Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Needless Carnage on the Roads

The Nigerian roads have for long been notorious death traps for commuters, as hundreds of lives perish in otherwise avoidable highway carnages daily. Federal Road Safety Commission’s (FRSC) Corp Marshal, Mr Osita Chidoka put the monthly fatality figure from road accidents conservatively at 450, while disclosing that some 5,000 die yearly in road crashes.
This official fatality figure is obviously a far cry from the reality on ground, as instances abound in recent past where as many as 200 lives were lost even in single intra-city incidents. There are also daily instances of auto accidents on inter-state routes.
While some of these deaths result from accidents and are therefore humanly unavoidable, majority of road carnages occur due to some acts of omission and commission by road users and official indiscretion on the parts of government and its relevant agencies.
Indeed, some of the worst road crashes witnessed in recent times were the result of unconscionable negligence, illicit indulgence, criminal disregard for basic traffic rules, decrepit vehicles, bad roads and outright misplacement of priorities, among others.
Nigerian roads, just like other social infrastructure in the country, suffer years of neglect, rendering most of them impassable. This problem is compounded by impatient motorists and the recklessness of ill-trained drivers.
The menace constituted by the ubiquitous haulage trucks on the highways is also a major cause of deaths on the roads. Stories of falling containers and tripping petrol tankers are common. Added to this is the indiscriminate parking of trucks along the highways.
The poor state of most vehicles plying the Nigerian roads and the prevalence of unlicensed and untrained drivers on the roads also play a major role in keeping the rate of highway accidents on the high side.
The establishment of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) as a remedial measure was hailed by all lovers of lives and the commission actually tried its best at a stage in keeping the fatality rate down. But rather than build on the achievements, complacency soon set in, as the commission became progressively neglected in terms of staffing and equipment. Not only is budgetary allocation progressively thinning down, even the paltry allocation is often not released on time.
The Senate correctly read the minds of Nigerians and aptly reflected their feelings recently when it condemned the non-release of appropriated funds for the commission in this year’s budget and also called for its increased funding. To be sure, the FRSC can effectively perform its functions if properly funded and adequately equipped.
The commission appears to be grossly understaffed, as the operatives are missing in critical spots on both the inter-state highways and intra-city roads where their presence could help prevent accidents. It will not be out of place if there are well-manned FRSC units and sectors in every big town and city in the country apart from their routine sectors on the highways.
The vehicle inspection units of the Ministry of Transportation, popularly known as VIO, should be reinvigorated for thorough checks on vehicles’ road-worthiness. This will go a long way in minimizing accidents caused by bad vehicles. Judging by the fear of VIOs by commercial drivers alone, they are doing well. They should be encouraged.
But by far the greatest challenge to tackle if we are serious about curbing road accidents is the poor state of Nigerian roads. Government must fix the roads by not only making them motorable but also safe for commuters. We cannot afford to play with roads development, the type of politics that other social infrastructures were subjected to. Although the non-fixing of electricity for instance is bad after billions of dollars have been spent on the power sector, Nigerians still make do with the generating set alternative, however unfortunate this may be. But there is practically no alternative to road transportation for most of our countrymen, as few people can afford air transportation while the other alternatives – marine and rail transports – have either remained undeveloped or callously neglected. So, the roads just have to be fixed.
The government must also be reminded of the urgent need to fix the railways to, at least relieve the roads of the harm caused by tanker and truck drivers to the “health” of the roads in particular and to other road users in general. If the rail is back on track, most of the heavy-duty haulage carried out on the roads will automatically shift to the railways and this will not only enhance the lifespan of the roads, it will also greatly reduce road accidents.