Emergency situations within the hustle and bustle of modern cities could be compounded by restriction of movement due to human and vehicular traffic. Think of fire incidents that require firefighting equipment to respond with optimum speed or road crash incidents that ambulance has to take victims to emergency rooms. In these situations, the use of siren is very necessary and, in many cases, the only way to clear the path for the emergency responders.

This useful invention that has saved lives over the years has been thoroughly abused and in fact, the cause of many deaths in Nigeria.   The cases are numerous and complaints have been on for several years.  Some 25 years ago, news broke about five school aged children who were hit by siren blaring reckless driving convoy of a Minister in Lagos. Among them was little Atinuke Fadipe who was killed instantly. On December 26, 2000, an auto-accident involving a siren blaring convoy of the then Minister of Co-operation and Integration in Africa, Chief Dapo Sarumi, on Lagos-Epe highway, killed a newly wedded couple, Victor and Naomi Umoren. Noami who was pregnant survived for an hour after the crash, but the minister’s convoy left her and her husband to die by the road side.

Fast forward to 17th February 2009; a black Toyota SUV in the convoy of a governor’s wife from the North-East crushed a 15-year old to death at Nyanya, in the Federal Capital Territory. Again, the siren blaring convoy was passing through Nyanya, at breakneck speed when the SUV which was carrying four persons including the personal assistant to the governor’s wife veered off the road in to a furniture store and hit the victim, Anthony John, a worker at the furniture store. While the injured driver of the jeep and the governor’s wife’s personal Assistant were rushed to the Hospital, Anthony was left behind and eventually died.

This is a full decade after the last incident narrated above and nothing has changed. Nigerian road users are very familiar with the high decibels of siren-blaring convoys of government officials, money bags, fraudsters and even flamboyant Church leaders (G.Os) moving on tinted glass vehicles, bullion vans, and even private vehicles. We have even heard of pick-up trucks (Toyota Hilux Vans) and even KEKE (Tricycles) drivers who install sirens on their commercial vehicles. They are a common feature on Nigerian roads, and many Nigerians living in major cities encounter this menace regularly.

Pedestrians and motorist are regularly seen scampering to safety when they see these wailers in convoys approaching. As if the false alarm was not enough nuisance and scare, these convoys usually move with gun-toting, drunken and fierce- looking, daredevil security operatives. These security operatives are very unfriendly and flaunt their power without hesitation by making open show of humiliating pedestrians and motorists who fail or delay to create a passage for these seemingly high and mighty public servants, GOs, fraudsters and money bags. Those who are slow to give way or dare them are rewarded with flagrant whipping, deflation of tyres, broken head/tail lights or windscreens. As illustrated in our examples earlier, some of those that have crossed their paths did not live to relay their tales.

It is ironical that tax payers’ money is used to torment the tax payers and create noise pollution on public highways. What was meant to save lives and work for our common good is severely abused as just anyone who can afford to buy siren and get any uniformed escort to move in convoy of cars can wake up one morning to acquire this new status symbol.

Some people have been trying to justify that apart from emergency services, some public officers should use siren because of the peculiarities of their duty call. Apart from the fact that we have seen cases of public officials, like the ex-governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN who, in all good conscience, refused to exhibit this oppressive behavior, this argument falls flat in face of every logic and advancement in technology. Governor Fashola was the chief executive of the traffic congested Lagos State and had every excuse to use siren but refused to do so in many instances. There was a time when the situation was complicated by the temporary closure of Third Mainland Bridge for repairs and Gov. Fashola waded through the traffic daily without blaring the siren. He was exceptional in abiding by the traffic laws of his state, stopping at traffic lights and driving within speed limit in restricted areas. Ironically, Governors of other states and Ministers who happened to travel through Lagos abused their siren.
If Fashola could do without blaring siren in Lagos, then there is no excuse for anyone not to do without Siren.

The New Vision posits that protocol officers of these big men should visit and time uncharted routes to plan their principals’ tours and engagements. This practice will help them to keep speed limits and time their schedules to arrive at events on time and keep their appointments. It will help them to attend to their duty calls without being a nuisance to their fellow citizens.

They should also harness technology for planning and routing trips.  Some of these tools are available at no extra cost to the tax payer. Take Google Map tools for example. It can be used to check traffic situation and find best routes to use and save time. It provides intelligence that was not available many years ago and should be taken advantage of to save lives and properties.

Stable and level headed logistics supervisors and drivers should be engaged to operate vehicles that convey these public figures. Erring operatives of these convoy should be promptly taken off such sensitive duties. Security men in these convoys should also be impressed upon not to intimidate other road users.

While it may sometimes be necessary for security operatives to advise impatient, impolite and stubborn motorists and pedestrians to observe traffic laws and ease the passage of officials on priority duties, the law enforcement process itself should be done without breaking another law and in respect for human life and dignity. Every convoy driver whose carelessness leads to the death of any Nigerian should be made to face the full weight of the law.

Finally, if and where the use of siren is warranted in any cause of public duty, the officials involved should be very discrete. They should be firm without being abusive. Nigerians are generally very law abiding and peaceful. No one should use his temporary tenure in office, status or ego to inflict more hardship on us in this already tense and trying times.

Even when the laws permit the use of siren in the convoy of certain category of public officers, the official should show restraint in exercising such privilege. Government officials should not behave like oppressive imperialist heralding their presence with blowing of horns that is meant to instill fear on their subjects. These elected officials should insist that their orderlies, drivers, protocol and security should exhibit utmost civility in welding the apparatus of power. They should be accountable and responsible for the behavior of everyone in their company and ensure that anyone who in disposition or practice oppresses fellow citizens are properly sanctioned. It is common knowledge that some of these orderlies and drivers are half educated and power drunk. It follows therefore that they should be properly guided on how to behave in public space. They should be conscious that working with a high-profile citizen is not a license to step on the rights of other citizens or offend their sensibilities. The should be forewarned about the possible grave consequences of their excessive excitement and obsession with power display at the detriment of everybody, including their principals.

Let us stop the abuse of siren.