12 April 2013

Nigeria: Carnage On The Highway


No fewer than 33 persons were burnt to death last Friday in a gruesome accident involving a trailer, a petrol tanker and a filled-to-capacity luxury bus heading to Enugu from Lagos. The accident occurred around the Ugbogui axis of the Benin-Ore Expressway, after the trailer had a burst tyre, lost control, and ran into a stationary fuel tanker. Following the triple collision, all of the vehicles went up in flame, claiming the lives of the passengers in the bus, the driver of the trailer and some people nearby.

While we commiserate with the families of the deceased, we need to point out that most of the things that kill our people could have been either prevented or ameliorated by simple common sense and inexpensive remedial interventions. For instance, it is common knowledge that there are too many rickety vehicles on our roads. The tyres of several of them are worn out; some are in a state of disrepair while in most cases, their exhaust pipes produce suffocating fumes and black smokes hazardous to human health. To worsen matters, the drivers of a good number of these trailers and tankers are most often either drunk or half asleep behind the wheels.

It is therefore little surprise that our country was last year ranked the second highest with road accident fatalities among the 193 countries in the world. Hardly any day passes without report of one accident or another, claiming several lives such that as we write this editorial, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) is flashing report of an alert of an auto crash that has just claimed 20 lives Potiskum, Yobe State. This incessant carnage on our roads had prompted the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu to lament recently that "road traffic accidents have led to the death of men, women, boys and girls and even the unborn child and impacts negatively on our ability to achieve the MDGs as most people affected are the youths."

What compounds our situation is that when accidents occur, even the victims who ordinarily may have been saved with prompt attention are left in agony. Both the vehicle inspection teams and medical emergency teams that ought to be patrolling the federal expressways as they do in other societies are hardly there. Oftentimes victims of road accidents on our roads are assisted by fellow passengers or people living along the roads. There are no emergency clinics on our highways, and when good Samaritans rush wounded passengers to hospitals they are required to produce police reports before treatment just to prove that the injured travellers are not armed robbers! Yet a limited fleet of well equipped ambulances, a few para-medicals, vehicle road worthiness inspection crews, even emergency rescue helicopters and training for crews to man all these would cost little compared to the billions we are wasting on silly showmanship in all spheres.

For sure, there is a lot that voluntary organisations can do to help with regard to providing services like the swift removal of broken-down vehicles which are often responsible for many of the fatalities, including in the one under reference. Members of such bodies can assist in redirecting traffic in places where accidents occur and in generally taking charge of what could be a chaotic scene for all manner of opportunists if not properly handled. But these organisations can only complement the efforts of statutory bodies that are established to handle such emergencies.

Beyond these measures is the issue of responsibility. It is now becoming the norm for accidents to occur with victims left to their own devices. Not only should the responsibility of caring for the victims be borne by both the vehicle owners, there should be a measure of compensation to victims. But above all, we should device means of putting an end to the carnage on our roads.

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