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Carnage on the roads

April 13, 2012

What the morrow brings will be nothing but even further grief; for, there is nothing but more lawlessness on the tanker front. Which only goes to confirm that Nigeria’s real problem is that the law may be there but no one is obeying it; and there is no one to enforce compliance or even so much as show any care or concern.

With their drug-assisted [ICD] alcohol-aided, 24-hour work schedule and sleep-deprived-eye, no-rest culture, tanker and trailer drivers are veritable pilots of speeding truck bombs waiting to crash—constituting killing fields of mishandled technology gone wild.

For this reason, tankers and other articulated long trucks have become the untouchables of Nigerian roads—a menace on the highways and an even bigger menace off it, as, with their wrong kerb-parking, they turned dual carriageways into single in Kwanar Dangora [Kafin Maiyaki], in Abuja’s Tafa, in Kaduna’s Mararrabar Jos, in Ibadan’s Bodija and in Okigwe in the East. These places are accidents waiting to happen and they constitute a potential cauldron of some future catastrophic inferno. The situation had become so bad that, as he launched the new national driver’s licence on September 2, 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan found it necessary to direct for the removal of tankers and trailers packed in such a manner as obstructed the free flow of traffic.

The main causes of road accidents all over the world are three: human factor, that is, driver behaviour; equipment failure, that is, lack of roadworthiness in vehicles; and road condition. In Nigeria, because of a combination of a number of unfortunate factors, all the three are present and they are at their worst.

Driver misbehaviour ranges from plain recklessness caused by any of drunkenness, drug abuse and general indiscipline; or by sleeping at the wheels due to a lack of proper rest for drivers, or the equally dangerous, illegal use of karen mota, unlicensed driver’s mate, as co-pilot. Recklessness may also arise as a result of the ignorance of, or wilful failure to abide by, the rules of the Highway Code—such as the failure to signal intention to turn, refusal to give the right of way to other road users and resorting to frequent and dangerous lane change at top speed. It has been said that on Nigerian roads what one often encounters is not just mere ignorance but ignorragance—a deliberate compounding of ignorance and arrogance made worse by a daredevilry that shames the Grand Prix.

And because of this unchecked daredevilry of drivers who, despite knowing the risks, ignore the dangers and drive ever so dangerously, some of the vehicles they drive have come to a acquire a name and a life of their own.

In the early 1970’s, the converted Peugeot pickup reigned supreme as Shiga di Alwalarka [Say Your Last Prayers] but with the establishment of Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria, PAN, plant in Kaduna, it was succeeded by the new roomier Peugeot Station Wagon, the famous Gilma [Lightning Flash]. Later on Ford Transit and Toyota Hiace and Urvan joined the fray; and, among them, the four models have consumed a whole generation of Nigerians.

In the early 1990’s, Volkswagen Golf replaced the Peugeot pickup as the new Dafa Duka [Jollof Death]. And all of a sudden, the peril to end all perils, and death to end all deaths—the Opel Vectra, Bauchi ko Lahira [Fastest Track to Hell] entered the scene and drove out all competition. As they pass each other on the way, the Vectra drivers flash out their fingers and you will think that they are giving the victory-sign. You are wrong. They are telling each other that they have reached their average cruising speed—200 kilometres per hour!

And the death toll has kept on mounting because no one cares. This manner of driving was simply inconceivable and such outrage couldn’t have happened in Bauchi or indeed in the entire North East zone during the time of Kaptan Popio Muli, or in the North West zone with Muhtari Cikingida standing sentinel over the roads.

But today, there is even official daredevilry. There is perhaps no commercial driver in Nigeria, not even from the ranks of the Vectrans, to beat convoy drivers in pure recklessness and official ignorragance. The malicious hooliganism involved in convoy driving and the indiscriminate use of the siren are among the most avoidable causes of roads accidents in the country today. The issue of the siren and the fact that it causes accidents and helps in the commission of serious crime got so bad that early last year, then Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim announced a total ban on the illegal use of siren which had become really too rampant. But apparently the ban didn’t prove total, and it was almost universally ignored was ignored. The president himself personally found it necessary to announce another total ban—but it was totally ignored.

During the First Republic, the political executives then only used sirens when they went for or returned from state functions. Its proper use was only by the fire service, the hospitals and other emergency services; and even them, only when “there is a high probability of death or serious injury to an individual or group of people, or a significant loss of property;” and only if the use of the siren will reduce its severity. Here everyone uses it, and it is used even by the people who are supposed to stop others from using it. But even when used properly, a siren cannot and should not empower anyone to break traffic rules or drive without due care for other road users.

Besides human error, many accidents do happen because a vehicle is not roadworthy; and because roadworthiness is not regularly enforced, not surprisingly, equipment regularly fails. Brakes do fail, and they have every reason to fail, considering that drivers have been known to routinely put a solution of OMO detergent in the braking system instead of using the standard hydraulic fluid recommended. It will require about 600 Naira to buy enough of the recommended fluid to fill the entire system. A worn-out tyre may also blow out while on speed; and if the driver, as most often happens, become panic-stricken and applies the brakes, that may be it.

But the car may be roadworthy while the road is itself not car-worthy. Besides killer potholes, there are killer bumps and killer checkpoints, erected by the police in the past [Thank you IG Mohammed B. Abubakar] and now by soldiers, that have all become veritable killing-fields. In addition, there are numerous dangerous intersections and even more dangerous bends along the highways that have over the years acquired the status of notorious death traps at which countless lives have been lost. These could and should have been straightened out or otherwise made safer; but, because no one cared, the avoidable deaths had continued. For years, the Abuja-Lokoja road had been claiming an estimated 6,000 persons and the Abuja-Lafia road 1,000 persons per annum.

The sad truth, however, is that matters have actually been getting progressively worse, and within the space of two decades, for instance, fatalities on Nigerian roads had more than quintupled. According to a study, 18,000 people died in road accidents between 1960 and 1969, but more than 92,000 perished between 1980 and 1989. And in one year alone [2009], the World Health Organization, WHO, estimated that 32,000 people died of road accidents in Nigeria, but the Federal Road Safety Corps said less than 5,000 people died between 2006 and 2009.

The savagery of our accident might be gleaned from this comparison. For instance, while in France a person is killed in 175 accidents and in South Africa one is killed in 47, in Nigeria, a person gets killed in three accidents [actually 2.65]. Estimates of property damage are unreliable because of a lack of accurate figures; but they have ranged from 186 billion to 954 billion naira annually.

In order to put a stop to all this, government must seek to control the consumption of alcohol and drugs, especially by long-distance drivers, check the roadworthiness of all vehicles, control the speed of all classes of drivers, maintain the roads well, ban the conveyance of petrol in jerry cans by commercial drivers, and begin to punish accidents severely.

Now, all deaths in road accidents involving recklessness should be treated and tried as culpable homicide or voluntary manslaughter, and drivers convicted should be put to death; and owners of vehicles should be held responsible for the payment of compensation for all lives lost, limbs disfigured and all infrastructure destroyed including parts of the roads. We must finally accept that accidents are not caused by God; they are caused by careless drivers and an uncaring officialdom. This nation must learn to make all of them pay dear for it.

Culled from DailyTrust, Friday 13th April 2012

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