Death and Nigeria’s roads
Although the late Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi, SAN, who died with his wife and son in a motor accident, on the Abuja-Kaduna road has been laid to rest, the issues generated by the painful deaths demand sober reflection and frank postulations for public enlightenment.
Certainly, what happened to the Ocholis is the daily predicament of the ordinary Nigerian on any of the nation’s roads.
And this fact draws attention to a joint study once carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank and Harvard University. The study forecast that in 2020, road crashes would become the third leading causes of deaths and disability. Another study carried out a few years ago posited that Nigeria had the second highest rate of road accidents among 193 countries, even as road accidents are said to be the third leading cause of death in Nigeria. A six-month study by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), also indicated that about 1000 people were killed in road accidents, and 65 per cent of this carnage was attributed to over-speeding.
Yet over-speeding is not a ghost in the tarmac or automobile, but rather an effect of voluntary actions. Notwithstanding the preliminary reports offered by the FRSC detailing the primary and secondary causes of death, road accident is an interplay between human actions and three basic factors of road safety, namely, the state of the road, the state of the driver and state of the vehicle.
These Nigerian roads are highways to hell is an apt metaphor for the deplorable, dilapidated death-traps people make their daily thoroughfare. While it is estimated that since 1999, Nigeria has spent over N2 trillion on roads, there seems to be little or nothing to show for that huge sum. From the federal Trunk A roads like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway and down to the Owerri-Port Harcourt-Calabar Expressway; from the winding, pot-holes ridden state-owned Trunk B roads to the bumpy intractable local thoroughfares, Nigerian roads tell a story of utter neglect and unbelievable apathy.
The people of Nigeria are familiar with the corruption-laden system of the economy; of contractors, who, in collusion with standard bearers, inflate contracts, flout specifications, and deliver nothing, only to get away with lots of crimes. How well do these people understand the technology of road-construction? How sincere are they in taking seriously the standard, for instance, in adhering to the thickness of the asphalt, etc? What is so abstract and ethereal in road construction that Nigerian authorities try to mystify and then miss the mark? Perhaps, it is the regard for excellence, commitment, and upholding of standards that elude the authorities.
It is this sort of disregard for standards and institutional apathy that is replayed in the problematic issue of tyres and their specifications. Like every other existential circumstance where Nigerians ‘manage’ their lives, owning a vehicle is also a matter of ‘management.’ In the absence of adequate municipal transport services, Nigerians who own their means of transport would also ‘manage’ spares, engine parts and substandard tyres in order to maintain their vehicles. By so doing, safety is sacrificed on the altar of mobility and unsure comfort.
Beyond bad roads is the physical, mental and psychological state of the one who mans the wheels, the driver. Nigerian road users, especially commercial drivers and even drivers of official vehicles, have been known to ply the road and manage their vehicles with such recklessness or levity as questions their sanity and wellness in terms of aptitude and attitude. How well have drivers been able to comply with intelligence test, eye test, road sign tests, among others? What is their level of understanding of traffic regulations? Do they understand the import of possessing a valid driver’s licence?
Concerning attitude, what is the state of mind of the man behind the wheels? Does he have the power of complete concentration or mental alertness for the period of a journey? Does he have respect for other road users? Does he see the highway as a platform for competition and show-off? What premium does the driver place on human life?
Beyond these queries, the attitude of drivers is also dependent on the treatment meted on them by their employers. It has been found out that employers who treat their drivers with respect and instill in them a sense of dignity for other persons, are likely to feel a greater sense of safety than employers who do otherwise. Thus, employers have the responsibility for proper welfare of their drivers, since this affects the psychological state of the latter. Only a foolish person treats his or her driver with disdain and utter disregard knowing well that his or her life on the road depends on the mental state of that driver.
Even though it is common knowledge that the conditions of vehicles play a great role in the safety of passengers and road users, the misconception that off-road vehicles or Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are ‘safety on wheels,’ has also led to an abuse of the highways by their owners and others who drive them. Viewed as a distinctive mark of opulence or status symbol, SUVs are the vehicle of choice of many who aspire to distinguish themselves from the struggling crowd. Their imposing size, durability, luxurious comfort, exquisite design and lavish adornment with gadgetry are a modern man’s delight. Little wonder politicians, public office holders and successful professionals have acquired it as their vehicle of choice.
However, as automobile experts say, this surreal craftsmanship is complemented by a restricted majestic speed limit, since an SUV has a “high clearance from the ground and so its equilibrium is destabilised at high speed.” Yet how many drivers in the many convoys of public officers and politicians understand this safety guide? When it comes to over-speeding, convoys of government officials are the worst culprits; and they have bequeathed onto other road users who cherish their madness, this indiscipline, apathy and disregard for human life.
Whether it is due to bad roads, the state of the driver or the state of the vehicle, road accidents are not unconscious or non-rational occurrences. They occur through the deliberate action or inaction of governments, and planned actions of people. Therefore, road accidents are preventable.
Nigerians should endeavour to adhere to simple safety regulations that save lives: using the seat belt always when on wheels, observing traffic regulations, carrying out regular maintenance check-ups of vehicles.
On the part of the FRSC, Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) and other relevant agencies, aggressive enlightenment campaigns and objective enforcement of traffic laws should be intensified to achieve a proactive and change-effecting compliance. Accidents, especially road accidents are no respecter of persons. Each person should be wise enough to understand that his or her use of the road is tied to the lives of other road users. All lives matter and should be cherised.