Thursday, January 15, 2009

crash helmets

The recent deadline given to commercial motorcycle operators in the country by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to wear crash helmets along with their passengers is a measure long overdue. The FRSC had since October 2008 announced a deadline of January 1, 2009 for the operators to comply with the directive or face the wrath of the law. The directive which has not been totally adhered to by the operators must be vigorously implemented, given the alarming rate of motorcycle-related accidents in the country.

_While it might be argued, as some have done, that this is a case of a government that has failed to invest in mass transit blaming the victims for systemic failure, we cannot deny the precarious situation that now demands urgent action to stem the alarming incidence of avoidable deaths and injuries on our roads. Yet, it is condemnable that in spite of huge revenues earned annually from crude oil and other sources, running into trillions of naira, the Nigerian ruling class allowed the transport sector to degenerate to a virtually unmanageable situation.

Just as the railways were allowed to rot, the road transport system was left in the hands of private operators who are not even regulated and consequently expose citizens to all kinds of experiences. Even as many people rightly argue that the use of motorcycles as means of transportation is not peculiar to Nigeria, given instances of China and India as countries with the highest number of motorcycles in use, we have failed to consider the fact that those countries manufacture their own motorcycles. Also, in those countries, citizens abide by safety laws and regulations.

In a country such as ours in which roads are in such decrepit state and traffic laws observed oftentimes in the breach, exposing our teeming population to such dangerous means of transportation is like courting social disaster. Currently, over 80 per cent of patients at our various orthopaedic hospitals across the country are victims of motorcycle accidents.

Health issues have been raised in regard to the use of same helmets by countless passengers on a daily basis. Logical as the concerns are, it would be better for us all if those who patronise this means of transportation think up ways of minimising exposure to disease. Some pillion passengers are known to place headscarves, hankies or peak caps on their heads beneath the helmets. FRSC and other law enforcement agencies cannot but ensure total compliance and also insist on standard helmets. Already, some operators have started devising means to circumvent the system by using trite objects.

State governments should assist the FRSC in this direction. They should make it a matter of policy for all motorcycle operators to buy their reflective jackets, hand gloves and helmets from designated sales points, possibly at a subsidised rate. This would curb any attempt by some to cut corners. The Governments of Edo and Bayelsa States are known to have taken decisions along such lines, make acquisition of the protective devices less stressful for operators in their domains, just as the Niger State Government has reportedly ordered the importation of about 10,000 helmets for commercial motorcyclists.

Again, no matter the level of safety measures adopted by Government, the best approach is the development of mass transit systems for all major cities in the country. Wherever it is necessary for commercial motorcycles to ply, the authorities must ensure that operators are properly documented. This will not only encourage them to acquire some training before working as Okada riders, it will also reduce the rate at which impostors use motorcycles to rob unsuspecting commuters or kidnap them for rituals. All said, we must accept the obvious that using motorcycles as a means of public transportation is an adhoc measure which is undesirable.

It is accepted because it is helping to provide alternative employment for our teeming population of unskilled and unemployed youths who constitute a dangerous class in the society. If it is scrapped completely, the wave of violent robbery will increase and this would compound an already dangerous security situation. Government must do everything within its available resources to support the private sector in the provision of mass transit vehicles to assist the commuting public. Anything short of making the transport sector (including roads, rails and the waterways) a national priority will just not do. The Federal and State Governments must declare a state of emergency in the transport sector.