Yekeen Bello, Chief Executive Officer of Kwara Road Traffic Management Agency (KWARTMA) is one man ever at peace in his world of traffic management. Not surprising given his experience in road traffic management with the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency where he was a pioneer staff and Director of Operations.
Amiable but resolute about his convictions, Bello has brought a panache to his job of restoring sanity to Kwara roads.
In this interview, Bello speaks on the 10-year odyssey of KWARTMA, the challenges of the policing the state’s roads and the drive to extend the agency’s operations to other council areas beyond Ilorin, the state capital. Excerpts.
KWARTMA is ten years old. What was the situation at formation when you joined?
The authority came into being in 2010, but by and large, the first crop of personnel was invited to camp in February 2010. It was a three-week training of personnel at Eiyekorin camp. After that training, it was not until after four months again that we convened again. We conveyed again, July 2, 2010 and we commenced our operation around September 2014, when we started full enforcement.
In the first five weeks, we surveyed the entire Ilorin metropolis to look at the bottlenecks; where there is traffic congestion and traffic delays. So we used those three or four weeks to go around, recording and feeling all those areas.
After that, we used that to produce some jingles and embarked on enlightenment campaigns on what we were about to start- that is enforcement of state and national laws on our roads. that is why we embarked on the initial sensitization. By September, we commenced full enforcement operation.
But enforcement was the latter part of it because after identifying the traffic congestion areas which we call choke-points in traffic parlance, we now strategized on how many people were to be deployed at a particular point to control traffic. And you know we always have peak periods and off periods. At the peak period we definitely must always have personnel at those points because of those rushing off, going to work, school, market.
Having identified all these, we now have another team that moves about to monitor where you are not supposed to park. You know that we have what is called traffic infractions, primary offence because KWARTMA is not a ‘stop and search’ institution. You must commit an offence. The primary offence you commit is to disobey the traffic light or disobey the traffic personnel or you park at a place you are not supposed to park. When we see all these things we apprehend. When we started at the time, many residents didn’t know anything about traffic laws. What marveled me then was that most of these people come to Lagos where I had worked before coming to Kwara. How come they don’t behave the way they do in Kwara in Lagos?
When we apprehend people for traffic offences in 2010, after giving the fine ticket for obstruction or parking at a place not designated for you, we now give you N2,000 fine and ask for their papers. We discovered that as at 2010, the particulars they had were for may be, 2006. So the person probably bought that vehicle and registered it and ever since, no more renewal of papers and all that. This is where some of the revenue of the state have not been coming in.
Ten Years on, how far so far?
Well, by and large, the orientation has changed for the better. Like I said earlier, when you say you apprehend 10 offenders 10 years back, hardly did you see three that were up to date with their vehicle particulars, and right in the behavior and orientation. But now, if you apprehend 10, hardly would you see two that are not in compliance.
But the attitude of some residents still remains a source of concern in the sense that you apprehend them to correct them and not to punish. But you find out that they continue to do the same thing year in and year out.
Then you have the culture of “He is my brother” He is my brother’s wife; he is my brother’s sister”. We need to do away with this. Somebody is running foul of traffic laws, we should put our hands together to make the system work. We must not see a traffic officer before we obey traffic laws. That is the problem we are encountering now When we say no parking here, why would you park there? So people will now say: “you said no parking, you didn’t say no stopping or no waiting. People will start giving you different meanings in the English Language. Some will even say I‘m waiting in my car? Are you supposed to park at all? You don’t have to park. You don’t have to wait there. We see it as an obstruction.
There are about four or five major traffic flashpoints around the metropolis. Tanke, Geri-Alimi, Garage Offa, Post Office. Some have the impression that these areas are not properly manned by your personnel. What is your take on this?
Well, as you can see, where we were supposed to have six or eight or more personnel you will discover we have only two or three personnel. This tells you that this is as a result of manpower challenge. We are making use of what we have judiciously. At Geri Alimi, we had a lot of personnel, but with the advent of that Split Diamond Underpass, we reduced our personnel there. The problem we have is that people want to use every available space as car park or taxi stand and lately, as tricycle parks.
With the underpass at Geri-Alimi, we are not supposed to deploy much personnel there because of the improvement in flow of traffic but we have to be going there now on patrol, sting patrols, because of those people who will turn some stretches of the road to taxi parks or tricycle parks.
Looking at Tanke, Tipper Garage, we are supposed to have four or five personnel there together with the police. Now, look at the tricycle operators in that area, they are reducing the capacity of the road. In fact, they are not supposed to be in that environment. They are supposed to be off the road.
When you look at Maraba, the number of personnel we are supposed to have there is not enough. All these boil down to shortage of personnel. A lot of people don’t believe our actual staff strength because they see us in our patrol vans in so many areas. It is just that I’m managing the little resources I’m having. A lot of people don’t believe our manpower figure and that is why I don’t say it out.
Many residents believe that if government is really committed to tackling traffic snarls, it should remove garages and parks from certain locations in the metropolis such as Garage Offa that has become notorious. What is your take especially in collaboration with town planning authority or other relevant agencies?
The biggest problem we have are the transport unions. If you have even gone inside Aiyelabowo Garage, that is Offa Garage, the space inside that garage is big enough to accommodate those causing the obstruction in that area. I keep on telling them that what you, as transporters in Kwara cannot do in Osun, Lagos, Oyo you do here. You can’t! You are not staying in your garages because some other vehicles are ‘raiding’ you. That is why you have to abandon your garage to go and stay there. And you don’t want the government to be pursuing those ‘raiding’ you. We have had endless quarrels on this issue. Those vehicles cannot fill the garage where both NURTW and RTEAN are. So the problem we have are the unions.
Go to Maraba, they are supposed to be inside, they have moved outside. We have had opportunity when we were invited to a programme with the unions to Radio Kwara to discuss this. We are starting another radio jingle from tomorrow or next, intimating the illegal garages of the directive to move to their garage because we want to start another round of enforcement.
Are there no enabling laws to help checkmate these illegal acts?
We are enforcing the enabling laws. But you see there are overlapping issues concerning other institutions on policies. There is a law which says if you want to have a garage apart from those so designated by government, there are set laid down rules for independent garages. All amenities must be provided-conveniences, waiting halls, luggage area, loading bay and the environment must be well secured. When you look at it, only few can meet the conditions. May be Okin Motors, Fayos Motors, Legacy, KASMAG met the standard. Then you go out and see pocket of garages, may be only three vehicles or four here and there and you call these garages.
Again, there must be political will to do a lot of things. It is this present government that has demonstrated the political will that has given the push to curtail some of these acts. Before, the political will to enforce all these was not there. The moment you are going all only to do this, you are being drawn back.
Now that you have political will as you said, do you for example have mobile courts to promote summary trial of offenders?
The fact is we have been assigned a mobile court because our laws empower us to do it. (cuts in) Are they functioning?
Presently, it has not been constituted because we have done everything. Even a magistrate has been assigned to us. Logistics is the major problem. The mobile court is underway. In fact, we have gotten the magistrate for the mobile court because the legal department has finished everything.
What logistics are you talking about? Can you be more specific?
When we talk of logistics, we are talking about office space and vehicle to convey the magistrate. They are not there as well as other needs. The moment we are able to put all these in place, we will start off because it is in our laws.
Why are all your activities concentrated in the state capital? Was this the plan from the beginning?
It is Kwara State Road Traffic Management Authority. The personnel we have is not even enough for Ilorin metropolis. We have been approved to move to Offa, Omu-Aran, Bode-Saadu and Baruten in Kwara North. But it is still the logistics, manpower shortage.
If I take one quarters of what I have here to Offa and Omu-Aran, the ones here are not enough before, how do we cope?
I have gone round the whole state. There are some areas that they don’t register their vehicles or motorcycles. The moment KWARTMA is in that area, definitely they must all license their vehicles and it will increase the IGR of the state. That is why we say we are not directly a revenue generating agency but a catalyst. When people begin to comply by registering and renewing their particulars the revenue of the state will rise.
Give us a sense of the statistics of arrests and number of vehicles impounded?
To be frank, we recorded a decline while in some areas there was a rise. When we started out, there were not many tricycles but gradually, in the last two years when tricycles were banned in Lagos we started having a surge in Kwara State as many of them moved here. The same thing for motorcycles. They were not as many when we started.
Many of the old operators here were already well informed about the activities of the authority. The new ones came thinking the state is lawless. They thought KWARTMA will not be as active as LASTMA in Lagos.
If you look at our statistics from 2011 to 2019 I think the total number of apprehension from 2011 was about 38,815 for nine years. But for six months in 2020, we have about 1,177 for just six months of 2020.
You can compare 38,815 for nine years and 1,177 for just six months. It is because of the influx of these tricycle and motorcycle operators. They are the most recalcitrant to law. Even in this six months, we have been concentrating on only one offence-driving against traffic. We have not ventured into all other aspects of traffic violations. If we had gone into other aspects of offences, you can be assured that the figure would be higher.
But presently, because of the COVID pandemic, we are concentrating on the most dangerous one, driving against traffic, one-way enforcement and illegal parking at certain designated areas. For example, Ahmadu Bello Way is the road to the seat of government and the road is sacrosanct. We had to erect those notices.
And then you have Post Office Area. In fact, when we came in, Post Office was terrible. But Post Office is better now because the new administration acceded to what we have been asking for, for long. That the Soludero park be allowed for use to mop up all those garages in the area. We then put up the signs of no parking and hawking around the area.
Anybody now arrested outside of the Soludero park has no justification and will face the law.
Is it possible we have more of such parks?
Well, we have been looking for space. Once we have space, we should be able to create more like those areas near the canal, it is feasible around Emir’s Road towards Niger Area, the two sides of the canal.
Even all those can be used for car parks, for people coming into Post Office area for one business or the other, that is on and off parking. We have on and off street parking, sanity will be restored on the roads.
How feasible are these?
It is the will. It is very feasible because the roads were well constructed with wide shoulders. So those shoulders are what we can use as on-street parking. We have worked on this. We did this in Lagos I was in the team that did that of Lagos. When I came in here, I had seen it being imperative. I had mapped it out. From Taiwo Oke for example to Taiwo Isale. The road shoulders are good, only that shop owners are encroaching. By the time this initiative is put to use, it will work. The same thing with Unity Road. The areas we are supposed to use as on-street parking are what these car dealers are using free of charge. They park the cars and put bottles on them, indicating for sale.
Then we can also look for an open space as “Park and pay”
Why is it so difficult for our traffic management agencies to enforce the COVID-19 protocols? I’m not restricting this to only KWARTMAS
As I said, there is a jingle coming soon on Midland FM. We will enforce all these. Tricycles are not supposed to carry more than two passengers. The motorcycle is supposed to carry only one. In fact, motorcyclists are not supposed to carry a pregnant woman just as they are also not supposed to carry a woman with a child on the back. It is against the law, not to talk of carrying two or three passengers
(cuts in) Well, many don’t know this.
You are right because when I once said this before the General Manager of Radio Kwara, he was surprised. I said it was against the law. Even smoking while driving is against the law. There is penalty for it.
So that is why we are coming up with the jingles again because we want to start full enforcement based on the COVID-19 protocols. You see all kinds of attachment on tricycles so that they can carry more people I have had series of meetings with their leaders and they have assured they would sensitise their members and we would apprehend any of them caught.
Are you setting a timeline for them?
We are starting fully by next Monday. We have been doing this before, but because of the COVID-19, we slowed down. In April, we apprehended only one motor vehicle. It was driving against traffic and he nearly knocked somebody down.
Are you satisfied with the pace of development in KWARTMA?
Honestly, I must tell you I’m not. When you look at workers’ welfare, we have a serious challenge. When these personnel started in 2010, I had expected some of them to be on Grade Level 12, 13. Now they are on 9, expecting to go to 10.
When the agency started, there were some toddlers’ problems, we started in 2010 when I came down from Lagos, but after two years, I went back and I came back in 2014. When I left in 2012, I expected their first promotion because there was a lacuna. So when I came back in 2014, I realized they had not gotten the promotion . The lacuna that was put in their way was what I first addressed, that was 2014 and 2015.
I had to seek for the assistance of the Head of Service, those in Physical Town Planning. It was a new agency, meaning administrative staff will come from HOS, PRO from Ministry of Information, Accountants from Finance. All those things were not there.
When I now came in, they now gave me the relevant officers. We had to to start the process of giving people their promotion. Well, they cannot take it back to 2013. So it was 2015 that they got their first promotion from level 8 to level 9 when they should be preparing for level 10, that was one of the setbacks.
But to the glory of God, with His Excellency in charge now, I’m sure they will get their second promotion.
What other welfare plans do you have for the personnel?
Well they are happy for one thing, the Cooperative Society in the agency is what most of them rely on. They are really happy with that cooperative society as management will never touch their money. Many of them will rather take loans from the cooperative instead of the banks.
Looking ahead, what is your plan for KWARTMA in the future?
When I was leaving Lagos to come to Kwara I had a high expectation. My aim was to use KWARTMA to challenge LASTMA, because I was part of the formation of LASTMA. We started LASTMA together. Before leaving LASTMA, I was Director of Operations, I know how many vehicles we had there. My expectation is to have KWARTMA in all major towns in Kwara State. I had mapped out eight zones with two local governments in one zone.
I must be sincere with you, we have some equipment that other traffic management agencies in Nigeria don’t have. The only agency with more equipment than us is Lagos. Now, Oyo State is challenging us as well as TRACE in Ogun. But when you look at the hierarchy of the 19 states with traffic authority Lagos with LASTMA is first, TRACE in Ogun is two followed by KWARTMA followed by OYORTMA in Oyo. I was a resource person in Oyo when they wanted to start.
I’m sure His Excellency Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq will look into our case as we have sent memos on how we can improve the system.
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