Monday, 18 November 2013

An epidemic of accidents in Nigeria

Sadly, we are faced with another tragedy. Award-winning novelist and popular academic unionist, Festus Iyayi, was killed in Lokoja when a vehicle in the convoy of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State rammed into the bus conveying him, and his colleagues to Kano. The group were on their way to attend a meeting of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), which has been on a nation-wide strike for four months. A commander of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Olakunle Motajo, is reported to have said that a preliminary report on the accident revealed wrongful overtaking on the part of the government vehicle.




I first met Festus Iyayi during “The Eagle on Iroko” conference that brought the cream of the Nigerian literary community to the University town of Nsukka in 1990. Shortly after that conference, the convener; Professor Edith Ihekweazu lost her life in a car accident, and the celebrant Professor Chinua Achebe just survived a similar one. Since then, our country has continued to lose thousands of people every year on our roads. We mourn, but then we throw our hands up in the air, as we lose the very people that we need to shape our country to that which we aspire.

Iyayi should need little introduction in Nigeria. I was introduced to Iyayi’s literary work at a relatively young age, when I was trying to come to terms with the Biafran War (or the Nigerian Civil War). I had read several accounts of the war from books lying on my parent’s shelves, from Obasanjo’s “My Command” to Madiebo’s “the Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War” …and everything in between. Despite these, I felt most informed and engaged by Iyayi’s two books; “Heroes” and “Violence”. Through his books, Iyayi tried to redefine the heroes and victims of this war (and any war) from the bottom, up. The dominant narrative of every war is written through the eyes of its architects – while on either side, there are often true heroes and victims that have borne the brunt of the killing fields.

And while we dither - these are the headlines in other parts of the world: BBC - Car deaths in England and Wales 'down 40% in 50 years', based on research published in the Emergency Medicine Journal. This happened over the same period that car ownership across the UK had been increasing by about 3% annually. The factors that led to this reduction in deaths were 1.)  introduction of compulsory seat belts, 2.) drink driving curbs, 3.) child safety seats, and 4.) speed cameras, as well as the 5.) development of specialist trauma centres. Of all these, only the first one is sometimes applied in our country. And there are many more! I will be surprised if more than 1% of all drivers in Nigeria have done a driving test!


Much more can be done to make our roads safer than they are at the moment, the question is really – how many more have to die before we do it? 

If there is any cause that should bring us together right now - it is to reduce the number of deaths on Nigerian roads. There are a number of low hanging fruit - one being a reduction of the number of cars on government convoys to a maximum of three; why would anyone need more?  

3 comments:

Olufemi said...

Dear Dr Chikwe,

Thank you sir for your responsibly written piece. I have only met only a few Nigerians with the same level of genuine dedication you display regularly regarding health service improvement in Nigeria.

I don’t know why I am responding really but it must have been borne out of deep sadness considering the rate of RTA in our country-majority due to carelessness. I too have lost very close family members to RTA and would want it to stop NOW!

I currently live in the UK and share all your views about the epidemic as well as your suggestions to tackle this problem but I kind of differ in the order of the solutions you proffered. My argument is that it is the 99% you identified in your write up, who have not been adequately taught how one can drive safely, that cause 99% of RTA in Nigeria.

Taking my experience as an example, when I was learning to drive here in the UK, we went through a series of topics which include the usual suspects like: speed limit, car manoeuvring, overtaking, parking etc but I also remember I had to understand hazard perception, tyre pressures/thread limits, emergency stop, markers to help you whilst overtaking, when to use main beam “full” headlights etc which I doubt 75% of Nigerian drivers understand or care about.

Secondly, I am not sure and I may be wrong, but I doubt if ministry of health has ever included reduction of RTA in any of their objectives nor do they feel they should be the main driver of this objective. I won’t be surprised if all the bulk stops with ministry of transport and/or FRSC.

RTA is a Public Health issue and Ministry of Health should take the driving seat. They should work with FRSC and other stakeholders to explore the long term possibility of revalidating drivers licenses in Nigeria. We can start revalidation with all convoy drivers, federal staff drivers, civil servants etc and it will really amaze you the risk reduction we will achieve if only 10% of Nigerian drivers can attend an accredited driving school.

Once again, thank you for your time, your passion and your patriotism—it will soon yield positive results.

Best Regards,

Olufemi

P.S

I will like to mention that the Ministry of Health should kindly pardon my ignorance if they are already doing enough to reduce RTA in the country.

Long live NIGERIANS!

Charles Ameh said...

Dear Chikwe,

I just read this piece and I must say that there are other low hanging fruits that can be picked to improve safety on Nigerian roads. Even if the size of the convoys are reduced to 3, speed cameras are introduced, we still need adequate law enforcement. So that the Governor etc can get a speed ticket and the full consequences of breaking road safety laws are applicable as to any private citizen and promptly! Then linked to this is the safety of cars on Nigeria roads, implementation of car maintenance laws (if they exist) or introduce them, for example compulsory annual MOT and car insurance (needs proper monitoring)
Until we have selfless visionary leaders, I think safety on Nigerian roads, like we dream of, is light years away.

Regards,

Charles

Charles Ameh said...

Dear Chijkwe,
I just read this piece and I must say that there are other low hanging fruits that can be picked to improve safety on Nigerian roads. Even if the size of the convoys are reduced to 3, speed cameras are introduced, we still need adequate law enforcement. So that the Governor etc can get a speed ticket and the full consequences of breaking road safety laws are applicable as to any private citizen and promptly! Then linked to this is the safety of cars on Nigeria roads, implementation of car maintenance laws (if they exist) or introduce them, for example compulsory annual MOT and car insurance (needs proper monitoring)
Until we have selfless visionary leaders, I think safety on Nigerian roads, like we dream of, is light years away.

Regards,

Charles