by Ikemesit Effiong
Recently I was chatting with a very good friend of mine, Tolu, a Masters student in the United States. Tolu has always had a challenge keeping in touch with current happenings back here. As the ever efficient doctor that I am, I prescribed a simple solution. By converting to the religious practice of reading The Scoop, she will never miss a beat.
Tolu ‘pings’ me up two days later telling me that all we write about here all seem to be ‘bad’ news. Isn’t there some good news from Nigeria to report about? Apparently, we have compounded the everyday crisis of being reminded that she is from a Third World country that she constantly has to deal with. Well, I’ve got good news for Tolu and it is happening surprisingly on our roads.
During the Yuletide season, we were all confronted by the visible presence of marshals and officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission on the nation’s highways. I must say I was impressed by the level of professionalism and excellence they showed in coordinating traffic and aiding road users to navigate through perennially troublesome bottlenecks in the national highway system like the Abaji pass on the Lokoja-Abuja expressway, the Niger Bridge crossings at Onitsha-Asaba and the Benue river crossing at Makurdi as well as that globally renowned stretch of stubborn roadway, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
In discharging their duties, they firmly dealt with those errant few among us who would rather cruise on the opposite side of the road, drive in the opposite direction on one-way streets, zip through mostly residential B-roads at 120km/hr. (If you do not know what a B-road is, you’re part of the problem) and whack, shack and knack while driving. I personally witnessed an incident where the driver of a bus was made to drive about 20km back the way he came and join the queue of vehicles waiting to enter an intersection just outside 9th Mile in Enugu.
This drive was part of a mammoth operation lasting about three weeks and involving over 800 vehicles, 35,000 regular and special FRSC marshals, aerial surveillance provided by the Nigerian Air Force and collaboration with the Army, the Police, the Civil Defence Corps, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency and the National Emergency Management Agency. It was an impressive piece of Nigerian industry on a scale probably not seen since the demise of the famed groundnut pyramids of Kano. It was like watching a music orchestra in full flow.
Until recently, our roads have been and still are perilous habitats to engage in. Nigerians generally tend to drive like the Nigerian road system had the excellence and efficiency of the German Autobahn.
Julius Agwu, a commander with the FRSC and the head of its Public Education Section was on the money when he stated that the average Nigerian sees the expressway as a race course. After all, how do you explain the fact that by FRSC statistics, the Federal Capital Territory with about 2.1% of the nation’s population and also unarguably, its best road network, has the highest number of road crashes in the Federation?
We the people have to conduct a reality check on our driving habits. Some facts may help in this regard. According to the FRSC, the human factor accounts for 80% of all road accidents. Of this lot, 35% is attributable to excessive speed. You can’t zoom through Igbosere at 80km/hr. and expect a smooth ride. Another 17% is blamed on ‘loss of control’ which is also closely linked to speed. The last time I saw someone lose control of a car at 20km/hr., it was my six year old cousin who decided to embark on a frolic of his own. The remainder is taken up by such things as lack of concentration, poor eating choices before entering a vehicle like drinking, eating too much (Yes! You heard right), and distractions like talking on a cell phone.
In spite of all this, there are some positives to highlight. The nation’s road fatalities have not exceeded 5,000 persons for the last five years.
Also, registration of new vehicles, plate number issuance, and renewal and issuance of new drivers’ licenses have significantly improved. The era of meeting your cousin to ‘help’ you ‘runze’ your license is slowly passing away. I remember vividly how my father made me take the Vehicle Inspectorate Office (VIO) driving exam. Yes! I did the road test and to God be the glory, I passed at the first attempt. My dad makes an issueabout how as an undergraduate in Texas, he took the notoriously rigorous road exam three times.
As with everything Nigerian, we can always improve. The FRSC needs more manpower, improved logistics in vehicles and tracking equipment, better training and increased funding. At least, they are one government agency that can use public funds judiciously. They have succeeded in exorcising the demons of their ill fated new plate number exercise.
Are you happy now Tolu?