The sudden death of 21 persons, comprising mainly of school children in an automobile accident in Awgu, Enugu State the other day is not just tragic, it signposts what has become a regular feature of untimely deaths on Nigerian roads. In the past week alone, there have been several other reported accidents that claimed lives across the country. They include the reported killing in Ondo of about 30 persons when a trailer crashed into a market. Similarly, the Awgu accident occurred when a truck ran into a school bus belonging to a nursery and primary school in the town. There is an urgent need for concerted efforts to end this ugly carnage.
Road traffic accidents remain a real scourge in Nigeria and the number of deaths from the accidents is unacceptably high! This indicates a deficit in Nigeria’s progress to realise Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.6, which calls for a 50% reduction in the number of road traffic deaths by 2020.
According to the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), no fewer than 43 persons died in several road crashes recorded within 24 hours in Osun, Yobe, Lagos, Delta and Akwa Ibom states. Causes of the accidents include tanker explosion, brake failure, tyre burst, over-speeding and dangerous overtaking among others.
Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that about 1.35 million people are killed yearly in road traffic crash; and between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, Regional rates of road traffic deaths in Africa in which Nigeria belongs and South-East Asia are the highest at 26.6 and 20.7 deaths per 100,000 populations respectively.
Disturbing as these huge casualties are, there are many unreported cases especially in Nigeria. People in their prime (productive and reproductive) often constitute a good percentage of the victims. Road accidents cost developing countries, including Nigeria, between 1-2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) as the mortality from road accidents take away agile and skilled manpower.
Children affected are unable to complete their education or acquire skills for life, making them school dropouts, destitute and social delinquents. So, road accident is a major cause of poverty and socio-economic disorder in Nigeria, deserving a national emergency treatment.
Among the causative risk factors are over speeding; driving while intoxicated or under the influence of psychoactive substances; non-compliance or absence of safety provisions (helmet, seat belt, car seat for children); distracted driving owing to the use of mobile phones, dangerous road infrastructure and non-compliance with highway code. Others are very bad roads, decrepit vehicles, careless driving, poor vehicle maintenance, under-developed rail lines that would have taken away pressure from the roads, and the menace of petroleum tankers/trailers.
Carnage on Nigerian roads can be prevented or reduced, to enable the country fulfil its commitments to the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, especially target 3.6 of Sustainable Development Goals requiring a 50% reduction in global road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020. This is also in synergy with the primary constitutional responsibility of the state to protect lives and property.
Government at all levels need to address road safety in a holistic manner, particularly through enforcement of extant legislations on key behavioural risk factors including speed, drink-driving and failing to use safety and protective gadgets. Greater attention is required to make roads safer, for instance by giving consideration to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Those who plan, design, operate and use the roads share responsibility for maintaining a system in which crashes occur less frequently. Lead agencies such as the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) should be equipped with appropriate capacity and synergised with related multi-sectoral coordination arrangements with other agencies for effective action.
Besides, data collection should be strengthened because without the ability to assess progress and the effectiveness of efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries, the nation will fail to identify gaps in the system needed to deliver tailored improvements.
The government should also provide functional cameras that can capture over-speeding vehicles; give road construction and maintenance contracts to companies that would deliver on time and according to quality specifications. Furthermore, given Nigeria’s terrain, concrete instead of asphalt should be used for road construction and the roads should be complemented with super drainages. In addition, government should fast track the development of the rail system to reduce pressure on roads; and the media and other civil society groups should play their surveillance functions to ensure implementation.
Practically, there is need for a strong regime of discipline on the roads. Only roadworthy vehicles must be on the roads. This will reduce the probability of accidents occurring as a result of technical failure. Many of the vehicles that display roadworthy certificates are simply not fit-for-purpose.
Meanwhile, training, especially for commercial drivers should be encouraged. All statutory agencies charged with the responsibility of enforcing highway codes including the installation of the speed limit devices in commercial vehicles should live up to their mandate.
The point at issue may not be a popular and sensational subject, it should be noted by all that loss of human lives from road accidents leaves in its trail, grief, pain and untold economic as well as psychological hardships. Every Nigerian should take responsibility for keeping the roads safe and demand same commitment from other road users. This is a social responsibility of all of us.