Nigeria, like every other nation, is no stranger to problems. What, however, we find alien is allotting sufficient care and attention to solving these problems.
Road accidents are one of our nation’s most frightening problems. A 2015 report by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) revealed that 5,400 Nigerians lost their lives in road accidents in that year alone, and estimated a death toll of 30,435 between 2009 and 2013. The numbers support the report that ranked Nigeria as the country with the second-highest number of road accidents and fatalities. Meanwhile, Senate President Bukola Saraki quoted a World Health Organisation (WHO) report labelling Nigeria as the most dangerous African country with 33.7 road deaths per 100,000 people each year.
There are particular flashpoints which contribute to the rising number of road-related deaths in the country, and it will benefit any serious administration; federal, state or local, to try and address these.
Saturdays, the customary day for weddings, parties, and celebrations, have become a nightmare for many. The infamous Lagos-Ibadan expressway has claimed countless lives, largely as a result of the numerous pot-holes it boasts. Although some incidents may be attributable to recklessness including speeding, intoxication or sleep-deprivation, the appalling condition of the road is a factor too significant to ignore. Despite reported efforts to rehabilitate the road, there has been little respite for the commuters plying this route over the years.
Early in 2016, the country mourned the deaths of the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi (SAN), his wife, and son on this well-known road. Aside from the state of the road itself, long vehicles parked on either side of the road, kidnapping, and armed robbery have added to the ordeal of road users. FRSC statistics reveal that in 2015, 60 crashes – 34 deaths and 191 injuries – were recorded on this road. It is essential that speed regulation, law enforcement presence and regular maintenance (there are reportedly over 700 pot-holes on the expressway) all play a key role.
The controversial closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja has brought more attention to the state of this particular road and may yet encourage efforts to rehabilitate the road. But it is an indictment of the nation that such an event was needed to trigger much-needed action.
The challenges are indeed numerous, and the Nigerian government has chosen to reassure travellers of their safety by deploying 300 security personnel, helicopters and increased surveillance on the road. This approach should reduce criminal activity on the route. Yet the question for many Nigerian travellers will always be, "Do you feel safer with more soldiers on the road?"
Mass transits and tankers a-fallin’
In the past nine months alone, there have been at least four major road accidents involving mass-transit buses in Abia, Enugu, Kogi, and Lagos. These incidents triggered national mourning as news coverage disclosed the extent of the casualties – neither children, pregnant women, nor students were spared.
The peculiar problem of tipping trucks is prevalent. In late 2015, a family was crushed to death by a container which had tumbled over the Ojuelegba Bridge in Lagos and onto their car. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Lagos State Government limited the daytime movement of container-laden trucks. An addendum to the law, which outlined that the containers had to be securely fastened to the trucks, was hailed as long overdue.
Nevertheless, the Ojuelegba bridge remains unfixed. Bad patches and potholes have caused trucks and fuel tankers to lose control; matters made worse perhaps, by unregulated speed. Inevitably, more trucks will tip over and cause similar damage.
Fixing the yellow brick road
There is the lingering question of the incentive and political will to drive government action. The commissioning of roads and subsequent advertisements in newspapers in the run-up to the last presidential election demonstrates that the government recognises how important roads are to citizens. For example, the Lagos State Government reserves a hotline for people to draw attention to roads in need of maintenance, and this has not gone unnoticed. The proper construction and maintenance of roads has proven to be a popular way to win the masses.
That being said, road users and citizens have a role to play. Over-loading, driving on road shoulders, and drunk driving are some of the behaviours that trigger road accidents. Littering, which blocks the drainage system, resulting in flooding, erosion, and other road degradations must also be castigated.
Perhaps the increase in private roads and toll-gates will incentivise profit-making actors to ensure that roads are maintained, as is the case with the Lekki-Epe axis. But it is hard to consider this as a nationally scalable method, after all, roads are public goods. Moreover, private roads shift the financing burden onto the private sector – individuals and firms – when the government arguably should have the primary responsibility.
Although some laws are already in place, tougher laws with respect to safety checks and licensing of mass-transit buses must be revised and enforced. Periodic alcohol and drug tests ought to be conducted on drivers, as is the case in many countries. Fines, license-withdrawal, and black-listing will be effective as punitive measures, especially for mass-transit companies.
Road maintenance and security should not become relevant only when air traffic is diverted due to airport closures. Nigeria and Nigerians need to reach a point where politicians do not declare new roads as political achievements, where we as citizens hold them to greater mandates than tar, cement, and water. A culture of maintenance is long overdue in our nation, and we must learn it to survive.
The FRSC has been active in safety checks; new tyre regulations, seat-belt checks, fire-extinguisher rules, and paperwork verification. But as always, more thorough work needs to be done as a part of a national drive. It is high time the government, be it federal, state or local, join hands and wage war against this systemic transport challenge we face. Proper sensitisation on road safety, in addition to better road maintenance, needs to be a top priority. Else, Nigerians can expect a bumpy ride as we ply our yellow brick roads.