Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Night Travel as Suicide Mission

I could have died on the night of December 15, 2011. I had hoped for a direct flight to Ibadan or an afternoon flight to Lagos en-route Ibadan for the final burial rite of my late mother-in-law. Unfortunately, there was no direct flight from Abuja to the ancient city that fateful day and by the time I got to the airport; the only available flight to Lagos was for 6pm. I grudgingly bought the ticket but there was another hour delay before take- off. Eventually, I got to Lagos around 8pm and by the time I navigated the Lagos traffic to the Ojodu -Berger Motor Park, it was past 9pm. I eventually got on an Ibadan bound vehicle which unknown to me does not have sufficient fuel for the journey and secondly, was not in good condition as it had problem with the carburetor. The vehicle bought black market fuel at Ogere, shortly after, it started to break down. It did that four times on that very dangerous Lagos – Ibadan expressway and each time we have to come down to push the bus to start, right on the highway. I eventually got home at about 1am with a stern warning from my family never to embark on night journey again. I could have been robbed by night marauders during our frequent stops on the highway or hit by oncoming vehicle while we were pushing the vehicle to start, mercifully, none of these happened.

Some eighteen graduate students of Imo State University, Owerri were not as lucky as I was as news report has it that on March 8, 2012, the students who were alleged to be on their way to Taraba State NYSC camp died in a fatal motor accident. It was learnt that they picked up their call-up letters from late and in order to meet the deadline for resumption in camp, they decided to make the journey by night. Same day, in another part of the country, eighteen women aboard a commuter luxury bus were reportedly raped in the wee hours by armed bandits few kilometres from Okene, Kogi State. The victims, comprising single and married women, were among passengers in the ill-fated bus with a Lagos registration number XM 753 AKD, operated by a popular transport company, which was travelling from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to Abuja, when the incident occurred at about 2.am.

These are not the only unfortunate incidences of night travel in Nigeria. On August 2, 2011 many newspapers in Nigeria reported how about 50 people died during an armed robbery attack on a luxury bus on the way to Abuja. Daily Sun recounted that, “It was a gory site at the Zariagi end of the Abuja/Okene highway when the residents woke up to behold crushed bodies of over 50 robbery victims. The victims were said to be passengers of an Abuja-bound luxury bus, marked XI 300 ABC, belonging to a popular transport company. They were said to have been waylaid by robbers, who ordered them to lie face down on the highway before they were dispossessed of their belongings. An unsuspecting truck was said to have run over the victims and later escaped the scene of the accident.”

In a similar fashion, on July 31, 2009, no fewer than 20 passengers were crushed on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway by a truck during a robbery operation. According to an account in Vanguard newspaper, “Hours before the 20 victims met their untimely death, two passengers lost their lives in an accident on the Ijebu-Ode/Ore end of the expressway when two vehicles were involved in another accident on Friday night. Sunday Vanguard gathered that in the first accident, involving a passenger luxury bus XF 285 AKD, and a truck XN 808 BEN, happened in the wee hours of Saturday around the Babcock University, Ilisan and Odogbolu areas of the highway. It was learnt that the passenger bus, said to be heading to the Eastern part of the country ran into a gang of armed robbers operating on the expressway with a huge log of wood blocking the expressway.”

These are unfortunate but preventable happenstances. There are uncountable accidents occurring but unreported on daily basis across the country. Nigeria’s road accident figures is said to be awful. It is estimated that 162 out of every 100,000 persons die in road accidents. Globally, Nigeria ranks third, behind China and India in terms of road traffic deaths partly owing to bad roads, but also substantially to weak road safety law enforcement, so revealed The Punch editorial of March 13, 2012. According to the World Health Organization, (WHO), road accidents have become the second greatest cause of death around the world for people aged five to 29, killing over a million people annually and injuring up to 50 million more.

It is not as if there are no advantages with night travel. At night, the roads are freer as the traffic is lighter. It saves time and money for traders, businessmen and other categories of people who want to accomplish much in little time and who cannot afford air travel. For instance, businessmen prefer night travel as it affords them time to travel and sleep at the same time, conduct their businesses during the day and travel and sleep on their way back without having to lodge in any hotel or with friends.

However, in spite of the apparent time and cost saving benefits of night journey, the risks are far too high. Many of the vehicles plying the road at night are not in good shape and because there is less enforcement by vehicle inspection officers, road safety corps or the police, such rickety vehicles ply the road at night unmolested. The roads themselves are in deplorable condition while many drivers’ visibility at night is very poor either due to fog during harmattan, heavy rain or simply due to bad eyesight. These, coupled with inadequate armed police patrol to ward off night marauders; poor illumination of the highways both for motoring and for rescue operation at night and absence of proper road signs make night travel a suicide mission in Nigeria. Should there be a ban on night travel in Nigeria? Human rights activists say it will be an infringement on fundamental right of citizens to free movement. The solution therefore lies in improved road network, proper road signs, adequate police patrol of the highway during the night, proper vehicle maintenance, restful day for night drivers and avoidance of night travel no matter the temptation.