Truck drivers’ impunity
It was saddening to know a few days ago that the nation recorded another fatal casualty when three persons; a commercial bus driver, his conductor and a passenger, died when a truck loaded with plywood was involved in an accident on the Ojuelegba Bridge, Surulere, Lagos State. Similar accidents had severally claimed lives in the past including the one that occurred sometime in September 2015, whereby three members of the same family died in which their relations are still pursuing a huge compensation suit in court over the unfortunate case.
It is a known fact that trucks on Nigerian roads habitually indulge in over-loading, over-speeding, carrying of unsecured containers, lane indiscipline, using rickety vehicles, driving with worn-out tyres and lacking safety equipment, among other traffic offences. These acts of lawlessness do not end there. The drivers’ penchant for violating traffic rules and regulations is alarming. Their attitude to vehicle maintenance is scarcely anything cheering and commendable. Their hallmark is to compromise the integrity and road-worthiness of their vehicles with impunity and in the process; endanger the safety of other innocent road users. What we see on our highways are carcasses of countless tankers, trucks and articulated vehicles that remind us of the abuse to which our public utilities have been subjected to in terms of decrepit highways and poorly-maintained public infrastructure such as office equipment, telephone booths, buses, railings, electricity and bridges.
For their arrogance and non-challance, many people believe that most truck drivers are addicted to the consumption of alcohol and hard drugs. Apart from their unruly behaviour, they also give the impression that they are untouchable and can bribe their way out of any infraction if they are ever caught. In fact, I have come to realise that some Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) officials, policemen and even military personnel often desert the roads whenever they see such trucks approaching the check-points manned by them, usually at full speed. This over-confidence on the part of the truck drivers and total disrespect for our law enforcement agents could largely be responsible for why the articulated drivers continue to intimidate drivers of smaller vehicles and in the process, cause many avoidable accidents, deaths and destruction of properties.
Unfortunately, a majority of the truck drivers have been found to have little or no formal education, a factor that could, perhaps, be responsible for why they have become used to their many deviant ways, as many regard themselves as terror and kings of the road. The drivers, from what I have seen so far, are mostly very young people, who exhibit all the exuberance of their youthful ages and restlessness. Therefore, the main issue to contend with has to do with attitudinal problems, on the part of the drivers, as well as the inability of road regulators to enforce the extant laws, so as to punish traffic offenders and violators.
Another attendant problem that should be addressed is due to the fact that, access to the nation’s major ports is virtually non-existent because of the existence of many trucks on the roads. My recent trip to Lagos was horrific. It took me almost two hours to drive through a portion of the Apapa road that should ordinarily take me just about 10 minutes. It was so obvious that rail and road transit to and from the Apapa port has remained paralysed while efforts to salvage the access road to the port through private sector initiative appear not to be achieving desired results. What this means is that commercial activities in the area have been crippled, as residents have been forced to abandon their homes and relocated to other areas, courtesy of truck drivers, as they have turned almost all the roads, bridges and highways into parking lots.
Motorists and other road users are forced to spend unbearable long hours on the traffic before they could reach their various destinations. More importantly, the loss of productive man-hours is unduly fostered by craters and potholes on the roads during this season of rains. To say the least, the trucks and their drivers have become a nuisance. To justify their continued stance, the drivers went on strike to blackmail the government by creating simulated scarcity of petroleum products. They continue to act as if they are above the law with much impunity. They block the roads anytime and anywhere without having feelings for other road users and nothing would happen. Tat times, they had customarily used their vehicles to block bank entrances, making accessibility greatly reduced customers are made to suffer while entering and exiting the banks for legitimate transactions.
There is need to beam more searchlight on the activities of the truck drivers. Traffic management organisations and FRSC should be better empowered to perform their statutory duties through adequate funding that would aid restoring sanity on our roads. Poor standardisation of rules, weak and compromised enforcement, as well as dubious benchmarks for certifying both vehicles and users, made possible due to corruption, constitute a major obstacle for our road administrators. There should better transparency in road administration in the nation. Tankers operating in the country should compulsorily use retroflective tapes to ensure better sighting and anticipation of long vehicles when light from other vehicles are beamed on them, most especially at night when they usually break down at dangerous spots when visibility is poor.
Other law enforcement agencies should be made to fully assist in ensuring safety, aside FRSC. They to command the respect of all road users, including the truck drivers, by shunning unnecessary familiarity, usually encouraged through corrupt practices. desist from collecting bribe money from the drivers, as being alleged.
Furthermore, the ages of the vehicles in an economy such as ours may be an issue, but of greater concern is the maintenance and road-worthiness. Relevant agencies should put in more efforts at engaging the various transport unions on the need for their members to be law-abiding and comply with traffic rules and regulations. They should ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders in mobile courts for reckless parking, dangerous driving, speed limit violation, among other traffic offences.
More importantly, the government should also ensure that our railways begin to function properly without further delay. When this is done, most of the articulated vehicles that are seen wreaking havoc on our roads would no longer have any business in doing so. This can happen only when government muster the courage and political-will to tame the cabal that has made our railways non-functional, despite the huge national resources committed to this troubled aspect of our economy, over the years. Civil society groups and non-governmental organisations should take this impunity up.
There is certainly too much pressure on our roads, which is encouraging carnage. Just like what happened at Ojuelegba and other places across the country. We cannot continue to allow innocent Nigerians to be killed by truck-induced calamities. Let’s do something about road terrorism through truck drivers impunity.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).
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