Far too many Nigerians are dying needlessly on the roads. The latest numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics depict an epidemic. In its half-year report, the NBS says that at least 2,673 people died in automobile accidents between January and June 2017. This is upsetting, as Nigerians deserve safer roads. To achieve this, the Federal Road Safety Commission needs to enforce the extant traffic rules without partiality.
Traffic accident deaths are a serious public safety issue here. Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency, the Federal Ministry of Health estimates that car crashes are the second leading cause of violent death in Nigeria. The NBS figure implies that an average of 15 persons die every day on our roads. In the first quarter, 1,466 died from 2,556 accidents; there were 1,207 deaths from 2,503 accidents in Q2. This ranks Nigeria among the countries with the highest road carnage in the world, says the FRSC.
Worse, the crisis shows no sign of a let-up. On Saturday, a dawn accident involving a lone commercial luxury bus claimed three lives on the Benin-Lokoja Expressway. Fifty passengers, including a child, were injured. A 2015 report by the World Health Organisation said one in four car crash deaths in Africa occurred in Nigeria. “Car crash deaths have a higher toll than malaria,” WHO said. Some victims are maimed for life; others are gruesomely burnt to ashes. In all, 18,353 people sustained injuries in road crashes between 2009 and 2013.
Financially, the toll is very heavy. The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, notes that the country loses N80 billion to road crashes annually. For those with life-threatening injuries, this is devastating in a country with poor health facilities.
The FRSC says the major causes of crashes in Nigeria are over-speeding, error of judgement when overtaking; violations like facing oncoming traffic (“one-way”) and untrained drivers. The non-use of seat belt is costly. In the United States, for example, 38 per cent of children who died in car crashes in 2013 did not use seat belts, according to the US Centres for Disease Control. But having identified the causes, nothing significant is being done to reduce the carnage.
In this, the government is blameable. With plenty of dilapidated roads, another predisposing element is distracted driving, which is described as texting/answering phones while driving, eating, drinking and talking with passengers. To be fair, the FRSC has just launched a psychiatric test project to test distracted drivers and traffic light offenders. However, it is woolly. The implementation seems to be fractious.
A 2013 report by WHO noted that the main causes of accidents in the developing world were “lax regulations and weak enforcement.” In Nigeria, this is spot-on. Our roads are brimming with untrained and inebriated drivers. They run riot on the roads because the FRSC seems incapable of enforcing the law. Many drivers claim they have questionable documents due to the corruption attached to the acquisition of the driving licence. This should change.
A major problem, which the FRSC has inexplicably failed to address over the years, is the issue of articulated trucks. Many of them have no rear lights, making them difficult to spot when they break down; they emit black smoke and wobble on worn out tyres. Tanker drivers speed recklessly and trucks carry unlatched containers. Last July, an unlatched container fell on a bus in Lagos, killing five and injuring three occupants. Why then do FRSC officials look the other way and prefer to stop cars? While all offenders deserve to be punished, the FRSC should concentrate more on non-roadworthy trucks. It rankles that FRSC officials ignore danfo drivers and commercial motorcyclists that ply one-way and carry overload.
With new solutions and strict enforcement, accidents can be considerably reduced. This places the ball firmly in the court of the FRSC, whose concentration seems to be on revenue generation. In 2011 and 2012, it remitted N2.63 billion to the government and N4.9 billion in 2013, but the country recorded 5,400 fatalities in 12,077 road accidents in 2015. Life is irreplaceable with money. So, first, the FRSC should not indulge in self-adulation for revenue generation, but be more concerned about saving lives. It should concentrate on expressways as recently proposed by Governors Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State.
Really, the FRSC has to return to its halcyon days when motorists respected and feared its officials because they were largely incorruptible, brooked no nonsense and were dogged in enforcing the law. Nowadays, even motorcyclists flout traffic laws in their presence with impunity. The FRSC should deploy technology to book over-speeding motorists. It could curb drunk driving by establishing national sobriety points where breathalysers will be used.
With the enhanced number plate system, the era of offending motorists escaping justice should be over by now. The system should be activated and offenders traced to their properties and offices. Cameras should be put into use against offenders. The FRSC is treating public officials with leniency; this is wrong. It should not spare those of them who, at the slightest hint of traffic jams, drive against the traffic, speed excessively and abuse the use of sirens. It should design a road safety campaign that makes it abundantly clear that the golden rule of road safety is: buckle up; obey the speed limit and do not drink and drive.
Besides, many accidents occur because of our potholed roads. Accidents are rife on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Benin-Sagamu Expressway, Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and Abuja-Okene-Lokoja Expressway because of their sorry state. The three tiers of government, therefore, should wake up to their responsibilities and rebuild our road networks.