A Marshal’s Easter Message to Road Users

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As Easter approaches with millions of South easterners travelling home to observe the celebration, General Manager Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS), Kingsley Megwara, offers specific tips that would help reduce road accidents while commending Works Minister Babtunde Fashola for his recent visit to the state with a ray of hope on rehabilitating the federal highways in the state. NDUKA NWOSU reports

Gift Obisike wept profusely, uncontrollably. She was inconsolable, passing through what his boss would call a trauma syndrome.

The sight of road carnage was beyond what she bargained for on her new job, not when the unborn baby in the womb of the recent accident victim struggled helplessly to live. The kicks were visible, the desperation palpable. The rescue team expectedly was quick in moving the victims to a friendly clinic close to the state capital in Umuahia. If Gift thought this was the initiation that would ultimately chill her soul and admit her to the club of Female Samaritans, the sorority of good workers, she was wrong.

Day Two of the initiation witnessed an even more cruel ritual of human sacrifice, a monument to the god of road accidents on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. Mangled bodies, half living and barely breathing victims who left their homes with a warm farewell, have failed to reach their destinations. Instead they have become another feast for the Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia Road feast of human blood, their red crimson of custard spluttered on the highway, in this unending and unnecessary festival of death on the federal expressways connecting Abia to neighbouring states.

Every day while on bed, Kingsley Megwara, General Manager Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS), wakes up with a phone call to another day of carnage on another dilapidated federal highway, one of the expressways traversing the state.  A mass transit load of passengers has lost its direction and crashed into a gulley with its unfortunate passengers while another oncoming vehicle has had a head on collision with a family returning home for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

A typical day in the life of Megwara begins with a desperate call asking him to come to an accident scene. Says Megwara:  “At 10.45 am you receive a call that says two vehicles travelling on the road on the 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.”

Megwara explains ASPIMS is as well in the business of sensitising drivers on safety needs to prevent accidents from happening through a drivers’ education and orientation system. “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.”  Unfortunately it does not look like this is working as the rate of deaths on the roads keeps rising. The basic rules of don’t drink while driving and in particular driving and overtaking other vehicles at high speed, on dilapidated federal roads in the state, are flaunted with reckless abandon.

The evacuation of the dead to the morgue has become an issue with the constant breakdown of the few ambulances on duty. Megwara confesses that in spite of this the agency is miles apart from what it was in the past and thanks to Governor Okezie Ikpeazi whose vision of ASPIMS when he was its chief executive has driven it to a more proactive, result oriented rescue and life-saving outfit. Among other things, Ikpeazu’s focus was to reduce the constant loss of lives on these roads and reduce to the barest incidents of fatal accidents travelers experience on Abia roads during festive occasions. As Easter approaches, Megwara’s appeal to road users is anchored on this premise that as much as possible there should be minimum or no accidents on the roads if only road users can adhere to the basic rules of safety while on the wheels.

Megwara advises that if road users can discard or completely switch off their phones while driving the incidence of accidents would be largely minimised. Commercial drivers, he argues, are the worst culprits of fatal accidents on our roads. The Akwa Ibom driver who takes off from Ikot Ekpene on a second trip to Umuahia drives like a man being chased by armed robbers because he is in a hurry to drop his passengers and return to park ready for the next morning. In the process he forgets the deplorable state of these roads ignoring the fact that his vehicle may not be efficiently road worthy until the inevitable happens.

Megwara believes most of these commercial drivers are not fit to be on the roads, blaming those who issue them licenses to drive. Adds Megwara: “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 such as those that issue drivers’ licenses, these accidents facilitated by these death traps called expressways, would continue to happen.”

Megwara who calls ASPIMS a rescue agency says if he has his way especially in the issue of licenses, several drivers on the highways would have no business being there. “My appeal is for a turn-around for a system that only issues licenses to well trained and supervised drivers,” the ASPIMS boss stresses with emphasis.

However, the greater emphasis is on federal roads and according to the ASPIMS chief executive, the sooner the federal government focuses its attention on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, the Ikot-Ekpene-Umuahia Road and the Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, the better. As he put it: “No day passes without our response to a major fatality. It is sad that these roads continue to be a death trap to Nigerians. All the federal roads in Abia State are in a terrible shape. The sooner the federal government focuses its attention on that road, the better.”

Megwara believes if ASPIMS is provided with more ambulances he would save more lives. There had been moments when the timely arrival of an ambulance would have meant another life saved. Unfortunately, the distance between one accident scene and another had created an unnecessary loss of life. Happily, the governor has promised the provision of more ambulances after he expanded the fleet in May 2016 to six ambulances.

Megwara explains that in: the ideal world the response time to most accidents is between five and ten minutes or between five and seven minutes noting that 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 rise. It is extremely important to add more to the number of ambulances we currently have to help quicken our response time,” he stresses.

Besides an increase in the fleet of ambulances available for use, Megwara would want the completion of the trauma center started by the governor.  Megwara says with a trauma center in place, he would be able to give quick response treatments to a certain category of cases identified as non-life threatening before proceeding to hospital, which he believes remains his primary responsibility. Besides this is the emphasis on recruiting volunteer doctors from the NYSC pool and Diaspora medical personnel who are indigenes of the state wishing to assist while on holidays. Megwara believes completion of the trauma center and its use as an outlet for easing the tension created by accident victims in some of the hospitals in the state, would go a long way to help reduce the burden of work on ASPIMS paramedical staff.

The ASPIMS boss says his other headache is getting more hospitals in the state to accept accident victims with minimum obstacles such as identification and deposits. “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.”

The federal and state owned hospitals have no issues accommodating the victims but where an accident occurs close to a private clinic adamant on taking in casualties whose relations are not in sight and with no financial involvement, a problem arises. How is Megwara responding to such situations?  “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.”

The silver lining is the recent visit to Abia State by the Minister of Works, Housing and Power Babtaunde Fashola who served his NYSC assignment in Aba. Fashola was able to rekindle the hope of Abians promising that the long abandoned expressways in the state would soon become history as contractors go to work with speed as the watchword in the rehabilitation of the roads.

That is cause for cheer for Megwara and his team.