The race to succeed Osita Chidoka, the outgoing Corps Marshal and Chief Executive, COMACE, of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, is on. Chidoka was recently nominated as a minister representing Anambra State in the Federal Cabinet. His nomination was ratified by the Senate last week and he may be sworn in today as the country’s Minister of Aviation. In that case, he will be replacing Stella Oduah, the former minister, who was relieved of her appointment a few months ago in controversial circumstances.

Recent newspapers’ speculations say several people both within and outside the commission have thrown their hats into the ring to succeed Chidoka. Good. But my concern here is that the government should be mindful of whoever is chosen to step in as the new COMACE. The reason is that every programme of the FRSC since inception in 1988 has been on the recycling mode: drivers license, number plate etc without any new or significant idea being brought on the table. This may probably be one of the reasons why people are rooting for outsiders as those inside had not been able to guide outsiders that were brought in with new ideas or, perhaps, those inside too have no new ideas about how to remove deaths from our roads. This is why it has become exigent for the government to make a good choice of a new COMACE, somebody who will fit in perfectly well and be able to enhance the operational capabilities of the commission. This will leave a level of confidence in the minds of Road Safety professionals.

I learnt that the government is actually under intense political pressure to outsource the next Corps Marshal. In this regard, the name of a retired general has continuously been bandied about. The truth is that the task of enforcing sanity on our roads is not a job for a military man either serving or retired. Not even for any other person outside the Road Safety professionals who are not in short supply in the country. That is why the government must consider merit to pick a suitable candidate for the job. It will be a great disservice to the current crop of tested, dedicated, hardworking and highly skilful Road Safety professionals in the country if the government succumbs to the frenetic pressure being mounted on it by fortune seekers to take over the operation of the FRSC. In the quest for merit, the government should also consider some of the pioneering officers who may have left the organisation but are still in the profession and have garnered more experience that could move the organisation to a higher level.

For many years, the FRSC has been quite unfortunate in the choice of Chief Executives which seems to have been permanently brought under the vagaries of politics and politicians. If this trend is allowed to continue, it would be tantamount to the Biblical injunction which says “it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. The interpretation of this is that it will be easier for a politician who has nothing particular to offer to head the commission, than for a thoroughbred professional in the Road Safety sector, to aspire to lead the FRSC. In other words, it would be professionally diminishing, suffocating and even suicidal for the FRSC to be constantly brought under the leadership of neophytes and non-starters in Road Safety matters. I believe the time has come for the government to insulate the commission from politics and political fortune seekers who have nothing tangible to offer than the quest for filthy lucre in the guise of political patronage.

In my recent discussion with someone who is well groomed in Road Safety matters, he told me that there seems to be a dearth in the development of new ideas in FRSC. According to him, “FRSC has a purposeless leadership with a spineless and clueless followership”. If this is true, now is the time to reorder the operation of the commission. With a politician in charge, there is no way the activities of the FRSC would not be politicised one way or the other. If this happens, professionalism will become endangered, morale will be at the lowest ebb, while accountability will take flight. Yet a Corps Marshal is expected to lead a commission that is so richly endowed with a crop of dedicated, well-trained and hi-tech generation of young officers who are very prepared to give their outmost best in the discharge of their duties to their fatherland. It is, therefore, pertinent to allow merit to guide the choice of a new helmsman for the commission from the existing Road Safety professionals in the country rather than bringing just anybody out of mere political patronage.

The first COMACE of the commission at inception in 1988 was Olu Agunloye, who held sway from 1988 to 1995. He laid the building blocks of the commission under a Governing Board headed by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, as chairman. It was under their stringent watch that the commission took off, and rapidly became a household name within a few years of its existence. In fact, some of the present crop of senior officers was the first set of officers in the commission at its establishment in 1988. There are also some of them who have left with good records but are still very active in the propagation of Road Safety ideas and ideals. All of them have gone through the evolution and metamorphosis which have seen the FRSC transforming to a formidable government parastatal that it is today. These officers are well-trained and properly immersed in the rudiments and complexities of road safety so much that they can stand their own in the comity of road safety practitioners anywhere in the globe.

Agunloye was succeeded by Gen. Haladu Hananiya, whose appointment was a form of political rehabilitation. It was under his watch that the commission was almost polarized along North-South divide, a situation that left a deep scar on the integrity of the commission. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why people are so worried and concerned about who takes over from Chidoka. It is true that Chidoka himself was an outsider when he was brought in as COMACE about seven years ago, but because of his enthusiasm coupled with his previous experience in government’s bureaucracy, he was able to learn the ropes fast. He may not have been perfect in the discharge of his duties as COMACE during his tenure, but by and large, he demonstrated an uncommon zeal and desire to excel.

Those who are rooting for an outsider to be appointed as COMACE are drawing inspiration from a section in the existing FRSC’s Act. Section 7(1) of the Federal Road Safety Commission (Establishment Act) 2007 says: “There shall be a Corps Marshal who shall be appointed by the President and who shall be a person possessing sound knowledge or ability in the organisation and administration of road traffic and road safety measures”. Though this may appear to make the choice of a new COMACE flexible, fluid and at the discretion of the President, nonetheless, emphasis should be on continuity and competence if the commission is not to be turned into a dumping ground for politicians and professional misfits. Such politicians will only come to sow the seed of acrimony, witch hunt and destabilise an otherwise well-focused, well-positioned and progressive government establishment that has so far made appreciable impact on safety on our roads.

After more than 26 years of operation, during which time both the officers and men of the commission have acquainted themselves creditably well in the discharge of the onerous responsibility of keeping our roads safe or, at least, minimising carnage on our roads, it will be most appropriate for the government to appoint a professional as the next COMACE, of the commission. By doing this, the government would have done so well to sustain the gains of the commission over the years.