Land travel has always been a hazardous experience in Nigeria due to the poor state of roads and irresponsible driving habits. This has been made even worse by the activities of improperly latched container-bearing vehicles that frequently empty their contents on the road, thus further endangering the lives of other road users.
One of such harrowing experiences took place on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on October 30, resulting in untold hardship for commuters. Unable to endure the excruciating traffic any longer, a pregnant woman began to vomit, then fainted. Other commuters suffered similar discomfort. Their nightmare, caused by a fallen cargo-laden lorry and some failed portions at the Arepo U-turn on the expressway, has sadly become a regular occurrence, with the traffic stretching for kilometres inward and outward Lagos. It is a tortuous daily tribulation.
But that was not all for that day. A few kilometres away in Lagos State, on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, a 40-foot tanker and another articulated vehicle collided. The lockdown the accident caused was gargantuan. Traffic-wise, it was a disastrous day for Lagos and Ogun states. The Lagos-Ibadan road is littered with unlatched containers falling off disjointed trucks.
On September 3, a Heavy Goods Vehicle bearing containers fell on the Ojuelegba Bridge on Funsho Williams Avenue in Lagos. The container landed on a Sport Utility Vehicle, killing three people. The ensuing gridlock lasted for hours. Two days after, another 40-foot HGV overturned on the Ikorodu-Sagamu Expressway in Lagos, while one person died on September 10 near Sagamu on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway when two petrol tankers collided.
Attributing the frequency of the accidents to reckless driving, rickety trucks and the deplorable state of the road, a witness, Chioma Amadi, said, “A similar fatal accident happened here about four years ago, which claimed the life of a polytechnic lecturer’s pregnant wife. Incidents of fallen containerised trucks and petrol tankers are a regular occurrence here….”
Lamentably, the most critical roads in the country are dilapidated. This is a major factor in the unending gridlock around the country. The Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the major artery that services the seaports, has been in a terrible shape for about two decades. It defies economic sense that past federal administrations have neglected the road despite the fact that the government reportedly earns N2 trillion from the ports every year.
So is the 127.6-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which was opened in 1978. The road, which serves as the economic link between Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, is the busiest in the country. Yet, the neglect and suffering motorists are subjected to as a result are acute and dumbfounding. The East-West Road linking major cities in the Niger Delta region, the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, one side of the Ibadan-Ife Expressway, the Ilorin-Jebba-Kaduna Expressway, the Ilorin-Kabba-Okene Highway, Ibadan-Ilorin Expressway and Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway have deteriorated.
The bad roads lead to harrowing delays and loss of man-hours. Accidents, injuries and deaths are rife. In 2010, a total of 6,052 people died in auto accidents in Nigeria, 6,092 in 2012 and 6,450 in 2013, according to Federal Road Safety Commission. July 2012 was particularly terrible. A petroleum tanker accident, which crushed three cars, resulted in the death of 100 people in Okogbe, Rivers State. In November 2000, a petroleum tanker caught fire after crashing into stationary cars ensnared by gridlock at the tollgate in Ile-Ife, Osun State. The accident claimed more than 100 lives. Bisi Akande, the then governor of Osun, said, “I have never in my life seen an accident like this.”
The economic cost is horrendous. FRSC estimates that developing countries lose $100 billion annually to road crashes. In the United States, the Department of Transport says congestion costs the country $121 billion annually, in addition to 500,000 annual truck accidents. Yet, it appears that our government is all at sea about what to do. Inexplicably, the Federal Government allocated a miserly N11 billion to the Ministry of Works as capital vote in the 2015 budget. Just one road – Lagos-Ibadan – is being reconstructed for N167 billion. The Second Niger Bridge at Onitsha, which spans Delta and Anambra states, was initially awarded for N117 billion in 2014.
Worse, the traffic regulating agencies like the police, FRSC and states’ Vehicle Inspection Offices seem completely incapable of tackling the chaos. The agencies look the other way when untrained HGV drivers violate traffic rules. Their response to accidents is discouraging, as there are often no towing vehicles to remove fallen HGVs and containers from the road. Poorly maintained and smoky HGVs are allowed to ply the roads, while the laws against such are regrettably not enforced.
Road transport is an integral part of every modern economy. Therefore, it is futile to assume we can do without HGVs. The US economy depends heavily on trucks. Its haulage industry is worth $671 billion annually. The haulage partnership between the US and Canada is worth $295 billion, and that of the US and Mexico is put at $195.6 billion annually.
But the FRSC, police and other agencies have to start enforcing traffic laws, while training and certification of HGV drivers have to be modernised, inventive and statutory. Every driving licence issued without the necessary certification compromises road safety.
Germany is a model in regulation that we can emulate. In curbing HGV accidents, only highly-trained drivers are licenced there. A lorry licence there could cost up to €8,000, and training takes at least three years before a truck licence is issued.
France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy restrict the movement of HGVs, especially at weekends. The restriction on movement of HGVs in Lagos should thus be fully implemented and emulated by others. European countries also punish traffic offenders by suspending them from driving, withdrawing their licences, and jailing them as a last resort in the event of persistent violations. As suggested by the FRSC, it is opportune for Abuja to give the country “a coherent national road policy,” standardise road designs to keep abreast of the increasing volume of vehicular traffic, and build better roads and maintain them.
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