Critical peep into the house of horror built on the avoidable carnage on Nigerian roads
| In less than the time it takes you to read a paragraph in this piece, at least one precious life is probably lost on Nigerian roads. While lives in nations lying along what geographers would describe as zones o subduction are often lost to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, equalizers in our lucky, blessed part of the world, have always come in the form of avoidable man-made calamities. The invaluable natural advantage bestowed on us by creation has been fatally betrayed in the abattoir of our objectionable mental, intellectual and socio-cultural attitude to life and living and, by implication, governance. While our individual disposition on the roads is best described as madness behind the steering wheel, the response of government has always been gazetted in pot-holes.
A good number of the fatal accidents, especially in recent times, have occurred on account of vehicles ‘drowning’ in the drum-deep swallow holes or crashing into others in desperate attempts to avoid them. And years after government taxed the already over-burdened Nigerian people with persistent fuel price increase with the promise to expend such funds to fix the road network, the holes have developed into dungeons, cliffs and gullies of death.
With the roads in such drive-and-die condition, the general driving habit of Nigerians is not helping matters. The average Nigerian (and even the elites and the educated are guiltier!) hangs on to the incredible belief that expertise in driving is measured in how recklessly and irresponsibly on can drive. Hence, “anyone who could drive in Lagos would drive anywhere in the world,” you often hear. But, in better-organized societies, anyone who drives the way he does it in Lagos would find himself behind bars within twenty four hours.
Although driving could be a very pleasurable and enjoyable experience, we on this side of the divide have made a big deal out of one of the easiest tasks that man can be called upon to perform. Unlike for other basic tasks, it takes only twenty-four hours to learn the basic principles of driving. This is why a 75-year old great grandmother cannot sweep but would drive. If the task is so simple and straight-forward, then you wonder why there should be accidents at all. For all you need to avoid such calamities, therefore, are no more than common sense, awareness of and regard for simple traffic rules and regulation and highway codes, all enveloped in such simple demonstration of the invaluable virtue of patience. But unfortunately, here, even the dead are in a hurry to get to the grave!
In a society where all acts of irresponsibility and indiscipline including willfully breaking the law and getting away with it are seen as status symbol, the general street madness (gsm) on the roads can only be the harbinger of carnage and confusion. Despite the effort of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) on some of these issues, too many still see simultaneous driving (at top speed!) and making calls on cell-phones, even in difficult situations, as not only a reflection of their social status but also of their driving expertise. Yet the number of fatal accidents resulting from this obnoxious practice has been most disturbing. It almost goes without saying that a significant proportion of the horrendous traffic jam in our major cities, especially Lagos, is caused by objectionable driving habits.
Equally agonizing, in this respect, is the consequence of the general disposition towards the maintenance culture. A typical Nigerian car owner, for example, would rather pay attention to certain trivialities that show him off as a ‘big man’ than important issues that keep the car in serviceable and operational condition. It is therefore not surprising the relentless regularity with which vehicles break down on the highways and persistent frequency with which accidents occur as consequence. The offending attitude is however not only a problem with individuals and the notorious official attitude of inaction towards road maintenance could hardly be surprising.
From city to city and town to town in the country, the story is the same – highways in horrible state of disrepair and in a good number of cases rendered virtually non-existent. Years after the routine setting up of “authorities” produced the present Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), the roads have become even worse. And curiously, years after billions of Naira were spent to dismantle the toll gates (constructed in the first place definitely with hundreds of billions), first news, or maybe rumour, had it that contemplation was being made to revive them. Then no less a distinguished authority than a state executive governor (now deposed) actually submitted a case for it. And, as at the moment, the ‘rumour’ stands confirmed by the Federal Government through FERMA.
That probably could be government’s own blueprint for addressing the problem of the unending carnage on the highways. It makes no matter if the roads themselves are in killer state, so long as fine-looking, toll-attracting structures adorn select locations along their stretch. At least we are already used to witnessing government ‘intervention’ in the fate of horrible road network only when sitting government chief executives are paying working visits to states or certain localities. And as long as pretty damsels are positioned to man the toll gates, the gullies and drums ahead could as well serve as vaults in which to deposit the collected Naira notes for safe-keeping. Never mind expressing any concern about the safety; there will always be uniformed men to provide security, not for the road users, but for the toll collectors, the toll collected and the numerous ever-present executive merchants of fake tickets.
And, though we have been sold the toll-for-maintenance theory, we have not been offered any explanation or presented with any records concerning the hundreds of billions of Naira already allocated over the last several years for road maintenance in the country. We can therefore always place a bet on the toll revenue going the way of its budgetary allocation predecessor and, by implication, on the deplorable condition of our roads maintaining the status quo. The collective attitude as individuals and government does not portray us, as a people, as respecters of lives and their sanctity. So if and when you again find yourself handing your Naira notes to that ‘babe’ inside a toll chamber, you are definitely not being asked to pay as you drive, or ride. You are only being called upon to pay as you die.