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Nigeria’s famished roads

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Wale Sokunbi CURRENTS
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08111813039

Since January 4, 2013 when the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) confirmed that no fewer than 280 people died and 1,600 were injured in road accidents in the country between December 19, 2012 to January 4, 2013, Nigeria has witnessed a growing spate of ghastly accidents which suggest that the next accident figures to be released by the FRSC may be very high.

Of late, it appears that the country’s hungry roads have become even more famished than usual. There are now cases of single accidents claiming dozens of lives. The case of the 36 passengers who died in the April 5 ghastly accident at Ugbogui, in Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State, is particularly touching. Male and female, young and old, the victims bought their tickets at the motor park, hopeful for a safe journey to their destination.

When they put their names on the manifest of the transport company, and provided telephone numbers of their next-of-kin, they must have believed that it was just routine; something that is demanded by the major transport companies in case anything happened to some of their passengers along the way. They certainly didn’t expect that anything untoward would happen to them, otherwise, they would have gladly given up their tickets and returned to their houses.

To the victims, it was a journey like many others they had undertaken in the past, but that was not to be. That singular journey ended in tragedy at Ugbogui, near Okada, where a trailer with a burst tyre ran into a stationary fuel tanker on the road and fell on their vehicle. The ensuing fire killed 36 persons in what can be rightly described as one of the worst road tragedies of this year. Also at Npkor, near Onitsha, a speeding trailer reportedly lost control, ran into a bus, and fell on traders trooping out of the Nkpor Main Market around 5 pm, killing 18 persons. Innocent traders just leaving the market for their various homes died a brutish and unexpected death.

The Northern and South Western parts of the country have not been free of these ghastly accidents, either. The FRSC confirmed the death of 14 people in an accident that happened when a driver of a commercial bus ran into a truck parked along the road at Zabali village, along Bauchi-Potiskum Road in Yobe State, in January. Indeed, there has been hardly any week when there is no report of a major accident. Reports of road fatalities are everywhere, with a journalist, John Abba-Ogbodo, The Guardian’s Associate Political Editor, also falling victim at Anyigba, Kogi State, while on a journey to Awka, in the Eastern part of the country.

One notable fact about many of the accidents that have recorded high casualty rates in the country of late is that the accidents involved petroleum tankers, and other articulated trucks. It is either that the articulated vehicles lost control and rammed into other vehicles or they were left on the roads after breaking down and other vehicles ran into them. The Corps Marshall of the FRSC, Mr. Osita Chidoka, confirmed this much during a Stakeholders Safety Forum with a delegation from one of the oil multinationals in April. According to the FRSC boss, 40 percent of deaths from road accidents in the country are caused by petroleum tankers.

Tankers also caused 20 percent of road accidents in the country in the past two years. These are high figures that call for special strategies from the FRSC to reduce the risk that tankers and other articulated trucks pose to other road users. Apart from the fact that many of the tankers may not be in a fit and proper state to be on the roads, drivers of articulated trucks are usually aggressive and reckless in their attitude to other road users. They also speed more than is safe for their size and condition. They are also not always in a good state, which is why reports of brake failure are rife among them.

The FRSC needs to devise a way to ensure that articulated vehicles are in a good shape before venturing onto expressways. While tankers are not solely responsible for all accidents in the country, the high fatalities recorded in accidents involving them suggests that they must be properly managed so that they do not constitute danger to road users. It is good that the FRSC has identified the role that the tankers, along with other vehicles, play in car crashes. Apart from articulated trucks, other factors that have been found to contribute to road accidents is human behaviour.

Human error, especially while overtaking, has been identified as another frequent cause of road accidents. There is also the problem of broken down vehicles being left on the roadside until other vehicles run into them. The problems of vehicles with faulty brakes and bad tyres bursting on motion are also rife. There is, of course, the problem of our dilapidated roads. Potholes cause a whole lot of accidents as vehicles often lose control when they run into them. Overspeeding is, perhaps, the most serious cause of accidents, since most road situations can be controlled by the driver if he is not on a high speed. It is with regard to overspeeding that the FRSC needs to do more.

The agency needs to check the deadly speed at which some vehicles, including articulated trucks, navigate our highway. Truly, the Corps has been trying on this. Osita, in January, said the agency stopped over 36,000 vehicles, cautioned 26,000 drivers and booked 13,000 during its Ember months programme. About 399 offenders were arraigned before the FRSC mobile court, 370 drivers fined and 25 discharged. All these indicate that the FRSC is very much involved in efforts to keep our roads safe, but it must still do more.

It used to be the practice in the past that road safety officials were very visible on our roads. They were not only visible, they were very much committed to ensuring that speed limits were not violated. At least in the early 80s, I can recall that vehicles were frequently pulled over and drivers were booked for overspeeding. At that time, the fear of FRSC on our roads was the beginning of wisdom and most drivers tried to stay within the, I think, 100 kilometres per hour speed limit. At that time, FRSC vehicles were so many on the roads and it appeared that they had their own equipment that they used to determine the speed of oncoming vehicles.

I doubt if this is still being done today as vehicles are now seen driving at break-neck speed while law enforcement officials on the roads appear more concerned about checking vehicle particulars and asking for roger. The safety component of security agencies and road safety officials’ work on our highways needs to be revved up. Beyond overspeeding, many of our expressways are death traps with gaping gullies that can throw the most roadworthy vehicle and best driver off balance. Nigeria needs to declare an emergency on roads. Even where there are no funds to rehabilitate entire stretches of highways, the deadly spots ought to be identified and repaired regularly.

The very bad roads in some parts of the country portray nothing but sheer irresponsibility on the part of the Federal Government. People die so carelessly on these roads. It is a shame that such horrible roads exist in a country where there is a government. While it is not possible to eliminate road accidents totally, the spate of accidents in the country dictates that something must be done to reduce the carnage on these roads .

The FRSC is doing a lot to keep the casualty figures low. But, it must do more to ensure that only roadworthy vehicles ply our roads and that broken down vehicles are quickly removed to ensure that other vehicles do not run into them. There should be sign boards to mark dangerous portions of roads and all potholes should be filled.

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