Ocholi’s death exposes the dangers of plying Nigerian roads

In the past few weeks, so many lives have been wasted across the nation in road accidents. Two weeks ago, some 18 passengers died in a road crash along the Bauchi-Jos road. This happened shortly after the gory accident which claimed the lives of the Minister of State for Labour & Emplyment, Mr. James Ocholi, his wife and son on the Kaduna-Abuja road. A day later, the Nigerian Army lost its Chief of Training and Operations, Major General Yusha’u Abubakar, in a road accident in Borno State. On the same day, the Yobe State deputy governor was also involved in a road crash on the Kaduna-Kano road. Fortunately, he survived.

In the wake of the auto crash that killed James Ocholi, his wife and son, the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Boboye Oyeyemi released an interim report where he attributed the accident to a burst tyre which resulted in the loss of control of the minister’s official car. “Information gathered revealed that the driver of the crashed vehicle was actually moving at excess of the stipulated speed limit when he had a burst tyre. The crashed vehicle driver was driving too fast and he slammed on his brake so hard. These two factors materially contributed to the inability of the driver to maintain control when the left rear tyre burst”, said Oyeyemi who added that the driver of the vehicle would be prosecuted for over-speeding and for not being in possession of a driver’s licence.

While we commiserate with the family of the Ocholis for this tragic accident, the FRSC report has raised certain posers: whose responsibility is it to ensure that someone who drives a senior government official has a valid driver’s licence? How was the driver engaged for the job if, as FRSC claimed, he has probably never been in possession of a driver’s licence? Why was the driver over-speeding without being reprimanded by his boss who was in the vehicle? These are valid questions that need to be interrogated, if only to avoid making a scapegoat of the driver and for proper lessons to be learned from the tragedy. Since Ocholi’s driver, who is fortunate to be alive will be tried in court, we hope he would be availed of all his rights so that he can tell his side of the story. It is also our hope that the driver would not now be abandoned at the hospital.

Thousands of people die daily all over the world as a result of over-speeding, which accounts for at least a third of all road accidents. In the United States, it is estimated that it costs society more than $76,000 for every minute gained by a speeding driver. But what compounds the problem in Nigeria is that public officials and their convoys do not obey traffic rules. That perhaps explains why accidents involving them are almost always fatal.

While road traffic accidents are bound to occur occasionally, there is increasing evidence that the relevant government departments and officials are not adhering to extant rules governing the employment and deployment of drivers especially those attached to superior public officials. Ordinarily, drivers for such assignments should be centrally screened, tested, selected and trained by the relevant government department. Even after being deployed, they should be subjected to periodic re-training, safety and security orientation and health checks to ensure that they are both physically and mentally fit for their assigned role.

Correspondingly, all government vehicles or vehicles deployed for the official use of government officials ought to undergo periodic road worthiness inspection. The current situation where senior government officials employ and deploy drivers sometimes without drivers’ licences should to be discontinued.