Two weeks ago, I looked at what in other climes is usually regarded as an exciting affair-travelling by road and having the chance to take in the beautiful scenery that the country side presents, but which in Nigeria amounts to embarking on a suicide mission. In that piece, I had narrated my experience travelling from Abuja to the Garden City of Port-Harcourt and how the terrible road condition was compounded by drivers who appeared to be maniacally possessed and who, should have nothing doing being behind the wheels, and who acted like hectoring bulls on the road and openly flouted basic road rules and traffic norms with impunity.
In that piece, I had stated that it would be a while before I embarked on another road trip. Well… that was not to be, as I had to undertake yet another road trip that was of utmost necessity. I remember back in New York, I had promised my good friend and brother-Dr. Michael Imevbore-easily one of the most accomplished physicians that Nigeria has given to the world- whose medical practice, based in Connecticut is the pride of Nigerian Diaspora given the array of awards he has won, that I would attend the funeral of his late mother in-law- the supremely accomplished Late Comfort Olufunke Ponnle, an engineer, whose daughter- Temiptope- a Yale professor of medicine he is married to.
When I got a call from Imevbore penultimate Wednesday that he was expecting me in Ada, Osun state, I knew I had to honor my word and commitment to attend the funeral. Challenging as it was to get a seat on all Lagos bound flights, I was lucky to finally get a seat in an Aero flight which as always was massively delayed and without any corresponding or comforting words or explanation from the operators as to why the flight was delayed, and arrived Lagos a little after 4pm on Friday-December 20th. Not being conversant with the road, and a little worried given how late it was already, I took a leap of faith by hiring a cab straight from the airport car hire pool.
The driver had assured that if we were able to beat the homebound traffic that was beginning to build up, that we may be able to get to our destination in about three and half hours. “So we are looking at 7.30 pm” I had enquired looking for anything that would be a little reassuring and to help inoculate and blunt the edges of my anxiety. “Yes, we should get there around that time,” the driver had assured. We eventually got to Ada a little after 10pm, and the trip was not as scary as I had I thought it would be, and I felt mightily relived, which turned out to be premature, given what I was to experience two days later- an experience that once again revealed how cavalierly we treat human lives in this country; how precious lives that should be protected from easily preventable deaths are being sacrificed by a disengaged and detached institutions of government whose responsibilities it should be to ensure that rules are maintained and enforced, and those who flout or break them would have their feet burned for putting the collective safety of Nigerians in jeopardy. I will come back to this shortly.
The funeral itself was grand- in line with the life and times of the deceased who was known to be an epitome of style, of altruism and whose contributions to the cultural projection of the otherwise sleepy village of Ada through what I am told was the first privately owned golf club in the country-the Miccoms Golf and Resort is legendary. At the funeral on Saturday-December 21, news was made when for the first time, the currently Governor of Osun state-Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola met and warmly embraced the immediate past governor, whom he had wrestled power through judicial process from-Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the current scribe of the PDP. It was refreshing watching the two former political foes civilly embraced each other and seemingly agreeing to allow the past to represent what it is: the past and allow the present chart its own course.
Conscious of the fact that I had a 7.30 flight to catch to Uyo, and having been severely warned by the ticket agent not to miss the flight otherwise I won’t be able to celebrate Christmas at home, which I sorely desired to do, having last did such, in 1992, even though I visit home an almost six times a year, I took another leap of faith which as I look back was nothing more than tempting fate. I told my friend-Dr. Imevbore in spite of his protestations that I would leave Ada by 3.30 am in order to get to Lagos on or before 6.30 am. “I won’t advise you to embark on such a dangerous trip, but since you are dead serious about going, all I can say is may the Lord be with you” my friend had prayed, and as it turned out later, I really needed such prayers.
As Sir Shina Peters was winding down his performance, I told the driver to get the truck ready and at exactly 3,35 am, we left Ada on what turned out to be a solitary ride on a one –lane road that was surrounded on either side by thick forest. Afraid and full of trepidation- at one point, we ran into two guys on a motor bike with guns, who mercifully turned out to be members of a vigilante group, we finally got on to Ibadan-Lagos Highway and there in the thick harmattan fog that had reduced visibility to zero, I saw why Nigerians are dying in hundreds every day on Nigerian roads. I saw trucks and trailers that had no illuminated back light to notify fellow commuters that a car or truck or lorry was ahead of them- basic rule in other parts of the world. Most times, we were startled by the sudden materialization of a car, a lorry lumbering down the road with nothing to show a car or lorry was ahead of us. “So what happens if you were not as careful as you have been”? I had asked the driver, when he almost swerved and hit the curb upon sighting a lorry that was in front of us, which had no lit backlight, “Oga, the people will die, because the driver would drive straight into the lorry, this happens every day on our roads” the driver had told me. I was shocked. Throughout our almost one hour trip from Ibadan to Lagos, we encountered dozens of cars and lorries with no backlight that posed grave danger to other motorists, given the zero visibility on the road.
And this brings me to the efforts of Road Safety Corp to curb deaths on our highway. I have read tons of stories about the FRSC Corps Marshall- the affable Osita Chidoka and what laudable job he has been doing to reposition the agency and thus, instill a new sense of driving culture on Nigerian drivers. I want to join the hordes of people who have given him kudos, but I will go a step further to also ask him not to rest on his oars. I don’t know if registering cars and trucks and ensuring that those cars and trucks are road –worthy fall under his executive purview. In America, cars that don’t pass emission test or where a tail light or windscreen is broken automatically gets ticketed and must be fixed, failure of which could lead to loss of driving privileges and other fines.
If FRSC is entrusted with the task of ensuring that cars are road worthy, then I must say that the agency has done a poor job in that regard. Cars and lorries that I saw both along Ibadan –Lagos Expressway and the previous ones going to Port Harcourt from Abuja should never have been allowed to be on the road. If a car or lorry is mechanically compromised, it should be kept off the road and proper enforcement of the rules affected. I can imagine how many lived would have been be saved if such simple and basic rule of having ones headlamps and back lights in functional manner were enforced and culprits, booked and threatened with suspension of license.
We must begin to follow some of the best practices that are common place in other climes and ensure that our people internalize these values. They are not difficult things to do. Trucks and other long haulage vehicles should be designated their own routes as is done in other parts of the world, which most of our officials were once exposed to, as either students or visitors of those countries. Why can’t we replicate same here? Why must we do the ‘Nigerian thing”- cutting corners and sacrificing precious lives in the process? I am not a happy camper and it pains me to see how precious lives are being wasted by drug-addled and alcohol ravaged drives that just don’t simply understand basic road rules and don’t give a hoot about it, because the enforcement mechanism is non-existence or is lax at best. What I have seen on Nigerian roads can only lead me to one conclusion: Nigerians who travel by road should be afraid-very, very afraid- because doing so, may be the last time you beheld this planet we have come to enjoy-warts and all. I hope the Osita Chidoka led agency will swing into action and begin to punish those drivers that flout with impunity basic traffic and vehicular rules and in the process send otherwise productive Nigerians into early grave that should have been avoided. Enough of these waste of lives!