Terror on Nigerian Roads By Dele Agekameh
‘It has become morally compelling for relevant government agencies to launch robust initiatives to decisively deal with the widespread deaths and destruction articulated vehicles are causing through their carelessness, indiscipline and recklessness on Nigerian roads’Road accidents are a common phenomenon all over the world. Perhaps, it is in the realisation of this that governments, the world over, put in place various traffic rules and laws to regulate movements of vehicles on the roads. Sadly, in spite of these, road accidents, with the accompanied fatalities and destruction, have become a common, ugly sight on our roads.
In Nigeria and most of other developing countries, especially African countries, the frequency of road accidents has turned the whole thing into an epidemic of some sort. Every other day, precious lives are lost on the roads while goods and other economic lifelines are destroyed. This situation has become so worrisome that many analysts now tend to conclude that the greatest killer decimating the world’s population, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is no longer the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, but uncontrollable road traffic accidents.
The statistics are staggering. The country is reputed to have the second highest rate of road accidents among 193 countries, and deaths from reckless driving are the third leading cause of death in Nigeria. In its grim half-year report released in June 2013, the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, an agency saddled with the responsibility of bringing sanity to Nigerian roads, declared that no fewer than 2,422 persons died while 11, 961 were injured in 3,708 road accidents between January and June of last year. Comparatively, this was the highest figure in the past three years. In the 2011 half-year report, 2,218 people lost their lives, while in the same period in 2012, 1,926 deaths were recorded — a 21.6 percent reduction that has now jumped to the latest frightening record of 2,422. Although the agency is yet to release the June to December 2013 figures, these statistics are alarming. This is even more so as the statistics may not have captured the total number of deaths through accidents on our roads.
Ordinarily, these gory statistics should be enough caution against recklessness on our highways. But they are not. The scale of tragedies occasioned by road traffic accidents continued on its spiral swing in Lagos last Wednesday following an accident in which a 33,000-litre capacity tanker fully loaded with premium motor spirit (petrol) fell and ignited a wild fire. No fewer than 52 lives and property worth billions of naira were reportedly lost to the inferno. The following day, barely 24 hours after that tragedy, another tanker laden with 33,000 litres of petrol fell into a ditch in the Iju area, on the outskirt of Lagos, spilling some of its contents on the road. Also, last Saturday, yet another petrol tanker laden with 33,000 litres, crashed around Ajasa Bus Stop in the Meiran area of the State. Like the previous one in Iju, the tanker driver was said to have lost control and rammed into a fully-loaded passenger bus. Luckily, no life was lost in the two incidents as rescue efforts promptly arrived.
What the three incidents above illustrate is that oil tankers, tipper lorries, luxury buses and other articulated vehicles have continued to maintain their unenviable position as the most dangerous vehicles and number one killers of people on Nigerian roads. And as it is, there is no let-up in their destructive tendencies all over the place. The growing menace of these articulated vehicle drivers and the failure of relevant authorities to permanently tackle the problem have brought untold hardship to the citizens, while the economy has been worse off.
Whenever the drivers of these vehicles ply the roads, they appear to carry on with the notion that they are ‘kings of the road,’ a name that they have notoriously acquired because of their recklessness. It is even considered foolhardy for any motorist to ride alongside or behind a tanker or trailer bearing a container. Many people have lost their lives when unlatched containers slid off flat-bed trucks and landed on moving vehicles, motorcycles, road side petty traders or other passers-by. Sometimes ago, a truck carrying a container slipped and landed on a car at the Anthony Bridge on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos. All the three occupants of the car died instantly. A few months after that, no fewer than three persons lost their lives when a 40-feet containerized vehicle fell on a Mazda car on Badagry-Seme Expressway.
About six weeks ago, Nigeria lost Adeola Ayodeji Nejo, a lecturer at Babcock University, Illishan, Ogun state. The promising young academic and two of his three children were crushed to death by an over-speeding truck along Ibadan-Lagos Expressway. His jeep was hit by the truck which dragged it along for some time. The surviving son, his second child, just about 4 years old, is still receiving treatment at Babcock University Teaching Hospital. Nejo, who could have moved to Achievers University, Owo, this January, was going to meet his wife, who had already joined the services of the University ahead of him, when tragedy struck. The Nejos are Ph.D holders in Chemistry. The catalogue of woe is lengthy.
Besides causing avoidable deaths to road users, the drivers of articulated vehicles also constitute some nuisance to other road users as they often block the highways at the slightest provocation. There have been several instances where truck drivers deliberately rammed into other vehicles in an avoidable contest for space. If you have ever encountered them on the highways while driving, you will know that it is hellish plying the same highway as trailer drivers. Go to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The way they drive is terrible. They don’t care about any traffic rules especially those who take off from the trailer park, located in Ibafo on the Expressway. Other road users have to be extra careful because by the time you blink, they would have crashed into your car. They don’t have any iota of respect for any other motorist simply because they see themselves as the ‘kings of the road’.
In 1993, the petroleum tanker drivers, under the umbrella of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG, held the entire nation to ransom by withdrawing their trucks. They were buoyed by the fierceness displayed by Frank Kokori, its then-national secretary, during the political turmoil precipitated by the struggle for the actualisation of June 12, 1993 election results. For many weeks, NUPENG successfully paralysed the nation’s socio-economic life. Since then, any time NUPENG is upset with any government policy, it takes the country to the brink by either blocking the roads with its tankers or paralysing the nation’s economy by withdrawing its services. They have continued to use this as a veritable weapon to negotiate and they often have their way even on mundane issues.
Another sore point is the presence of malfunctioning and dilapidated vehicles on our highways. To avoid incessant carnage on our roads, therefore, owners of vehicles should ensure that they are in good working condition before hitting the roads. Drivers should also show consideration for other road users and avoid recklessness while driving. ‘It has become morally compelling for relevant government agencies to launch robust initiatives to decisively deal with the widespread deaths and destruction articulated vehicles are causing through their carelessness, indiscipline and recklessness on Nigerian roads’It has become morally compelling for relevant government agencies to launch robust initiatives to decisively deal with the widespread deaths and destruction articulated vehicles are causing through their carelessness, indiscipline and recklessness on Nigerian roads. Going by the rate of accidents they cause, the current efforts being made to address the fatalities arising from their operations seem to be grossly inadequate. All efforts must be made to curb the menace. The carnage has to be stopped.
The various agencies that should ensure safer roads should work together to save lives. Of course, the roads would be safer if they are well built, well maintained and a culture of obeying traffic regulations is enforced. Above all, the FRSC must fashion a way of re-certifying these vehicles and those who drive them, such that unfit vehicles and drivers plying the roads are quickly removed from the highways before causing any havoc. At any rate, enforcing these measures will go a long way to successfully put the destructive activities of articulated vehicles under check. In addition, the hours of movement of these trucks and trailers could be regulated as it is done in other climes.