Friday, 20 January 2012

Rising Death toll on Nigerian Roads

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji

For many years now I have come to retain one nasty phobia for traveling on local roads in my country Nigeria. The very poor state of these roads and the avalanche of rickety vehicles plying on them make my heart skip all the time. Incidences of arm robbery are also another inevitable sour reality. The events of 2002 has stuck like glue in my memory ever since. The event was an auto accident I had while on my return trip from Aba along the ever busy Aba-Owerri road. That accident took place along the Okpala axis. Then, I was a passenger in a commuter bus that was traveling from Aba to Owerri. I never knew the bus was to become ill-fated.

Along the way and in the course of the trip, the bus had a burst tyre and somersaulted. It somersaulted for about seven times before it came to a stop. At the end of this ghastly incident, nine innocent citizens of Nigeria out of fourteen passengers on board the bus laid dead. It was a ghastly scene!

It was all a nasty and bizarre experience. When this happened, traffic on that busy express way came to an abrupt standstill just as life came to an abrupt end for all the dead nine.I wonder how life has been ever since for all those they left behind. However, when this happened a few other users of the road who were benevolent and kind hearted gave a helping hand by assisting to get the wounded to the nearest hospital and evacuating the dead to the nearest morgue.

Though fatally wounded and weakened I was a little conscious and well alive. I was not dead as my God did not allow me to make such an untimely transition. My state of immobility and immense weakness exposed me to the vagaries of gross incapacitation. For a while I was a hand-capped. As a result of this, I was at the mercy of passers by. It also damned on me at that point that the Nigerian system is actually comatose.

Genuine effort made by good Samaritans to take us to the local clinics for any available first aid service was least successful as almost all the clinics had nothing to offer. In some of these clinics it was outright rejection of casualties by their owners as they lacked the emergency wherewithal, while in others the medical directors/personnel were away hence leaving their clinics bereft of any intervention input because those left behind i.e. the nurses were ‘empty’. Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing good came out from any of those local clinics in Okpala. The result was a recorded high number of the dead.

Sadly again my 2002 experience came alive again in a most macabre and tragic manner five years later and that was five weeks ago. This time around the scene of the accident was still along the busy Aba-Owerri road but this time along the Owerrinta village. This time, a commuter bus with a total of 18 passengers rammed into a trailer and killed all passengers. A bizarre sight was the death of three family members; a mother and her two daughters, the first daughter and the last, a baby of nine months. I was at the scene as my vehicle was a little behind the casualty commuter bus. Only one man out of the whole lot survived the ghastly impact.

The scene to say the least was a theatre of the absurd as men; women and children both young and old got dead trapped in the ill-fatted bus. Rescure efforts were totally abysmal this time around. I took it upon myself bearing in mind my past experiences in 2002 to help in carrying both the dead and the wounded. Together with other good Samaritans we combed the villages for medical support but to no avail. Most of those casualties who perhaps could have been revived died in the course of these search for support.

Two weeks after the first accident, it was also in the news that three buses rammed into each other along the Owerri-Port-Harcourt Road. It was reported that over 33 persons lost their lives in this ghastly accident. The most painful aspect of the news was that a mysterious fire that emanated from the ensuing collision got all of them burnt beyond recognition. All of them were subsequently interred in a mass grave nearby the accident scene a few days later. Another accident has also been reported from Jos, Plateau State were a group of journalists on the entourage of Ex-Gov. Joshua Dariye lost their lives just a week ago.

These events when related with many other such accidents happening all over the country leaves a sour taste for all well meaning Nigerians. One is startled to wonder when all these nonsense will stop. When will the government get alive to its responsibilities and make the country a better place for all especially the poor who are often the victims of such accidents.

Dying on the road in Nigeria is fast becoming a heritage for most Nigerians. The close pace at which it keeps occurring makes bare the rot that has infested our country. In the face of all these politicians are busy prancing on the stage without bordering to give a serious thought to all these.

One sour reality emanating there from is that most of the vehicles plying our roads are no longer road worthy. Unqualified and reckless drivers are plying our roads with the consequences getting unabated. In most places the roads are totally bad or spoilt and in most places embellished with a lot of pot holes.

The poor state of emergency response at both the local and public scenes leaves much to be desired. This is compounded by the sheer absence of quality health care facilities all over the villages. The result is that many people get fatally wounded and many never survive.

I do not wish to be involved again hence the need to take a more serious look at the road transport sector. Why can’t alternative transport means be developed and optimized? How long will the plan to revive the rail transportation sector get concrete? When are we expecting a better and much more robust air transport?

In raising all the foregoing posers, I stand to make it categorical that the Federal Road Marshalls may not be able to tackle these problems alone. They need every support by both government and individuals. All the requisite and appropriate budgetary allocations must be fully released and on time too. NGO organization could be extended to this area.

However the bulk of of the onus lies on the government. It behooves the government to optimally use public funds for public course as anything remote from this is evil.

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