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Grand farewell for ‘last man standing’

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Boboye Olayemi Oyeyemi could not have wished for a more fitting conclusion to his public service career. Thirty four years ago, he enlisted into the nascent Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), specifically on 6 June 1988 as Superintendent Route Commander. In response to public outcry and outrage about the accentuating arithmetic of carnage on the nation’s roads, the administration of President Ibrahim Babangida formally established the FRSC. There is, however, a little story behind the eventual fruition of the concept, relative to Oyeyemi’s ascendancy.

In 1976, the Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo military rulership carved Oyo, Ogun and Ondo States, out of the old Western State. David Medaiyese Jemibewon, then an army Colonel and Military Governor of the new Oyo State, established the Oyo State Road Safety Corps. That was in response to the disturbing incidents of automobile mishaps and the staggering casualty figures arising from such mishaps within the state. In particular, such occurrences were commonplace on the federal highways which straddled Oyo State. These included the Lagos-Ibadan expressway; the Ibadan-Ile Ife-Ilesha, and the Ibadan-Oyo-Ogbomoso roads.

The road safety initiative had a volunteer arm. This attracted among others, no less a personality than Prof. Wole Soyinka, the iconic literary creator, scholar and activist, who would later become Africa’s first Nobel Laureate for Literature. Some members of the volunteer scheme patrolled on power motorcycles and flagged down over-speeding drivers, admonishing them on the imperative of speed moderation. They were nicknamed maja maja in popular folklore, which translates literally as “dog catcher”.

After Soyinka’s investiture with the Nobel prize in 1986, Babangida hosted him to a reception. The former military leader exhorted the literary icon to make available to Nigeria his broad-based vistas and experience in any department of governance and administration. Soyinka advocated the adoption, at the federal level, of a road safety management model, previously pioneered by the old Oyo State. He expressed concern about the high attrition rate of Nigerians in avoidable road accidents, which was diminishing the stock of irreplaceable potential contributors to national development. Soyinka seemed to be reading the mind of the military President. Babangida’s government was equally disturbed by Nigeria’s unsavoury record as one of the countries with the world’s most dangerous roads, and highest highway carnage figures.

Babangida bought the idea and set in motion the machinery for the implementation of the dream. Soyinka was invested pioneer chairman of the project, saddled with the conceptualisation and implementation of a sustainable countrywide road safety model. He invited Olu Agunloye, a physicist who functioned as technical adviser to the initiative, and would later become the pioneer Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the FRSC. The new outfit was formally inaugurated 18 February, 1988 by Babangida’s deputy, Augustus Aikhomu.

A young, job-hunting engineering graduate, Oyeyemi had walked determinedly into the primordial FRSC headquarters in Bodija, Ibadan, 6 June 1988, shortly after the flag-off of the new outfit. He met Agunloye and expressed his desire to join the fledgling organisation. He was unfazed about potential uncertainties which could affect a nascent creation, which had been the lot of several government initiatives. Oyeyemi thus joined the pioneering septet which birthed the FRSC, and which included Ben Ifode, Sam Aleno-Wyse and Engr. Coker (both now departed) and Adeyemi Omidiji. And so began a career which was going to last 34 long years, and during which history would beckon at Oyeyemi at various intersections of his eventful career.

Boboye Oyeyemi and his wife, Yemisi, acknowledging greetings from the enthusiastic crowd at his pullout ceremony

Oyeyemi went through the toughening, oftentimes ambivalent mills and grills of the FRSC, beginning from those teething years of the organisation. He was moved quite frequently, around all the critical offices, units and departments of the Corps, which enriched his aggregate experiences about an organisation he least imagined he would someday head. He looked at the positives of every task, every posting, taking them in his stride, in an eternal learning process. These would serve him in good stead in his professional evolution. Oyeyemi wouldn’t forget his spontaneous redeployment by executive fiat to Sokoto State in a hurry, a destination which, like a number of others in the nation’s humid north, was largely considered punitive. All these experiences, however, have combined to make him easily the most decorated specialist and professional in road management and traffic administration in Nigeria, and the West African subregion.

He stayed on in the FRSC, even in those testy years when the agency was strangely subsumed under the superintendence of the Nigeria Police Force, in gross disobedience to its founding rules and objectives. That development witnessed a rash of appointments and the disengagements of several chief executives of the body within a short period. These threatened its evolution as a novel, distinct, specialised creation to pointedly help engender road sanity in the country. That illegality subsisted until its decisive abrogation in November 2003, by former President Obasanjo. The FRSC thereafter continued to bloom into a model, internationally certified, globally recognised model traffic safety administration outfit.

Having attained the peak of his career following his elevation to the position of Deputy Corps Marshal (DCM), Oyeyemi was subtly divesting his office of his personal effects, preparatory to retirement. He desired to complete his long-abandoned doctorate in Public Administration at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He also wanted to develop his passion in agriculture. This was until his historic and providential elevation to the position of Corps Marshal/Cheif Executive on 24 July 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

His appointment was against the extant tradition where chief executives of the FRSC were sourced from outside the organisation. Oyeyemi’s predecessors, notably Agunloye Major General Haldu Hananiya and Osita Chidoka were hunted from outside the Corps. Popular expectation within the organisation, therefore, was for a perpetuation of the practice. Instructively, President Muhammadu Buhari reappointed him for a second term of four years beginning from 24 July 2018, on the strength of his altruism and innovations in his first term. This enabled the completion of many of his initiatives.

Oyeyemi grabbed the opportunity with every strand of his body to justify, and even supersede the expectations of the Federal Government and the motoring sector. He set for himself a three-pronged mission: Continuity, Innovation and Sustainability. This was to guide his dispensation in the organisation. His primary responsibility was to impact road traffic crashes and fatalities across the country. This remained a galloping phenomenon with reductions in parts, and increments elsewhere. But Oyeyemi and his team remained committed to the admonition, education and public enlightenment of road users, many of who could not divest themselves of dangerous old habits.

… final salute

He had long appreciated the imperative for increment in the personnel strength of the organisation, against the backdrop of its expanding roles and responsibilities, in a very dynamic, post-democratic sociopolitical ecology. Under his leadership, at least 7,000 new positions were created. This has enabled the outfit to better man its 55 Outpost Commands, seven Corridor Commands and 764 (newly created) Station Offices, in the various local government areas across the country. More permanent prototype offices were also built in several states, while housing schemes were initiated across the country to ensure comfortable accommodation for serving staff, and homeownership in retirement.

Oyeyemi, who had profited from trainings and refresher courses in many institutions at home and abroad, committed to broadening the scope and depth of human capital development under his watch. He prioritised training, retraining and capacity building. He widened access by FRSC officers and personnel to opportunities in all elite policy tutoring and management redevelopment programmes.

Under him, top FRSC officials were availed openings at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, National War College, National Institute for Security Services, and the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, among others. This is not forgetting the lower officers and “other ranks,” who also benefited from such opportunities in institutions and programmes compatible with their job descriptions. It is credit to his regime that many management level officers have highly respected ascriptions such as: mni, nwc, niss and nawc, among others, behind their names to underscore their exposures to contemporary trends in policy, governance and administration.

He moved quickly to ensure the establishment of a wholly FRSC-grown Command and Staff College, consistent with extant practice in other military and paramilitary organisations. The budding college presently operates from the FRSC Academy, Udi, Enugu State, even as its permanent site is being developed in Ibadan, Oyo State. The FRSC Academy has been affiliated to the Federal University of Technology Owerri to run Post Graduate Diploma courses and Master’s degree programmes respectively, in Transport Safety Management.

Under Oyeyemi, FRSC’s Traffic Radio with programmes solely about traffic and safety matters was actualised. FRSC’s collaboration with intelligence and security services were also enhanced. This is a positive development as against erstwhile rivalries and contests for turfs, between brother uniform-wearing organisations. It is now commonplace to find the Nigerian Airforce, for instance, working with the FRSC on highway traffic management operations. A joint aerial Airforce/FRSC team is able to advise operatives on ground about gridlocks and flashpoints on various routes and sections of the national roadways, especially during festivities, which encourages mass travel. Such partnerships have also been deployed during flood incidents, which overrun vital road arteries, precipitating traffic bottlenecks. In recent years, the FRSC has also been enlisted on election matters because of the integrity and respectability the Corps has built over time.

Accentuated international partnerships were consolidated, and fresh opportunities cultivated between the Corps and several affiliates, under Oyeyemi. These include the World Bank, African Development Bank, the International Roads Federation and the World Road Association. Similarly, contemporary international allies of the FRSC include the International Road Transport Forum, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States. Under Oyeyemi, the FRSC received the “International Standards Organisation,” Certification ISO: 9001: 2015, consummating its recognition from international stakeholders.

Oyeyemi’s professional perspirations have not gone unrewarded. His primary professional community, the FRSC, awarded him the “Road Safety Grand Star of Excellence”. He also finally earned a PhD in 2017, which he observed, took him 14 long years, no thanks to the unending mobility of his job. He has been decorated with the national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, and the National Productivity Order of Merit.

He was also festooned with the medal of Member of the National Institute from NIPSS after a one year executive programme at the institute. He has received a chain-length of fellowships, memberships and medals, at home and abroad. These include the Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management, the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, and the Chartered Institute of Corporate Administration. He has received the American Medal of Honour, American Biographical Institute, USA, among many others.

In honouring its first-ever “home-grown” Corps Marshal for a fulfilling and successful career, Oyeyemi’s colleagues put up a loaded, week-long valedictory programme for him. Beginning Monday 18 July with a “Farewell Management Meeting,” and “Special Marshals’ NEC Meeting”, other programmes included the “Corps Marshal’s Strategy Session with the FRSC High Command; the latter, which took place Wednesday 20 July, was flagged off by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor.

The ninth in the series of “Valedictory Lectures” delivered by retiring top officers who had attained the rank of DCM and above, was delivered by Oyeyemi on Thursday 21 July. The next, there was a parade in his honour at the Zone Three, Abuja National Headquarters of the FRSC, which was followed by a thanksgiving service at the FRSC chapel at the same address. On Saturday 23 July, two programmes, the “Corps Marshal’s Walk” and a novelty football match featuring the wives of top management, both held.

Monday 25 July, however, was the climax of the valedictory programme. The handover ceremony between Oyeyemi and the acting Corps Marshal, Dauda Biu, the DCM in-charge of Finance and Administration, that morning was followed by the “pullout” at the Old Parade Ground, Garki, Abuja. It was a colourful ceremony, which was well attended by dignitaries and public officials, among others. Soyinka, the grand actualiser of the FRSC concept, and Agunloye, founding Corps Marshal, were present. Agunloye, who knows my close relationship with Oyeyemi, told me in a private chat en route to the programme: “This is a momentous stride for Yemi. I’m proud of him. May God bless his next endeavours”.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; and former Inspector General of Police, and incumbent Chairman, Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith; were present. Chairman of the FRSC Commission, Bukhari Bello and his members, as well as former Chairmen of the FRSC, notably Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo, Adamu Waziri, Greg Mbadiwe and Col Lawan Gwadabe attended the event. Danyaro Yakassai, a former acting Corps Marshal during the years of the organisation’s wrongful appropriation into the NPF, was also present.

The Ministers of Information and Culture, Federal Capital Territory, as well as Labour and Employment were represented. IGP Usman Alkali Baba; Commandant-General of the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps, Abubakar Audi; and Comptroller-General, Federal Fire Service, Abdulganiyu Jaji, were there. The Chief of Army Staff and the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, were represented. Director-General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; his counterpart from the National Productivity Centre, Kashim Akor; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, also made it to the event.

Former Assistant Inspector General of Police, Tunji Alapini; former FCT police commissioner, Lawrence Alobi; and the Deputy High Commissioner of the South African High Commission, Dr Bobby Moroe graced the programme. National President of the National Association of Road Transport Owners, Lawal Yusuf Uthman; former President of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers; and Eunice Odegbe, President, Female Drivers’ Association honoured the event.

Oyeyemi will be 62 on 26 November. Much as he hails from Odo-Owa in Kwara State, Oyeyemi was born and raised in Ibadan. He has been happily married to Yemisi, a senior civil servant, for about 30 years, and the union is blessed with children and a daughter in-law. A golfer and lawn tennis player, his official engagements have impacted his regularity on the golf course and tennis courts in recent years. He attempts to make up by dutifully jumping on the treadmill to burn calories. An intellectual by disposition, he enjoys scholarly banter, reading, writing and travelling.

Now that he will have more time for himself, he hopes to do some catching up with some of these interests which have been in abeyance for sometime. He hopes to begin by reorganising his primary work station, his study, in his home.

Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors

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