A fortnight ago, a runaway oil tanker truck exploded in a crowded bus station in Onitsha, Anambra state, and set ablaze 12 buses carrying passengers, killing 69 people while about 30 others have been hospitalised with severe burns. It was reported that the truck was barreling down a hill when the brakes failed and it veered off the road to rammed into the crowded bus station before exploding. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State wept when he visited the scene of the tragic accident. The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) expressed sympathy on behalf of the federal government, when he visited the scene of the accident and the surviving victims in the hospital last week.
Beyond the shedding of tears for the victims of the accident, the federal and the various state governments should adopt drastic measures to stop the carnage on our roads. This has become urgent as Nigeria is said to have the highest road accident rate in the world, as well as the largest number of deaths per 10,000 vehicles. The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) should henceforth prosecute all reckless drivers, including those who drive public officers and the owners of vehicles that ply the roads when they are not roadworthy. The reports of road accidents should be made available to members of the public with a view to ensuring that drivers of vehicles involved in road accidents are prosecuted.
With respect to the brutal killing of Professor Festus Iyayi by a driver in the convoy of Governor Idris Wada on November 12, 2013, along the Lokoja-Abuja road, our call for the prosecution of the suspects fell on deaf ears. In frustration, we had to file an action at the Federal High Court to compel the FRSC to file charges against the suspects. It was when the case was pending in court that the FRSC filed charges at the magistrate court, Lokoja, Kogi State against the driver and a construction company which were indicted in the investigation. Even then, desperate moves have been made to frustrate the prosecution of the suspects!
Having expressed sympathy with the victims and the bereaved relatives of those who were killed in the tragic accident in Onitsha, the Anambra State Governor must ensure that a full investigation is carried out with a view to prosecuting the owner of the vehicle for not servicing the vehicle, which led to the brake failure that caused the accident. If the driver survives the accident, he should be fished out and prosecuted for criminal negligence and manslaughter. More importantly, the Anambra State government should coordinate the filing of civil suits against the owner of the vehicle for monetary compensation payable to each of the victims and the dependents of all those who lost their lives in the inferno. As far as the Fatal Accident Law of Anambra State is concerned, he owner of the vehicle is vicariously liable for the accident. Of course, the owner is at liberty to contact the insurance company which insured the vehicle to bear the damages payable in the circumstance.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.