Shortly after 15 persons were killed in the endless carnage and daily ritual of blood spillage through road accidents at the Enugu Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu added another ambulance to the fleet of the Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS), nine ambulances short of the projected 15 that would convey the dead to mortuaries and help resuscitate the mangled bodies of the injured. ASPIMS General Manager Kingsley Megwara who drove NDUKA NWOSU along the deadly Enugu-Aba- Port Harcourt Expressway, the deplorable Arochukwu-Ohafia Road and the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road, in this interview, paints a gory tale, using the pregnant woman whose unborn child kicked her womb, struggling to escape an impending disaster about to send her back to eternity against her wish
What’s the update on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway?
You saw it all yourself and all of the screamings we have been making about this expressway. The Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway I can say on record is a death trap waiting to happen. All the palliative measures put in place for Christmas will be swept away once the rains are here. It is sad that for a country as big and great as ours we allow the Enugu-Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway to be in the deplorable stage it is today. That road is one of the busiest in the country today but it has remained the way it is in the last six years. The tragedy of this road is that it takes one, two, three lives daily on the minimum. No day passes without blood being spilled through a road accident on that expressway. You noticed the deplorable nature of the road; that is one.
The Arochukwu-Ohafia road has been like that for a while. Most of the federal roads in Abia State are in a terrible shape. People die daily on the Enugu-Aba-Port Harcourt road. The sooner the Federal Government focuses its attention on that road, the better. No day passes without our response to a major fatality. It is sad that this road continues to be a death trap to Nigerians. There is no other place we can call home as Nigerians. I believe as policy makers, we need to be a little sensitive to ourselves. It can be any one else tomorrow. The Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, the Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, the Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia Road, all the federal roads in Abia State are in a terrible shape.
Can you give a graphic picture of the theatre of action?
You receive a call at 10.45 am that says two vehicles travelling on the road on Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway have been involved in a head on collision. Four women travelling in a 17 seater passenger bus are critically injured and bleeding with severe head injuries. One of the women is heavy with pregnancy and the unborn baby is kicking inside, struggling for life as you observe the movement of the mother’s stomach. This is what we cope with on a daily basis and my brother if you pass through this daily ritual, you will begin to appreciate the value of life. That is why we continually sensitise our drivers in Abia State to ensure we are very obedient of the rules when on the roads, to be very tolerant of one another on our roads, lessen the speed and avoid text messages, making phone calls or answering phone calls while on the steering.
The roads are very deplorable, the federal highways are in very deplorable shape. They do not encourage high speeds like 100 kilometers an hour while making or answering phone calls. We will continue to talk to them through our many outlets and that is the much we can do now. When you go to the scene of an accident and see how bad things are, you will begin to have an appreciation for life. Until we develop a change on our attitude to driving and this includes several agencies including those that issue drivers’ licences, these accidents facilitated by these death traps called expressways, would continue to happen. Ours is a rescue agency and if I have my way especially in the issue of licences, several drivers on the highways would have no business being there. My appeal is for a turn-around for a system that only issues licences to well trained and supervised drivers.
When you go to the scene of an accident and see body parts flying everywhere and an ambulance drives down to the rescue, a victim feels largely relieved. Therefore ambulance services to road accident victims I feel, should be replicated in every state of the federation. My experience tells me it is an integral part of what we should be doing in government. We are offering a very important service to all motorists in Abia and it attracts no fees. ASPIMS is in a better position today to respond to the needs of accident victims than it was in the past. We are a complement to the activities of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC}. If we arrive at an accident scene before the corps team, we take charge but if they arrive before us, we give support to its ambulance team. We are very pleased the way we are going right now.
How do you cope with hospitals that reject accident victims?
We are beginning to sensitise some of these hospitals and clinics on the need to receive these victims and give them the needed treatment. First of all you would be breaking the law by not treating an accident victim brought to your hospital. The law says treat first and ask questions later. If we have hospitals that are not complying with these rules, we have situations where we expose them so that they don’t get patronage but I must say we also have situations where some of these hospitals are complying. We have the Federal Medical Center Umuahia, the General Hospital in Amachara in Umuahia, and the Living Word Hospital in Aba. These three hospitals have been cooperating. There are recalcitrant hospitals that reject victims on account of not knowing them or without a valid address and severally we have had to register that person in the name of the general manager after which the family members are properly notified and the dead victim delivered to them.
How many ambulances in the team will quicken the process of a rapid response?
In the ideal world the response time to most accidents is between five and ten minutes or between five and seven minutes. The number of ambulances in the fleet goes a long way in defining the response time. Ideally, there should be ambulances everywhere in the state with a central command system that does not solely rely on the telephone but on walkie-talkies to save time. This is going to be expensive but the governor has promised that with increased resources or revenue coming to the state, the fleet level would increase. It is extremely important to increase the number of ambulances we currently have to help quicken our response time.
How has your trauma center fared?
We have a trauma center initiated by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as CEO of ASPIMS, now as a work in progress. The idea of initiating a trauma center is to quickly respond to some accident cases before going to hospital, depending on the proximity of the accident to a hospital. Our primary responsibility is to convey victims to the nearest hospital. What we decided when we came on board was to complete the trauma center and divert all non-life threatening accident cases to the facility. We intend across board to have volunteer doctors who will come to help us at the center, especially youth corps medical personnel as well as Abia medical personnel in the Diaspora in particular those that have expressed interest coming home to offer free services periodically. I will be happy as general manager of ASPIMS to complete this trauma center and use it as an outlet to ease the tension created by accident victims in some of our hospitals.
On coming to office, what were the challenges?
The challenge was trying to boost the strength and morale of our work force. We currently have about 291 employees in our workforce. I came in to confront a workforce whose morale was low. That was a major challenge. We also had challenges upgrading our infrastructure but we have been able to create a work friendly environment for our staff. The morale of staff right now is pretty high and they know that the Okezie Ikpeazu administration is committed to ensuring that those who work for us are well taken care of. So we have turned around the agency and positioned it for greater heights. The collaborative support we have received from Abia State indigenes in the Diaspora has also encouraged us to a large extent. We have been receiving donations of drugs, donations of equipment and our ambulances. Things are looking up for ASPIMS.
What agenda did you set up for yourself?
The number one agenda is to ensure staff gets paid at the end of the month, in particular our-paramedical nurses and other paramedics. Before I came on board, we were two or three months in salary arrears but today I can proudly confirm we are up to date with salaries.
Secondly, I said we are very committed increasing the number of ambulances we currently have. We are very lucky to have received more ambulances from the governor under my tenure. It is my hope the agency will be positioned to a point of having more ambulances every year thus increasing our fleet.
Thirdly, we must make sure that the trauma center started by the current governor would be completed in my tenure because it would help to ease all of the problems we now have with some of the hospitals. We will find a way to work with some of the mortuaries so that when we arrive at the scene of an accident and our doctors certify that the victim is dead, we will quickly move that person to the mortuary and move on from there. We will continue to train and re-train our paramedics; as you know medicine is constantly updating itself and we must keep abreast with these changes. We are also lucky that every Christmas one or two Abia citizens in the Diaspora, who are conversant with our activities engage in our re-training activities.
What informed the establishment of ASPIMS?
Legislation by the Abia State House of Assembly informed the setting up of the Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme (ASPIMS) 17 years ago for motorists, passengers and drivers using the highways. The idea was to set up a mobile rapid response team backed by ambulances and paramedical personnel, whose duty is quick response to the needs of accident victims. Additionally, there was need to be in the business of sensitising drivers on safety needs to prevent accidents from happening through a drivers’ education and orientation system.
So over the years, we were not living up to this expectation until the current governor of the state Okezie Ikpeazu came on board as the CEO of ASPIMS. Ikpeazu who has headed this agency twice and saw the need to actualize the expectations of the legislation that established ASPIMS, started the ambulance services. As a general manager I have come to see why it was important to set up this agency. I have argued repeatedly that 10 years hence Abians will come to appreciate the reason for the establishment of the agency having experienced the agonies of both drivers and accident victims on our federal highways. They will see ASPIMS as one of the major contributions of the Okezie Ikpeazu administration.
What does it take to be a performing work force on top of the job?
When you are in the business of saving lives daily and you receive a phone call saying a multiple accident has occurred with bodies flying everywhere, it takes some level of compassion to do that job. What do you get in return for putting your own life on the line for others? The least we can do is to ensure there is encouragement by way of compensation and remuneration. If I have my way we will triple what we are currently paying our nurses and our paramedics in the field for the tremendous amount of risk they take by being on the highway daily trying to save lives.
What were the specific achievements of the incumbent as ASPIMS CEO?
He was the first CEO to initiate help to motorists. His primary responsibility was focused on commercial vehicles. With the provision of additional ambulances, we decided to extend the services to all motorists and accident victims on the highways passing through Abia State and this has put pressure on us. What impressed me most when the governor came on board was his decision to implement the core assignment of the agency in terms of providing ambulance services on Abia highways for accident victims. He started with two and now we have six . We are growing with the prospects of expanding our fleet and paramedical services as we move on. We are educating our drivers on the need to be careful on our roads since life has no duplicate.
This sensitisation exercise is not just to the commercial drivers but to all road users in Abia State. It is imperative that all road users obey the road signs for safety reasons.
How is your Diaspora experience impacting on this assignment?
The governor knows I spent 26 years of my life in the US and that exposure in terms of seeing how an efficient system works all add value to what goes on here. I am a criminologist by training, not a doctor however, it does not take a doctor to run a 911 outfit such as we have in Abia State. What is needed is effective management backed by effective human resource development knowing what to do at the right time. The ability to drive your team in getting results counts and here I am working with the best team you can think of whether as nurses or paramedics, the support staff and the entire staff.
Firstly, I would like to thank the governor of Abia State for this initiative. When historians assess his legacy, his efforts at saving lives through ASPIMS would be one of his biggest achievements. As the scheme grows in size and strength, our responses will go beyond road
accidents. It will include taking phone calls from those who have health issues that call for emergency at homes. So rather than beg your next door neighbor, a call across the emergency unit of ASPIMS will quickly respond to the emergency. That is our long term goal in emergency medical services in Abia State. The governor of Abia State is committed to saving the lives of men and women in the state and I know that as the scheme gets bigger we shall get there.