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Cablegate: Nigeria Supports Us Initiative On Distracted Driving

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TAGS: ECON SENV SOCI UNDP UNGA NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA SUPPORTS US INITIATIVE ON DISTRACTED DRIVING

REF: STATE 6703

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SUMMARY

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1. (SBU) Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Economic
Counselor delivered reftel points on distracted driving to the
Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Acting Permanent
Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Federal Road
Safety Commission Corps Marshal and Chief Executive, respectively,
and encouraged strong legal measures against driving while using
cell phones. All three Nigerian officials acknowledged the need
for such measures and pledged support for the U.S. initiative,
including supporting a possible United Nations resolution against
the use of cell phones while driving. END SUMMARY.

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MFA CHARACTERIZES EXECUTIVE ORDER AS A "WONDERFUL INITIATIVE"

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2. (SBU) Ambassador Sanders delivered reftel points on distracted
driving to Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ojo Maduekwe during
a telephone conversation on January 23. Maduewkwe said this is a
"wonderful initiative" and one that Nigeria would support. He
added that thousands of lives are lost every year because of the
use of cell phones while driving and that this is something Nigeria
needs to address. Ambassador Sanders committed to presenting the
U.S. non-paper on the subject and engaging key government officials
in follow-up discussions on the topic. She added that Mission
members would engage the Acting Permanent Secretary for Foreign
Affairs and the Chief Executive of the Nigerian Federal Road Safety
Administration (FRSC) in the coming days. Maduekwe, a former
Minister of Transport, concluded that "a world-wide effort on this
is very much needed."

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NIGERIA PREPARED TO SUPPORT A UN RESOLUTION ON DISTRACTED DRIVING

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3. (SBU) The Charge delivered reftel points on distracted driving
to Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ambassador Anthony A. Sekudo on February 3. Sekudo agreed that
talking on cell phone while driving is unsafe and mentioned other
hazardous examples, including "smoking and listening to the radio."
Sekudo said that "Nigeria is quite prepared to collaborate on this
matter, as it is beneficial to both governments and our two
peoples." He added that "if the U.S. is ready to sponsor a
resolution within the United Nations (UN), the Government of
Nigeria (GON) will support it, if not co-sponsor it."

4. (SBU) The Charge also left a newspaper article on an automobile
accident that took place on February 1 near the Nigerian Foreign
Minister's residence and an American Embassy compound in which a
driver talking on a cell phone became distracted and ran into a
crowd of roadside construction workers, killing five of them
instantly and injuring a sixth. Sekudo emphasized that the U.S.
can "rest assured of continued GON cooperation and collaboration on
all affairs, especially during Nigeria's two-year tenure on the UN
Security Council." He reiterated this message while referring to
the U.S. and Nigeria as "close friends" and noting that "the U.S.
should be more understanding on issues." (NOTE: This is a
reference to the GON's on-going complaint against Nigeria's
appearance on the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration's (TSA)
listing of countries of concern. END NOTE).

ABUJA 00000248 002 OF 002


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CELL PHONES USAGE WHILE DRIVING ILLEGAL IN NIGERIA

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5. (SBU) The Economic Counselor and Transportation Officer also
delivered reftel points to the Federal Road Safety Commission
(FRSC) Corps Marshal and Chief Executive Osita Chidoka and his
Special Assistant Janet Adepegba on January 28. Chidoka said he
attended the Moscow Ministerial Conference on Global Safety
(November 19-20) and was pleased with the "strong" message U.S.
Secretary of Transportation La Hood delivered. Chidoka, who serves
as President of the West African Road Safety Organization (WARSO)
and as Chairperson for the African Countries International Road
Safety Organization, said he welcomed the initiative and expressed
willingness to fully cooperate in addressing the growing problem of
cell phone usage while driving. He noted that cell phone usage of
any kind while operating a motor vehicle is against federal law in
Nigeria and that offenders can be subject to arrest and/or fines.
He added that cell phone usage under this law includes talking,
emailing, and text messaging. Chidoka agreed that more should be
done to enforce the law and sought U.S. assistance in strengthening
the GON's capacity to prosecute offenders. He was specifically
interested in learning how the FRSC's U.S. counterparts deal with
drivers who claim that they were not using cell phones at the time
they were stopped by the road safety police. (NOTE: Chidoka
complained that some Nigerian drivers are so technologically savvy
that they delete their most recent cell phone messages between the
time they are pulled over and the time the road safety police have
time to ask for their cell phones. END NOTE).

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NIGERIAN ROAD SAFETY TRENDS

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6. (SBU) Chidoka provided some accident figures, most of which did
not distinguish distracted driving from cell phone use as the cause
for crashes, injuries, and fatalities. He promised to forward
additional data in the coming days (NOTE: Post will transmit
expected GON data via septel. END NOTE). The total number of
crash-related fatalities declined in 2008 and 2009, according to
Chidoka. He did not provide specific numbers but attributed the
decline to increased FRSC enforcement against overloading by
commercial minibuses and greater police presence in the
southeastern part of the country during the most recent holiday
season. He said that the majority of recorded car-crash fatalities
occurred in the northwestern part of the country and cited
passenger overloading as the key culprit. Chidoka explained that
many commercial drivers were overloading 15-seater vans with 18 or
more people, making their vehicles unstable and endangering the
lives of the occupants. Chidoka agreed that more could be done to
collect accident statistics directly related to cell phone usage.

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COMMENT

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7. (SBU) Anecdotal evidence suggests that Nigeria, with its poor
road conditions and signage, excessive speeding, poor motor vehicle
maintenance and repair practices, and lack of well-equipped and
staffed trauma centers, suffers from a high rate of vehicular
accidents and their aftermath. That said, it is encouraging that
Nigeria already has federal laws against cell phone usage while
driving and enhanced enforcement of these laws and greater public
awareness could save many lives. The federal laws could also be
introduced and enforced at the state level, as many roads in the
country are under state jurisdiction. The Mission will continue to
engage the FRSC and will attempt to facilitate the FRSC-requested
training from its U.S. counterparts.
SANDERS

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