There is need to strengthen emergency rescue services on our roads

On a daily basis, so much blood is spilled on Nigerian roads. Last week, six members of the Ekiti State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and their driver died in a road accident along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway. The men were on their way to Sokoto to attend the NMA’s Annual Delegates’ Conference when the bus conveying them had a burst tyre, reportedly on the same spot where the former Minister of State for Labour, Mr James Ocholi, wife and son, recently died. The Kaduna State sector command of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) attributed the accident to over-speeding, like it did for the one involving the minister.

However, Dr. Ekundare Folu, chairman, National Association of Government and General Medical and Dental Practitioners in Ekiti State who was among the six medical doctors that survived the crash said the FRSC had its facts wrong. “The deputy corps commander (of the FRSC who issued the statement) did not even see the vehicle either at the scene of the accident or at the police station,” said Folu. “I was in the same vehicle sitting in the row behind the driver and I checked the speedometer from time to time. The bus also makes a beeping sound once the speed exceeds 110km/hr. Let me state categorically that the bus driver was not speeding.”

So, if the vehicle was not speeding, what went wrong? Dr. John Akinbote, another survivor, said lack of immediate and proper attention was responsible for the death of the six doctors. “It became worse when we got to Doka Hospital; there was no doctor to attend to us and the only nurse on duty had no first aid facilities to administer treatment.”

That is a familiar story, which in the circumstance, is ironic for the doctors caught in such an unfortunate trap to which many Nigerians are subjected almost every day. However, while we commiserate with the families of the deceased, the accident once again highlights the dangers inherent on our roads. A recent report put the rate of fatalities on Nigerian roads at 33.7 per 100,000 population, one of the highest in the world and the highest on the continent. According to experts, speeding by motorists plays a major part in road accidents, accounting for one-third. But there are other factors and these include the condition of the road, the condition of vehicles, driver errors and lax regulations.

Most of our roads are pot-holed with several of the vehicles, rickety while many drivers are reckless. But the recent accident also revealed that some deaths could be avoided if emergency services were prompt and efficient. Indeed, the doctors who survived the tragic accident accused the road safety personnel of negligence, just as they also indicted their health colleagues for laxity – something ordinary folks witness on a routine basis. In many hospitals across the nation, accident victims hardly receive prompt attention because of issues related to money – about who eventually will pick up the bill.

In a country where most of the citizens have no health insurance, only people who can afford to dip into their pockets receive prompt and adequate attention. But at the end of the annual delegates meeting in Sokoto last week, the NMA issued a communiqué pressing federal and state governments to urgently provide and station well-equipped functional ambulances along the major highways for the purpose of immediate conveyance of injured victims of vehicular accidents to nearby hospitals. It also acknowledged their concerns on the state of our roads and urged their immediate rehabilitation “with proper and appropriate road signage on the major highways across the country”. In addition, the association called on government to expedite action on the National Health Act 2014.
There is every reason for government to listen to the association.