Bad roads, accidents and Nigerian drivers

Casmir Igbokwe

 It was drizzling last Sunday. Some residents were scooping what looked like diesel from the ground. There was excitement in their eyes. I thought there was a burst pipeline somewhere. But I later saw a tanker lying upside down by the roadside. Its tyres were waving to the blue sky.

 This was around Ibafo/Mowe on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. A few minutes after, I saw another truck lying on its side. Its content (some say it‘s 600 bags of cement) littered the road. Rainwater had even rendered them useless.

As we entered Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road, I tried to count the number of accidents I saw. I lost count. Some of the trucks fell across the expressway. In many places, motorists had to meander through to the opposite lane, with serious traffic snarl in tow. At a point, I occupied my mind with counting the time remaining for me to get to my destination in the east. I was lucky to have got home about 8pm. I had left Lagos about 7.00am. And this is a journey that ordinarily should not take more than seven hours. Some unlucky ones had to sleep over in Benin and continued the journey the following day.

 Not only are the expressways bad, but most of the roads in the cities, be it in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, or Bauchi are death traps. Just as I was about to put this piece together, I got a text message from a reader in Lagos. He complained about the terrible state of Isheri-Egbeda, Ayobo, Abule-Egba, Iyana Ipaja roads.

A few months ago, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency said 70 per cent of federal roads in the country were not only bad but had since expired. Even some of the roads that have recently been renovated are being washed away by the rains. In my state, Anambra, the Nnobi-Isuofia-Ekwulobia Road that was renovated less than a year ago has developed potholes here and there. It was interesting listening to commuters talk about the road. They condemned a prominent politician from the state who they said handled the contract for the repair of the road.

An ad-hoc committee of the Senate had similarly indicted some past public officials for dubious implementation of road contracts. About N1.7 trillion worth of such contracts were said to have been fraudulently awarded between 1999 and 2010. The World Bank has just given the Federal Government a credit facility of $330m for the rehabilitation of bad roads in the country. Let’s hope that the Minister of Works, Sanusi Daggash, will fulfil his pledge to rehabilitate four federal roads with this money.

 Let’s also hope that the high statistics of deaths on our roads will eventually go down. Official report puts the death toll on our roads every year to at least 5,000. The number of those who are injured is far more than this.

Our drivers should also learn to drive carefully. Though the roads are bad, accident will hardly occur if a good driver is behind the wheel. But my daily experiences on the road tell me that the majority of drivers in Nigeria know next to nothing about traffic rules. They speed excessively. They have no regard for traffic signs. And they yell at other road users like wild animals.

Truck and bus drivers are the worst culprits. To them, no other vehicle should be on the road except their own. When they try to push you out of the lane and you resist, they scratch your car and dare you to do your worst. Part of the problem is that young boys in their early 20s who should have no business driving such articulated vehicles now drive them. How they obtain their driving licences is a different thing entirely.

To obtain a driving licence in Nigeria, you only need to pay the right fee to a tout who brings the licence to you the following day. You may not have gone through any practical lessons on driving and may not even know what a zebra crossing is.

 That is why I like what the Lagos command of the Federal Road Safety Commission is doing with regard to the issuance of driving licence in Lagos. A few days ago, for instance, I needed to renew mine which just expired. I called the Lagos sector commander of the FRSC, Jonas Agwu, to help me out. He gave me a date and urged me to come at 8am.

I came at the appointed time and joined other licence applicants in a lecture hall. The lecturer was Mr. Agwu. And for over one hour, he taught us the rudiments of good driving. According to him, a good driver must have good sight, sound judgement and good reflexes. He must also anticipate or think ahead and have maximum concentration.

The question is: how many of our drivers have these attributes? As Agwu noted, some of our drivers engage in drunk-driving, especially on weekends. Some want to pose with their latest phones while driving; while some others ignore such safety rules as putting a child on the front seat of their cars.

 At the Vehicle Inspection Office where I obtained the form for the driving licence, I was made to pass through another round of lectures. At the end of it, every applicant is made to buy a copy of road safety manual on sale at the VIO. Though I obtained my licence that same day, I understand the processes can take up to three days.

In sane societies, obtaining a driving licence could take months. You are properly and thoroughly tested to be sure you can actually drive. And when you commit any traffic offence, the law is there to take its course.

Penultimate week, 47-year-old singer, George Michael, was found guilty of drug-driving by Highbury Corner Magistrate Court in London. The police arrested him in July for crashing his Range Rover while under the influence of cannabis. He was given an eight-week sentence and a fine of 1, 250 pounds. The court also banned him from driving for five years.

 Until our law enforcement agents stop chasing shadows and begin to critically examine the road worthiness of vehicles and their drivers, sanity may never return to our roads.

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