26 September 2012

Nigeria: Many Lagos Drivers Are Sick, Alcoholics or Drug Addicts, Says Govt

Ordinarily, driving on roads in Lagos State is hazardous; what with the reckless way people handle their vehicles, especially commercial drivers who are notorious for their disdain for obeying traffic rules.

However, findings by the state government have confirmed what many Lagos residents have all along suspected: many of the drivers are driving under various deleterious influences.

The state Ministry of Health, along with the Ministry of Transport, determined to ensure safer highways within the city, organised a screening for commercial drivers in which they discovered that many of the drivers drive under the influence of alcohol, hard drugs or are even unhealthy.

In all, 2,002 drivers from different motor parks in Alimosho Local Government Area, one of the 20 local government areas and 37 local council development areas (LCDAs) in the state were screened. Of the lot, 1,945 were not fit to drive.

Giving details of the findings Tuesday, the state government put the number of drivers who tested positive to cocaine and marijuana following the tests at 441 and vowed to prosecute those addicted to hard drugs if the trend "does not change."

Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, who gave the figure at a news conference he co-addressed with his Transport counterpart, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, in Alausa, explained that of the 2,002 drivers screened so far, 781 were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol; 601 were found to be hypertensive; 441 were tested positive to psychotropic drugs, especially cocaine and marijuana and out of the 940 that were screened for visual impairment, 13 per cent had to be given special glasses.

With the volume of such unfit persons driving various vehicles across the state, it is little wonder that the number of accidents in the state, especially in the city and its suburbs, is remarkably high.

Idris said government would continue in its efforts to educate drivers on the risk of consuming alcohol and hard drugs.

He added that given the grave consequences of driving under such influences, the state government has no option other than "to invoke section 21, subsection 1 of the state traffic law which prescribes a conviction fine of N100, 000 or a two-year imprisonment, or both on the offenders".

Idris said road accidents had become one major cause of deaths in the country and that the state government could not achieve the desired health indices if it ignores the incident.

Indeed, on a daily basis, accidents occur within the city, some minor and some others fatal, resulting in deaths. This is aside the frequent accidents often caused by commercial motorcycle operators, usually called Okada.

According to him, alcohol and substance abuse has been documented as a cause of road accidents and several studies have also shown that an intoxicated driver is a danger to himself, his passengers and other road users.

Idris, however, did not explain how his ministry would deal with private car drivers and owners who also drive under the influence of alcohol or dangerous substances. Many accidents have been recorded involving drunken drivers who, sometimes, are returning from nightclubs or social gatherings within the city.

Idris said a major breakthrough was recently recorded in the sensitisation campaigns in the motor parks against irresponsible driving with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Guinness Nigeria Plc.

The commissioner explained that the partnership by both parties was geared towards changing people's attitude on alcohol to reduce the menace of harmful consumption of alcoholic beverages.

However, will the state government also have to sign MoU with other producers of alcoholic beverages? Is there anything being done to rid public motor parks of sellers of alcohol and such other intoxicants, including Indian hemp?

Pray, who will arrest these persons when even some policemen or other law enforcement agents also smoke and drink these harmful intoxicants, even around motor parks?

Also at the conference, Opeifa lamented the number of accidents, which are regularly recorded mostly on weekends on Lagos roads caused by excessive drinking by motorists. That confirms that both private and commercial drivers are guilty of driving under the influence of intoxicants.

He said the state government had intensified enlightenment campaigns in motor parks "to make awareness campaign effective because of its involvement in mass transportation of people to various destinations within and outside the state".

Opeifa added that the new traffic law was meant to return sanity to the roads and ensure discipline among road users, saying the law would be invoked against any driver who violated its provisions.

The state Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, had signed the new traffic law into existence on August 2. But the law has remained unenforced, even after it had been gazetted. Aside the occasional talk of the new traffic law on Traffic Radio FM (96.1) and the fixing of traffic signs on some major roads in the state, it is not certain how much the state government is doing in order to drive home the message and its intent on the new traffic law.

Both the members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and even the Motorcycle Operators Association of Nigeria (MOAN), whose members are opposed to the law, have variously pledged their commitment to obeying the new law.

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