Friday, 26 November 2021

BOBOYE OLAYEMI OYEYEMI: SALUTE TO A SERIAL MEDALLIST ....By Tunde Olusunle


You are likely to mistake his officious mien for unfriendliness, even disputatiousness. Bespectacled, with an interrogating mien, you could almost be caught off balance meeting him for the first time, if you are not guarded. He can be very business-like too, shooting straight after the preliminary exchange of pleasantries and handshakes. He is a good listener, who quietly ingests the submissions of his guest, and processes his own rejoinder. A hands-on administrator, he frequently moves around his office complex on its many floors, stopping by various offices and departments to check up on work and goings-on, engaging officers and personnel, with an unusual capacity to address people by their first names. 


He is peculiarly passionate about his vocation as visibly evidenced by the delight with which he dons his work gear, gleaming epaulettes drooping down his shoulders and festooned on the breast of his official attire. You can indeed almost physically feel his heightened dedication to his work. Between his desk in the office and the study at home, files, papers and documents receive seamless attention, even as he makes telephone calls from time to time to colleagues and subordinates, seeking elucidation on issues. And it wouldn't matter which part of the world he is: Accra or Algiers, Brazilia, or Banjul, New York or New Delhi, Paris or Pretoria, official business proceeds without disruption. An information technology-savvy chief  executive, he ensures there is no lacuna in decision making and target execution. For him, except for his irrevocable dedication to his Christian faith (he is a Deacon in his denomination, by the way), which ensures he religiously attends church services and programmes, weekdays roll into weekends and vice versa. Retreats, seminars, presentations and similar functions can be held even at the weekends, to ensure the organisation he heads, remains ever proactive.


Beyond that initial attitudinal austerity, however, Boboye Olayemi Oyeyemi is a genial, affable, unassuming personality who breaks into a smile, even a big laughter, revealing a small gap tooth in his upper dentition, as he banters with you. He simultaneously details one of his aides to serve you your preference of beverages and refreshments, as you both continue your interaction. Oyeyemi is the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive (COMACE), of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), a position he has held since his first appointment by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in 2014. He replaced Osita Chidoka, who was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in the twilight of his administration in 2007.


He is at home with a broad spectrum of issues and topics, beyond his primary kern in the road traffic administration sector and delights in robust, scholastic exchanges with friends. Yes, he eats, drinks, breathes, feels and lives road traffic management and safety, and has built up himself into a formidable contemporary specialist and core exemplar of repute, in this critical department. Consistent with the global best practices of scholarship and intellection, however, he is ever willing to share his own perspectives and vistas on issues, and simultaneously receptive to dimensions from the other person, in a cyclical learning process. 


Oyeyemi and I met in the course of official work, way back after the inception of the current fourth republic, in 1999. His virtual "twin," colleague in the service and contemporary, Yemi Omidiji, was in tow. I was an aide to Obasanjo, while Oyeyemi and Omidiji were senior officials with the FRSC. Danyaro Ali Yakasai was the Corps Marshal, (CM), in 1999, having just succeeded Haladu Anthony Hananniya, a retired major general of the Nigerian Army. Yakasai himself was soon succeeded by Abba Kyari Wakilbe, one year into the former's stint in office. At this point, the FRSC had been subsumed under the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), and Wakilbe exercised supervisory control over the FRSC, on behalf of the NPF. This translated into three chief executives for the nation's foremost road traffic regulation and monitoring agency. Oyeyemi and Omidiji, both younger at the time, always prayed and wished for administrative stability in an organisation they had both built their lives and careers around. Fortuitously, Obasanjo in 2003, ruled against the merger of the FRSC with the NPF, November 7, 2003 and reappointed Hananniya as Corps Marshal.


By sheer providence, Oyeyemi's wife and my wife, were colleagues and friends in the same parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, those early years of our present democratic milieu. What began as a relationship between two men, therefore, blossomed into an inextricable inter-family connectedness. Our children equally joined the loop, becoming not just friends, but brothers and sisters, attending functions between themselves looking out for one another, in the schools they found themselves at various times. Oyeyemi's children address my wife as "mummy," while my children equally defer to and acknowledge Mrs. Oyeyemi, as mother. 


On the occasion of a milestone birthday many years ago, Oyeyemi and his family, literally "connived" with my folks, to organise an early morning surprise for me. I woke up on that day, to meet the COMACE, his wife, the parish Pastor of my church at the time Mathew Morakinyo; Tony Olofu (my longstanding friend a Commissioner of Police);  even brothers like Femi Ajisafe (a former Director in the Ministry of Transport), who came from out-of-state, in my sitting room! There were musicians, a *gangan* drummer and saxophonist, and breakfast had even been served! And he kept a very straight face, as though he was oblivious of the whole scheme. That is quintessential Boboye Oyeyemi.


Oyeyemi joined the employ of the FRSC over three decades ago at its inception, in 1988. He was one of the pioneering seven officers  and staff of the department, alongside Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka (who envisioned the project); Olu Agunloye (one of the earliest chief executives of the body, who later became a Minister under the Obasanjo government); Ben Ifode and Omidiji, who had been earlier acknowledged in this piece. Two others, Major Wyse and Engineer Coker, made up the list and are now departed. Specifically, the FRSC was inaugurated February 18, 1988, by the erstwhile Chief of General Staff, Augustus Aikhomu, a naval admiral. The original founding council members of the organisation included Soyinka, Bilikisu Yusuf (a frontline female journalist) and David Odigie Oyegun (then a federal permanent secretary and subsequently governor of Edo State). Oyeyemi will tell you with a smile,  "I'm as old as the system."


He served in different units, departments and offices in the FRSC, across the country, as though he was being groomed for the top job, even from the very beginning. Notably, he functioned as: Officer-in-charge of Communications, Corps Marshal's Office; Zonal Commanding Officer, Road Safety Two, Headquarters (RS2HQ) Lagos and Area Commander and Principal Commander, respectively, (Plant and Production) of the FRSC licensing unit, Lagos. Oyeyemi was also: Zonal  Commanding Officer, RS2HQ, Sokoto; Deputy Director, RSHQ Operations; Acting Director Operations, RSHQ, and Director, Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), RSHQ. He has also been Zonal Commanding Officer, RS3HQ, Yola; Director of Operations, RSHQ and Head of Department (HOD), Planning, Research and Statistics, RSHQ. He similarly headed the Departments of Training, Standardization and Certification; Operations and Motor Vehicle Administration. To date, he is the only COMACE to have served and headed each of the strategic departments in the FRSC, notably: Operations, MVA, PRS, Training, Standardization and Certification.


Oyeyemi was appointed COMACE, July 23, 2014. He made history as the very first officer of the FRSC, to rise through the ranks of the organisation, to become helmsman. Preceding practice was to source leaders for the FRSC, from outside the service, as can  be seen from the succession profile of  the organisation. Misconceptions about the terms of his continued retention in office, therefore, was the subject of public inquisition following his attainment of the age of 60, last November. Public Service Rules provide that "The compulsory retirement age for all grades in the Service, shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier." 


The provisions of Section 7 (1), FRSC Act 2007, however, empowers the President to appoint anyone he considers as having sound knowledge in road traffic and road safety administration as Corps Marshal of the FRSC. To this extent, the Corps Marshal is not a career civil/public service officer who is expected to grow through the rungs of the service, and be subjected strictly to civil or public service rules. Not at all. It is not to be taken for granted therefore, that the successor of the incumbent COMACE, would come from within the Service. The initial brouhaha about Oyeyemi's stay in office has been very well clarified: He is serving a second four year stint in office, and will complete his tenure in office come July 23, 2022. 


Oyeyemi's term at the top, has witnessed a plethora of successes and innovations. First, there has been substantial reduction in carnage on the nation's highways. This has been aided by increased public sensitization by the Corps enlightenment department, and improved mobility by marshals. The introduction of "Operation Cobra," by the Oyeyemi regime has also contributed to lessening bloodletting on our roads, as traffic offenders are referred to accredited health facilities for "Emotional Stability Test." Response rate to accident sites and flashpoints of gridlocks on the nation's highways, have been accentuated under his watch. 


Secondly, the FRSC under Oyeyemi has been in robust collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC), banks and mainstream security and intelligence services, to exchange identity and biometric information towards checking cybercrime and terrorist financing. As part of activities marking Nigeria's 59th independence anniversary, the FRSC launched a "National Traffic Radio, 107.1 FM." This has enhanced the smooth transmission of information to road users. The menace of driving license fakery has also been minimised. Perpetrators are handed over to the NPF and the Department of State Services (DSS), for investigation.


Under Oyeyemi's watch, Nigeria has attained global standards courtesy of the introduction of the "Emergency Toll Free Line 122," which has been catalytic in abridging the response time to assist victims in emergency situations across the FRSC's several unit commands and outposts across Nigeria. Permanent structures have been built and commissioned at various sector commands, to improve the infrastructure assets of the Commission for enhanced productivity. The FRSC Academy in Udi, Enugu State, a pioneer training institution devoted to road safety research, training and management in Africa, became fully operational at its permanent location, in 2014, the very year Oyeyemi was appointed. The academy is affiliated to the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) to award postgraduate diplomas and masters' degree certificates in road safety. 


His leadership has also opened the doors of trainings and opportunities to top FRSC officials who have attended NIPSS, the Nigerian Defence College (NDC) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). These have been targeted to broaden the knowledge base of officers, sharpen their skills and provide a platform for interaction and networking with senior officials from other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and indeed foreign participants. Officers have also benefited from various training programmes and refresher courses, within and outside the country.


An FRSC post-service housing scheme has also been inaugurated under the leadership of the incumbent COMACE, with a target of 20,000 units, as part of staff welfare initiatives. The Oyeyemi milieu has also sustained its collaboration with other countries in traffic management and administration. Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Tanzania, have savoured Nigeria's collaboration in the training of personnel and establishment of road safety agencies. The FRSC has also continued to emphasise its zero tolerance for corruption. There is a subsisting monitoring and surveillance team to check on personnel on duty. Patrol vehicles are coded and personnel must wear their name tags whenever they are on official duty. Erring personnel are subjected to very stringent disciplinary procedures, which could include outright dismissal from service. 


For his undying passion to his chosen profession, his commitment to the discharge of his responsibilities, the innovations he has brought to bear on transport safety, and his tangible altruism, Oyeyemi has been a serial medallist over the years. He is perhaps the very first top official in the FRSC, to be admitted into the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, earning the attribution of "Member of the National Institute," (mni). He has been  awarded the "National Productivity Order of Merit," (NPoM). He has also been decorated with the respected national honour of "Member of the Order of the Federal Republic," (MFR). Oyeyemi, in 2017, earned a doctorate degree, (PhD), in Public Administration from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). He noted, at a reception hosted in his honour after his convocation, that it took 14 long years of doggedness and resilience, for him to finally put the degree to bed. He told his hosts that he began studies leading to the award of the doctorate, back in 2002. The high mobility of his job which took him across the country, however, ensured he couldn't complete the programme on schedule. He has presented papers at various fora and conferences, on a broad range of issues in the traffic sector, at home and abroad. 


Much as he is from Oke-Ero local government area in Kwara State, Boboye Oyeyemi was born Thursday November 26, 1960, in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. He attended Baptist Primary School, Oke Ado, Ibadan and Christ's High School, respectively and his father a clergyman, with the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), founded by Apostle Joseph Ayodele Babalola, actually desired his son to cut a career in the Christian Ministry like himself. The younger Oyeyemi, however, opted to beat a different path from his father's. He studied Electrical Engineering at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, before proceeding to the University of Lagos for his postgraduate diploma, (PGD) in Transport Management and a Master's degree in Public Administration, (MPA), respectively. 


Oyeyemi's typical day begins with the mandatory morning household devotion, at the family altar. Next, he gets on the treadmill to burn calories and prep himself up before confronting the day's activities and challenges. A lover of pets, he has been able to forge an alliance for mutual coexistence between dogs, peacocks and geese in his house. If he is in Abuja at the weekends, he plays his favourite game of lawn tennis at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja, where he is a member of the "Elders' Corner" of the elite Abuja Tennis Club, and chills out with members of the club, drawn from a broad canvas of Nigerians and even expatriates.


Boboye Oyeyemi is a genuine character. You think he merely wants to walk his guest to the door of the elevator in his office floor. But you are mistaken. He accompanies you all the way down to your car, quietly teaching his subordinates, the lessons, tenets and beauty of humility. By the time he completes his second tour of duty as COMACE, July 23, 2022, he would chalked up yet another medal, making history perhaps the longest serving chief executive in the history of the Federal Road Safety Commission, (FRSC), in one long, uninterrupted stretch beginning from 2014. 


*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Member of the Association of Communications Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria (ACSPN)


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