MAKING ROADS SAFER IN NIGERIA
Precisely a year and few days, at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) conference held in London (4th of July 2008) where the Nigeria chief marshals of the FRSC, Osita Chidoka made a remark in his opening speech that "There are an estimated 161 deaths per 10,000 vehicles for accident in Nigeria..." Up till this moment, the figure is still increasing despite all efforts made by the corps and no thanks to human factors and the bad state of the roads especially due negligence and maintenance culture. Most state and federal roads are regarded as death traps as they are short of safety infrastructures. According to FIA Foundation Organisation, "Every six seconds someone is killed or maimed on the world’s roads".
Majority of these deaths, about 70 percent occur in developing countries. The road traffic injury mortality rate in Africa is 28.3 per 100,000 of the population. Hundreds are crippled and injured everyday on Nigeria roads. The deaths toll keep on beating our imagination with increasing number of Nigerians being killed daily and subsequent trauma felt by their families. Road deaths and injuries are sudden, violent, traumatic experience events that require special attention by all and sundry.
One of the greatest threats to travellers in Nigeria is road safety. Recently. I just gave a call to former CEO of a notable publishing company in Ibadan, (the publisher of my first book) to inform and discuss with him about my new road traffic safety projects. Coincidentally, I hardly finished my discussion with him, when he told me of a ghastly motor accident that occurred on Lagos-Ibadan expressway less than an hour on his way back to Ibadan .He said, many lives were lost due to non appearance of emergency medical services or even traffic police officers that suppose to be seen every minute on the highways. They don’t have any other job than to save lives on our roads. This sad news reminds me of what happened in November 2007 in one of my regular visits to Nigeria. Few hours on arrival, I decided to drive myself from Ikeja area to Ibadan.
Controlling the steering wheel on the expressway was a big fight, talk-less of numerous gapping potholes, black spots, debris on both sides of the road. I kept on wondering if any of government officers or representatives travel on this same road. After all, they were being voted to represent us and make us live and work in safety. Barely forty minutes on the wheel when I witnessed two ghastly road accidents within few kilometres of the one-hour drive of Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The most cruel part of this sad scenes was that I could not even see neither a traffic policeman or a single emergency ambulance or doctor/nurse attending to the victims groaning in pain for more than twenty minutes, but I counted eight police-check-points ("road-block") mounted between Lagos and Ibadan express-way on that same day. What are they doing? All these police-check-points should be turned to SOS emergency centres with parading traffic police officers, standby ambulances with doctors and nurses?
Every Nigerian has the right to live, and work in safety. Every Nigerian has the right to walk, ride and drive on good and safe roads. This generation should not be wasted with increasingly road accidents. In less than fifteen months, Nigeria will be celebrating its 50 years independence anniversary. (Golden anniversary as it will be called). The federal government of Nigeria should come out now with a new National Safety Action Plan or Road Safety Improvement Action Plan for duration of 10years (2010-2010). This should be a development of a comprehensive, consensus strategic plan which will involve, federal road safety, police force, federal and all state ministries of road and transport, health, education, road engineers, policy makers, insurance companies, automobile companies, motoring association, psychologists, industrial representatives, consultants and researchers on road safety, driver trainers (driving schools) mass media, community leaders, youth organisations and others who have a stake in road safety.
The goal of this Road Safety Improvement Action Plan committee is to meet, discuss and develop a blue-print recommendations for advancing safety efforts that will guide our road safety plan for the next decade (2010-2020) or even in the next five years as deem-fit by the authority. The aim of this laudable strategic highway safety plan should be concentrated on the "4Es" of safety which include; the contributions of Engineering, Education, Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services. This explain further in building effective roads-network, establish and maintain the culture of road safety and ensure that road safety become everybody responsibility.
The committee will be concerned with more important road safety issues which includes; children’s traffic education, road crash problems and solutions, roadside environment and infrastructures, driver training, testing and licensing, nationwide emergency medical services (SOS), rehabilitation of accident victims, crash data and research, road safety information system and up-to-date-working equipment, publicity programmes, traffic laws enforcement and sanctions, roles of non-governmental organisations (NGO), vehicle safety standard, inspection and design, road fund for the safety plan, public transport regulation and compliance. Other areas where the committee should embark on integrated approach is to look into the issue of human factors which account for majority of road crashes in Nigeria. These include; young and old drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, occupant protection, behavioural countermeasures, speed, seat belt, drunk-driven, and impaired drivers.
This same kind of road safety plan has been a great success in other countries like Malaysia with Road Safety of Malaysia (2006-2010), National Road Safety Plan in Kenya (2005-2010), South Africa and recent road projects. The United Kingdom government has recently launched a decade of action plan to make roads safe. This will take effect between 2010and 2020.
Road safety is a shared responsibility and concern of everyone. Road traffic systems are one of the most complex issues which people have to deal with everyday. We should all join hands together to ensure effective implementation of this road safety plan that will detail the steps to reduce Nigeria most serious transportation safety problems. Road users education, awareness, positive attitudes, defensive driving techniques should be developed to avert unnecessary accidents .We could safe more lives, be safe and be responsible road users if we can contribute effectively to safe roads by respecting traffic rules and regulations, road signs, speed limits and do not drive or ride under the influence of alcohol or banned drugs.
Road Safety Improvement Action Plan is seen as very important and laudable project to Nigeria at this stage of development. This will forms the framework of knowledge against which better policy and resources allocation decisions can be made to ensure most use of our abundant natural and human resources. It needs an urgent action. The government should provide road safety improvement and should see expenditure on road safety as an investment and not as a cost. Development and improvement on road safety is a benefit to the entire populace.
Adewale T. Akande is an author and Road Traffic Safety Consultant.