them my documents (that I had gone through hell at the VIO the week before to obtain. This is a story for another day) and he noticed one letter didn’t match – both on the engine and on paper. He demanded that we go with him to the station. What? Who? Me? Alone with my sister and a gun wielding police officer who refused us from making calls, threatened to slap my sister, in the bush, to an unknown place. God forbid!!! Maybe in the US where there could be justice from somewhere and somehow. He forced us into the car and demanded all the money we had saying if we don’t comply we would be set up and nothing will happen. That threat was very disturbing and still troubles me till date. The Police? To set up citizens they are bound by duty to protect?
About a week ago, I found, online, a video about corruption. This video made its point by addressing corruption as a nationwide virus that is compounded by politicians and the police. In the video, which is tagged ‘How a cancer of corruption steals Nigerian oil, weapons and lives’, and can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_r5PWtPB_og, it is saddening to learn that Mr. Godwin Ekpo lost his wife, while returning from church one faithful morning, to the same police that should have been protecting him and his family, because he refused to grant a 2,000 Naira bribe. Mr. President, I don’t know if Mr. Ekpo is pursuing any case or where he is with it especially since the video was uploaded by PBS Newshour only on the 2nd of December 2015 but even if he was to pursue a case, I wonder what he has as evidence to do so.
On the highways, there are a lot of enemies apart from the police. In Edo state, and some South Western States for instance, we have boys masquerading with planks and nails on the roads harassing innocent citizens to pay up different levies from different constituencies. Mr. President, the sad thing about this particular group is that they have no uniforms and they disappear before 12 noon. The only evidence one could possibly have for a case like this is footage from either the victims dashboard camera or that of a passer by that may have luckily picked a face. Mr. President, I have had an ugly encounter with these ones as well but I will just go ahead with making my point.
Mr. President, I also remember the case of a young lady being abused on the road by the convoy of a governor near Abuja soon after you took office. Mr. President, we all expected that different accounts of what happened would surface and we knew that justice will not be served as it would have been her word against the governors’ but this wouldn’t have been the case if she had a dash cam installed or if we were able to obtain footage from other dash cams. The public also learned that the young lady and other people were harassed and prevented from taking videos of the ordeal. I wonder if these men would have chased down all the cars that passed by at the time of this incident to clean the drives of the footage caught by their dash cams.
Mr. President, according to NAN, the Federal Road Safety Commission reported during their road safety week in May, 2015 that there was a staggering 61,806 cases of road crashes that killed 1903 of the future leaders of our great nation between 2010 and 2014. And I am sure that many of these cases remain unsolved. All we hear from first responders or the police/road safety chiefs from the scene of crashes remain, ‘speed may have caused it’. Mr. President, we all know it isn’t always speed. Besides, where could one be running to on these bad roads or was speed responsible for the tanker that fell off a bridge in Lagos killing all the occupants in the SUV it landed on? There could be many things ranging from malfunctioning parts, ‘animal in the court’, spillage/contaminants on the roads even up to bad construction of these same roads and for these bosses to continue to blame the poor victims for every crash is unacceptable. The least the government can do to give the family of the victim of a road crash closure is to help solve the cause of the crash.
Mr. President, Nigeria needs to imbibe the culture of investigation. To investigate is to open a fact finding mission to understand what/who caused what. It is unfortunate that the many times Nigerians hear the word, it is most often corruption related. We cannot continue to let events go unsolved. Mr. President, when inquiries are launched into the cause of events, it helps to achieve a few things such as
To understand what happened
To understand how it happened
To identify what went wrong
To identify how it went wrong
To solve the mystery
To provide answers and
last but most importantly, To formulate guidelines for the future.
Mr. President, I am aware, as with other issues, that this one solution isn’t the answer to all the issues raised and there can never be an easy fix to issues but when we look at the pro’s, it is laudable. This one solution that addresses three main issues road users in Nigeria face, comes at a time when we actually do not even have many or any options at all.
Ofcourse, I cannot at this time call on the government to consider the idea of issuing tickets to defaulters on the roads and highways – instead of the police having to force people to their stations – as we don’t even have a working national database (after about 121 billion NGN of tax payers money has been wasted since the inception of the national database idea in 1981) but I believe that when the use of dashboard cameras gain popularity, a trip to the station may no longer be so much of an issue since people have the choice of making real time updates about their road arrests when they feel uncomfortable at any time.
Mr. President, these dashboard cameras will also help to improve safety on the roads by decongesting traffic resulting from minor crashes where the victims spend so much time arguing back and forth about who was/is at fault. The police have something to refer to when they need to figure out who is responsible for the crash and the first responders can proceed with clearing the road for the safe and free flow of traffic. The resultant effect could also be felt in the insurance industry that is currently gaining popularity. It wont be long before bogus insurance claims begin to surface in Nigeria which can kill the industry before it even stands on its feet.
Mr. President, it is important to note that developing countries, especially in Africa, top the chart of global road crashes and it is sad to know that nothing significant has been done to change the stats, atleast in the last 5 years or more. Mr. President, like I said earlier, the best way to solve an issue is to understand the underlying cause, and one of the ways to begin to understand what truly happens on our roads and highways is to permit and encourage the use of dash cams where footage can be obtained and examined by experts when the need arises.
On the other side of the divide, citizens of some developed countries like the United States and the UAE are calling on the government to encourage the use of dashboard cameras which could also help in solving crime.
Consider these excerpts from 2015 publications;
Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE, thinks dash cams can play a role in enforcing the law and resolving disputes in accidents. He went on by saying,
“If you look at some other countries, they do allow dashboard cameras and this is for insurance purposes. It is allowed and it is encouraged. Dashcams could provide evidence of what happened. They could also help police.”
Al Ain resident, Mr Ibrahim Ahmed said he was always aware that the UAE’s roads, though increasingly safer, were still the scene of excessive speeding, tailgating and aggressive driving. He added,
“There were also careless habits such as texting and talking while driving to consider. The Government is working extremely hard to combat this but I think it will take time to change the driving culture in the whole region. I like to consider myself a safe and honest driver. A dashcam would be added protection.”
John Dvorak, for PC mag, thinks dash cams that continually record your driving will eventually be a required feature on everyone’s car, old or new. He also thinks people should get ready for it and has this to say,
“These cameras are mainstays in many locales, especially Russia, where they serve as evidence in police corruption cases and insurance fraud, among other things.
As someone who values privacy as much as the next Libertarian, I think these cameras are needed as much in the U.S. as they are in Russia.
Mr. President, I do not think the limitations of widespread use of dashboard cams outweigh the advantages (this I know because I have done my research very well and I have been to countries that encourage its use) and mandating its adoption shouldn’t be a herculean task. What the various stakeholders cc’d in this letter can do is to figure out ways to enact laws that will guide adopting widespread use of dashboard cameras without contravening other rights like privacy and data protection as is the case in countries like Australia, Poland, Germany and Switzerland for instance.
I hope that, by this open letter, I have been able to make sense to you, your office and the masses you represent. I do not own a company that manufactures dashboard cameras, neither does any member of my family. I also haven’t thought of going into the business of buying and selling these devices and, as of the time of sending this out, I do not think any member of my family has given thought to it. I have simply identified an avenue to help make the lives of Nigerian road users safer.
Thanks in advance for your anticipated cooperation Mr. President.
Gerald Konwea is the Founder Chief Executive Officer at MyCliqit. He can be reached on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.