Opinion: Avoiding accidents on Nigeria’s ‘killer’ roads – By BABATOPE BABALOBI
There is no road accident free day in Nigeria, as at least one to two road accidents are recorded daily. A three-prong factor is responsible for the carnage on Nigeria roads: the roads are bad, most vehicles are not road worthy, and the drivers are generally reckless. We have killer roads, killer vehicles, and killer drivers causing Nigeria to have one of the highest rates of road accidents and deaths by accident, globally.
Nigeria was ranked second highest, in rate of road accidents out of 193 ranked countries of the world in 2013, and road accidents adjudged the third leading cause of deaths in Nigeria. Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) reported 5,053 road deaths in 2016, and this increased to 5,121 in 2017. A year later, exactly second quarter of 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported a staggering 9,769 deaths through road accidents.
However, World Health Organisation (WHO) believes these figures under report the reality on ground, as its Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, estimated road deaths through accidents at 39,802 in 2016 or 21.4% per 100,000, meaning out of 10 people that set out to travel, 2 often sadly end up in the mortuary. Officially, WHO has declared Nigeria the most dangerous country in Africa as per road safety, as road traffic injuries are now the leading killer of people aged 5-29 years, and the greatest cause of violent deaths in Nigeria next to Boko haram.
There is hardly any family in Nigeria that has not lost a loved one to road accidents. Stars have been cut down at noon, wives have been widows, children have become fatherless, and youth corpers have ended their national service abruptly through road accidents.
Some of the famous casualties of road accidents include former President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Dr Festus Iyayi, whose Toyota bus was hit by a convoy of the Kogi state Governor on November 12, 2013 in a fatal accident in Lokoja. Three journalists died in the convoy of the then Governor of Edo State, now Chairman of APC Adams Oshiomole when returning from a party function in April, 2012; three aides of the then Governor Al-Makura of Nasarawa died in auto crash involving the Governor’s convoy along Gadabuke – Keffi Road in 2012; and Aide the Camp to former Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shema and four others died in a road accident involving the governor’s convoy in 2011.
An end of year ugly trademark in Nigeria is the number of lives lost through road accidents as commuters travel wide and far to celebrate the yuletide with loved ones. In 2010, 2005 people died through road accidents, with the festive month of December recording the highest fatalities, and Lagos leading the other 35 states. But carnage on the roads is not limited to the ember months, it is an all year occurrence.
Some roads in Nigeria are high risk on account on the human lives that have been lost therein through road accidents over the years. The notorious roads are Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Ore- Benin expressway, Abuja- Lokoja-Okene expressway, Enugu- Port Harcourt Expressway, and Abuja- Kaduna. Commuters travel on such roads with fear and trepidation, everyone calling on his God during the journey.
In Nigeria, the fear of travelling is beginning of wisdom, and if its unavoidable, the journey is often preceded by fervent prayers, and at times ended with thanksgiving and testimonies of journey mercies.
In long-distance motor garages, there are professional motor park evangelists whose duty is to pray for travellers shortly before commencement of interstate journeys. They have a rehearse ‘brief’ sermon cum prayer which often ends with calls for offering to support the ‘work of God’. Nigerians being religious seldom forget to start every journey with fervent prayers committing the driver, passengers, tyres, car engine, and security forces on the road to the arms of the Almighty God, rebuking all rebukeables including blood sucking demons, invisible evil spirits, and witches on the road, and decreeing an accident free journey.
The fact that most commuters forget to thank God at the end of such journeys underlies the fact that these emergency prayers are really borne out of fear. The fact that several ‘godless’ countries have lower rates of accidents indicates accidents are largely man made and accident free journeys lies more in our hands, than in the hands of God, notwithstanding the truth that God indeed protects.
Road accidents are quite preventable as the major and minor causes are in the public knowledge. Over speeding is the No1 cause, followed by overloading, bad roads, pot holes, lack of vehicle maintenance, vehicle malfunctioning such as faulty braking system, poor lightings, wipers, mechanical faults, extreme weather conditions, driving on one way against the traffic, distraction caused by text messaging, telephone conversation, non-use of safety belts, negligence by traffic management and road safety agencies, indiscriminate use of sirens by politicians and influential Nigerians, and non-observance of traffic regulations.
Other causes are drivers’ fatigue, sleeplessness, reckless driving, I can drive attitude by untrained drivers, risky attitude by pedestrians, non-respect for pedestrian crossings, emotional problems, stress, family challenges, and financial pressures faced by drivers. Corruption, the national cankerworm seems to have eaten partly to the Traffic Management and Road Safety agencies such as Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), State Traffic Management Agencies and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) leading to lowering of standards and non-enforcement of traffic rules.
There are remarkable features of road accidents in Nigeria. In terms of vehicles, the most common occurrences involve Petrol tankers, haulage trailers loaded with cement, commuter buses, privately owned mass transit transport luxury buses, and private cars. The National Statistics 2nd quarter 2018 estimated vehicle population in Nigeria as at second quarter 2018 at 11,760,871; most of these vehicles have been used for up to 15 years prior to importation from European countries.
Preventive measures to curb carnage on the roads include: ban on alcohol sales in motor parks, reducing of risky behaviour while driving such as eating, drink driving, WhatsApp chatting, and phone conversations, all year round road pavement maintenance, mandatory use of seat beats, use of hands free phones, effective use of safety devices such as helmets for motorcycles, and taking personal responsibility for safety through defensive driving.
Other measures to curb road accidents include review and re-enactment of Body Alcoholic Contents (BACs) laws and routine testing at checkpoints to enforce the maximum permissible limits of 0.5 g/l., massive public enlightenment, continuous trainings of drivers, limiting of use of sirens, enforcement of speed regulations, and regulating travel time of drivers daily.
A scholar, Nwokoro, 2005 recommended thorough inspection of vehicles to determine road worthiness before registration including thorough inspection of number of years vehicle has been used, rear and side view mirrors, windscreen wipers, speedometer, brakes and brake lights, trafficators, reverse and parking lights and so on.
However, the solution to the carnage on roads is development of alternative means of mass transport. As long as 200m Nigerians depend mainly on bad roads, bad vehicles, and untrained drivers to move from one town to another, road fatalities on the road may continue.
It is gladdening that the Nigerian Road Safety Strategy (NRSS 2016-20) which is based on United Nations Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety has been approved by the Federal Executive Council. The nation awaits its implementation.
Meanwhile, this festive season and indeed all year round, drive carefully and defensively, don’t drive if you are not trained to drive, avoid over speeding, refrain from drink driving, fix your vehicle before your travel, watch out for the several potholes and bad spots on Nigerian’s roads, stop occasionally on long distance journeys to wade off fatigue, consider the rights of other road users, obey traffic signs and speed limits, and be extra alert while driving on notorious expressways. If you keep these rules, you are most likely arrive your destination to the waiting hands of your loved ones, safely. An accident free Nigeria is indeed possible.
Babatope Babalobi [email protected] +234 8035 897435 is a Doctorate researcher, Department of Health, University of Bath, UK