In Nigeria, death is cheap

Casmir Igbokwe

I was negotiating a U-turn close to Balogun Bus Stop on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos. Suddenly, I heard a big bang at the back of my car. I stopped.

That was last Sunday, as I was going for an evening outing with my family. In a jiffy, okada riders gathered.

The driver, a gentleman in his late 40s or early 50s, came close to me and said, ”Sorry, it‘s my fault. I think I know what happened.” I pardoned him. I pitied him the more because his new Toyota Camry was seriously damaged. His bonnet, radiator, front lights were gone. Mine was slightly affected. If not that it‘s an SUV, the story would have been different by now.

It was not until the following day that I learnt of another accident the same Sunday on the same Awolowo Way. According to media reports, three female members of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners were riding in a car when another vehicle hit theirs from the rear. They were rushed to the hospital where they later died.

I know some people are already thinking that some demons are operating on Awolowo Way. But before we look the way of evil powers, let‘s first examine our own frailties. The man who hit me, for instance, might have lost concentration. That is if his brakes were okay.

Many Nigerian drivers are merchants of death. Some drive under the influence of alcohol. Some drive under the influence of women or vice versa. Some do not have valid driving licences. Some do not bother about maintaining their vehicles. If the Dangote truck that rammed into some vehicles and caused multiple accident penultimate Sunday in Lagos was in good condition, that tragedy could have been prevented.

The curious thing is that most of these accidents reportedly happen on Fridays and Sundays. I also know that accidents occur during festive periods such as Christmas and New Year. The reason, I suspect, is that many people refurbish their dead cars during these periods and put them on the road.

In Nigeria, an average of 400 people die monthly from road accidents. The Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Osita Chidoka, was reported to have said that 18,308 accidents occurred between 2006 and March 2009. Over 5,000 persons lost their lives within the period. A great number of these accidents involved tanker drivers.

One major cause of these accidents is bad roads. Most of our roads are not just bad, they are cemeteries. The Federal Road Maintenance Agency estimates that the lifespan of 70 per cent of federal roads in the country had expired. It was once reported that the Federal Government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo spent about N500bn to repair some federal roads. So far, Nigerians have not seen much of this rehabilitation. Contractors and some public officials laugh all the way to the bank, while unfortunate citizens die in their thousands on these roads.

Road accident is not the only harbinger of death in our country. There are extrajudicial killings everywhere. I was almost drawn to tears while reading the story of the tragic death of Owen and Collins Onaodowan in Effurun, Delta State, two Mondays ago. According to media reports, these two brothers went to watch a match between Manchester United and Newcastle at a neighbourhood viewing centre. Somehow, they were apprehended for alleged robbery.

All pleas that these brothers, one of whom was a youth corps member, were not robbers fell on deaf ears. Some soldiers and riot policemen allegedly beat them silly and later took them to their station at Ekpan. By the time the relatives came the following day to bail their sons, they had been killed and buried. The father of these young men, Austin, said he begged the security agents to spare his children when the torture was going on. But one of the men hit his mouth with the butt of his gun. His tooth fell off. The police side of the story is that the brothers were armed robbery suspects killed by a mob. Too bad!

Besides, the police in Ilorin, Kwara State, recently, allegedly killed a driver, Dele Olaniyi, at a road block. The culprits are said to be facing orderly room trial. But this will not bring back the life of Olaniyi whose father, ironically, is a riot policeman in Lokoja.

These security agents are not immune from this harvest of deaths. Only last Monday, armed robbers reportedly killed five policemen at a road block in Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State. A couple of others have lost their lives in sorry circumstances.

In some states of the federation, particularly in the North, there are deaths caused by cholera, measles, meningitis and some other poverty-induced diseases. This year alone, about 435 people have reportedly lost their lives to cholera and measles.

The FG needs to do more to protect lives and properties of citizens. It is heart-warming that the government has approved the sum of N65.3bn for the servicing of major contracts for the rehabilitation and construction of roads and bridges in the country. We hear this is the first phase of the road projects. The second and third phases will reportedly commence soon.

Over a year ago, Bi-Courtney signed for the rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. What we have seen so far are the company‘s signboards on the road. We also hear it will soon commence work on the road. The Federal Executive Council told the nation last week that a total of nine contracts for the rehabilitation and construction of federal roads and bridges had been approved. This, it said, was in line with the plan to make Nigeria one of the top 20 global economies by 2020. Nigerians are eagerly waiting for this.

But until this is done; until we learn to appreciate and value human lives, every claim to civilisation we make brings us nothing but ridicule.

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