DAY HELL VISITED LAGOS
Only one thing could have compared with the ferocious and blood-chilling development. Hell. Only the nether region boasts of such anguish, sorrow, tears and blood. Hell virtually visited Lagos last Sunday as more than 50 people were burnt to death in a traffic accident, and about 20 vehicles were either consumed, burnt to carcass, or badly damaged.
The peaceful and serene ambience that accompanies Sunday mornings gave way to wailings and lamentations, after an articulated vehicle carrying industrial sugar, and heading out of Lagos, ran into scores of other vehicles that had been rendered stationary, allegedly by a police checkpoint.
According to both survivors and eyewitnesses to the gruesome occurrence, a police checkpoint had been set up near the Berger end of the Lagos - Ibadan Expressway, reducing the road to just one lane. The policemen allegedly extorted money from each vehicle that passed through, and while this was on, the articulated vehicle lost its brakes while descending a slope, and smashed into the waiting vehicles. So great was the impact that the vehicles caught fire, and the blaze went ahead to consume almost 20 vehicles. On seeing what their rapacious act had reportedly caused, members of the police patrol team allegedly fired into the air, jumped into their van, and fled post-haste.
The death of innocent Nigerians in last Sunday's carnage, is an avoidable tragedy. One of the fundamental duties of government is to protect the lives and property of the people, and when agencies of that same government abridge the lives of the citizenry in several ways, then government fails in its moral duty.
The Lagos State Police Command says no checkpoint had been authorised for the accident spot on Sunday, and is washing its hands off the development. We are not convinced by the denial. The police have a penchant for setting up unauthorised checkpoints, just for filthy lucre, and nothing short of an enquiry will suffice. Eyewitnesses and survivors claim there was a checkpoint, and the least both the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Marvel Akpoyibo, and the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, can do, is to probe the claims. This is not the first time policemen would cause fatal accidents, and promptly vanish from the scene. The directive by President Goodluck Jonathan that the incident be probed, is therefore, welcome.
While every life is precious, to lose more than 50 souls in one fell swoop, including pregnant women, children, and old people, is disheartening, cruel and brutish. This may have fallen below even the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short.
It is significant that the incident allegedly caused by the police occurred few days before a damming report was released by the Human Rights Watch, an international human rights body. The report highlights corruption and human rights abuses by the Nigeria Police, and says it is virtually one of the worst in the world. This, sadly, indicates the depth to which we have sunk as a people, and we wonder if the leadership of the police still sleeps soundly. Many orders have been issued for the dismantling of all checkpoints nationwide, yet they are flouted with impunity.
If, indeed, policemen precipitated the Sunday carnage and melted from the scene, we wonder how the perpetrators will continue to live with themselves, knowing that they have the blood of scores of men and women on their hands.
Too many lives are daily lost on our roads. We urge all relevant agencies to be alive to their duties. Vehicle Inspection Officers should do the work faithfully, knowing that many lives can be saved in the process. The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is doing well, and we urge it not to rest on its oars. The police must rediscover discipline, decorum and imbibe the spirit of service to the people. Their calling is not an avenue for avarice and barbarity, as we currently experience. The onus is equally on owners of vehicles, particularly the articulated ones, to ensure that they are well maintained, and roadworthy at all times.
A police that is well equipped with communication gadgets need not set up checkpoints. That is how the rest of the civilised world maintains security. We have not seen all the lofty changes I.G Onovo promised on assuming office. We wait.
Our hearts go out to relations of the dead in last Sunday's occurrence. May God grant them succour. May they receive the fortitude to bear the enormous loss. We urge the government to consider paying compensation to them, as many lives and property were needlessly lost.