Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deadlier than HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and heart failure rank among the world killer diseases, however, none of these deadly diseases take as many lives in a year as road accidents. All the world known diseases give their victims a fighting chance of survival through adequate care and management of the sickness; not so with road accident. It often claims its victims with a speed of light while others suffer prolong or permanent disability. The recent statistics released by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) about the spate of road accidents in Nigeria is mind-boggling. According to FRSC, the number of reported cases of road accidents on the country's highways between January and first week of October is put at 8,553. In the incidences, about 4,120 persons lost their lives while 20,975 others were seriously injured in the fatal accidents that involved 11,031 vehicles across the nations. From the statistics, it was clear that the accident rate for this year was on the verge of surpassing that of last year, which recorded 11, 341 accidents with total number of deaths put at 6,661 and 27,980 injured. It should be noted that these are figures of reported cases. It is a known fact that many cases of accidents particularly in sub-urban and rural areas go unreported.

The commission in a statement issued as part of preparations for the FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in Nigeria advised Nigerian motorists and foreign contingents to exhibit extreme caution while plying certain routes designated as dangerous for motorists. The routes designated as black-spots due to some traffic peculiarities associated with them include; Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja, Obollo-Afor-9th Mile-Enugu, Keffi-Akwanga-Jos, Mokwa-Jebba, Lagos-Ibadan and Benin-Ore highways. The statement allegedly signed by the Assistant Corp Marshal in-charge of Operations, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi also warned road users to strictly avoid road vices such as over-loading, speed violation, drunk-driving, route violation, use of cell phone while driving, non use of seat belts and night trips in view of the inherent traffic hazards associated with such practices. Worthy advice, I dare say.

However, what the FRSC statement failed to mention is the deplorable state of most of Nigerian roads. In The Guardian of 28 October 2009 the Managing Director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Kabiru Abdulahi, said that over 80 per cent of federal roads have exceeded their life-span and that what is needed on them is total reconstruction and rehabilitation rather than repairs which he said would amount to waste of funds since they are bound to fail within the shortest possible time. Truthfully, all the routes designated as black-spots by FRSC belonged to the federal government. Nigerian Senate passed a motion recently calling on federal government to urgently repair many of the roads under its watch. That perhaps was part of what spurred government to action to award some of them to contractors.

Though it is a welcome development to have road contracts awarded, however, after the fan-fare of signing agreement and payment of mobilisation fee, the usual practice is that many of these road projects get abandoned soon after because the contractors working on them are often starved of funds. It would be recalled that the Ibadan-Oyo-Ogbomosho- Ilorin road project awarded by Obasanjo administration since 2001 or thereabout has not been completed. The situation is similar in many parts of the country. The criminal negligence of most of the roads in Nigeria is therefore partly responsible for the high rate of accidents on our roads. Allied to this is inadequate or total absence of road signs and poor illumination of our roads at night.

The human elements causing accidents that were itemised by the FRSC in its statement are well known to us. However, how much compliance have the FRSC and other ancillary organisations like the Motor Traffic Division of Nigerian Police and Directorate of Road Traffic Services (Vehicle Inspection Office) been able to enforce? The FRSC report claimed its various command units nationwide were able to nab a total of 309,112 offenders on offences totalling 364,496 ranging from non-use of helmet, seat-belt and number plate violations. Though this is significant arrests over a 10 month period, however, it is a far cry from the number of those who daily commit these infractions. What this means is that there is need for synergy among all the traffic management organisations to enforce compliance with road worthiness and traffic regulations. In Abuja, the ban on commercial motor-bikes from operating in the city-centres has led to huge vehicular traffic to Abuja municipal from the satellite towns. If work can be fast-tracked on the ongoing road expansion and metro-line in the Federal Capital Territory these will ease the present chaotic traffic jam in the FCT. However, the revival of the nationwide railway service holds the key to the decongestion of vehicular traffic on the roads as human commuting and haulage business are cheaper and safer through rail and even waterways. It then behoves government to explore and improve on alternate means of transportation such as rail, water and air. The more traffic is taking off roads, the longer the life-span of the roads.

It is mandatory to cater to the welfare of the personnel of agencies and commissions in charge of traffic management in Nigeria. This is what will make them to eschew corruption. Ill-equipped traffic management organisations cannot perform any magic if they are not well motivated to perform their duties. It is unfortunate that staffs, vehicles, communication gadgets and other operational tools are grossly inadequate for these agencies. Be that as it may, management and staffs of these organisations need to also understand that they are offering humanitarian services and should therefore be patriotic and be alive to their responsibilities even beyond the call of duty. There is no gainsaying that our road culture in Nigeria as at today is awful. Positive attitudinal change from road users is therefore imperative. This can be achieved through sustained public education and sensitization campaigns as well as enforcement of road traffic regulations. Life has no duplicate and as such, all of us; drivers and commuters, owe it a duty to obey road traffic regulations while government at all levels must also play their part by providing the enabling environment.