Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The myths about ‘ember’ months

There are several myths about the last four months of the year popularly called ‘Ember’ months. Many believe that September to December are the most dangerous months of the year. The Pentecostals are of the opinion that it is the period when Satan embarks on in-gathering of souls by causing mysterious deaths, accidents, calamities and catastrophes. They therefore call for lots of prayer and fasting, vigils and organise crusades to frustrate the “plans” of Satan and enemies who do not want them to see the New Year.  Given what we now know about ‘ember’ months, it is quite clear that there are no mysteries about the period.

The last four months are the farmers harvest season and a time when a lot of festivities take place. Marriages, burial ceremonies, chieftaincy celebrations, housewarming and many other festivals are often fixed for the last four months of the year because it is assumed that the rains would have subsided.  Many corporate organisations also grant annual leave to their staff as well as close for the year by mid-December to enable their workers to observe the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Thus, it is a period of holidaying.

Because of the hike in the number of festivities observed during the ‘ember’ months, a lot of traveling takes place thus the roads are busier in this period than any other time of the year. Aside from travelling, a lot of people are also under intense financial pressure having to pay school fees and attend to several invitations or contribute to different ceremonies. It is customary in Yorubaland, even in Igboland, to buy ‘Aso Ebi’ and also give gifts to people.  Many also want to show off their progress for the year, particularly if they will be travelling to their homestead or birthplace. Hence, they go shopping for new cloths, bags, shoes, cars, etc. The intense financial pressure can and do cause high blood pressure for many which can lead to sudden death, heart attack or stroke.

For the fact that the roads are busier during the season, coupled with our transporters obsession to make super profit, road accidents occur more during the ‘ember’ months particularly the festive period within that window. The Federal Road Safety Corps always intensifies road safety campaigns during this season. They carry out a lot of sensitisation, patrol and enforcement.

And talking about FRSC, I wish to commend the effort of the Osita Chidoka-led organisation at minimising road accidents. I recall that this vision of road safety, just like that of calisthenics display,  was started in the pace setter state of Oyo when the first governor of the state, Chief Bola Ige, established Oyo State Road Safety Corps  in 1980 or thereabout. We used to call the officials ‘Maja-maja’. I learnt dispute over jurisdiction created a lot of problems for the Corps then as traffic offenders on federal highways were challenging the legality of their prosecution by a state agency.

In 1988, the Federal Government took a cue from Oyo State and set up FRSC. In particular the Commission is charged with the responsibilities for: Preventing or minimising accidents on the highways; Clearing obstructions on any part of the highways; Educating drivers, motorists  and other members of the public generally on the proper use of the highways; Designing and producing the driving licence to be used by various categories of vehicle operators; Determining, from time to time, the requirements to be satisfied by an applicant for a driving licence; and Designing and producing vehicle number plates.

The FRSC also sees to the standardisation of highway traffic codes; Giving prompt attention and care to victims of accidents; Conducting researches into causes of motoring accidents and methods of preventing them and putting into use the result of such researches; Determining and enforcing speed limits for all categories of roads and vehicles and controlling the use of speed limiting devices; Cooperating with bodies or agencies or groups in road safety activities or in prevention of accidents on the highways; Making regulations in pursuance of any of the functions assigned to the Corps.

The Federal Road Safety Corps is equally mandated to carry out other functions such as: Regulating the use of sirens, flashers and beacon lights on vehicles other than ambulances and vehicles belonging to the Armed Forces, Nigeria Police, Fire Service and other para-military agencies; Providing roadside and mobile clinics for the treatment of accident victims free of charge; Regulating the use of mobile phones by motorists; Regulating the use of seat belts and other safety devices; Regulating the use of motorcycles on the highway; Maintaining the validity period for driving licences which shall be three years subject to renewal at the expiration of the validity period; and in exercise of the functions, arresting and prosecuting persons reasonably suspected of having committed any traffic offence.

FRSC in February 2013 celebrated its silver jubilee (25 years) and was able to beat its chest at having assisted to reduce road accidents. According to its Public Education Officer, Jonas Agwu, in his column, Safe Driving in ThisDay of September 7, 2013 “The number of deaths arising from crashes in Nigeria has consistently gone down from 25,792 crashes, with 9,077 deaths in 1988 to 6,269 crashes with 4,260 deaths in 2012.” He went further, “Due to the numerous initiatives designed by FRSC at combating road crashes, as of end of second quarter of 2013, road traffic crashes which stood at 1,077 nationwide had witnessed a 14.6 per cent reduction in comparison with first quarter of 2013 when RTC nationwide was 2,000. Fatality has also declined by 4.04 per cent in the second quarter of 2013 from 1,1086 deaths, when compared to the 1,236 people that died in the first quarter of 2013.”

Good news no doubt. I dare say however that it is not yet uhuru for Nigeria in terms of road safety. Most accidents to my mind are unreported. Aside that, our motoring and road safety consciousness need to improve. I still see a lot of people driving against traffic; driving without seat belt on; making phone calls while driving; not respecting zebra crossing; double parking; etc. Even pedestrians oftentimes refuse to use pedestrian bridges where one is provided while many walk backing traffic instead of facing traffic. This is not to diminish the laudable achievements of the FRSC but to call on all and sundry to partner the FRSC by playing our part. The Commission has provided a toll free number, 122, to lodge complaint or file report; we need to use this number.

Special Marshals should learn not to abuse their position but to use it to ease traffic. It is heartwarming that the Commission is making use of its statistics by recently writing the Toyota Nigeria about the high rate of accidents of its Toyota Hiace buses as well as calling the attention of the Young Shall Grow transport company to high rate of accidents of its buses. This is a commendable use of data. The introduction of speed limiting devices in vehicles is welcome but I do hope it will not fizzle out like that of crash helmets for motor bike riders.  All said, the only thing to tame in the ‘ember’ months is our recklessness off and on the highway; not Satan, devil, demon or imaginary enemies.