On Tuesday the 14 day of July, 2020, I was driving through 4rd Avenue in Gwarinpa, in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, when I sighted a Highlander jeep burning. About four men and a lady I presume was the owner were trying all strategies, including the use of sand to put off the fire, to no avail. It was indeed a sorry sight. I immediately ordered the patrol vehicle I was in, to pull over and use our fire extinguisher to put off the fire which he did with ease. It was really amusing to hear the people tell my driver that they were elated and felt at ease when they saw him approaching their vehicle with the fire extinguisher.
The incident made me reflect on the attitude of the average Nigerian motorist to traffic rules. It is not uncommon to find drivers accosted for traffic infractions such as fire extinguisher or C-Caution which fines is put at three thousand each scornfully say,’’I was arrested just because of a common fire extinguisher while others would say, ‘’na because of c-caution ooo! Such comments would make you first wonder at the cost of a fire extinguisher or a C-caution. Secondly, it would also make you wish to know the cost of a Highlander jeep which should be between three to four million. You would then wonder why a road user who can cough such an amount, would refuse to get a fire extinguisher and Caution sign in the event of a possible breakdown or fire outbreak. Please forgive me if my market value falls short of the cost of the jeep.
Although I failed in giving the exact cost of the jeep since I have never driven that model, the incident made me to reflect on what Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka said, in his book,” A Narrative of the First Road Safety Corps”. According to him,’ ’there is one thing that stands out in the nature of the Nigerian motorist-a refusal to learn, to observe the mere protocols, the courtesies demanded by hair-pin bends and hills, to acknowledge the right of passage to others toiling up the same narrow incline from the other side, even while they remain invisible’’. I was startled by the rhetorical question he asked in the book; “must we watch our humanity disintegrate and die’’. This question is so apt even sixteen years after the book was published as you daily wonder why some motorists have chosen not to self-police themselves for their own safety
It vividly captures the worry of the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. Both have expressed worry and concern over the attitude of not just Nigerian drivers but also commuters who daily play dumb to the Protocols on the pandemic for interstate travels, for their own safety. These protocols include, the use of facemask, alcohol based sanitizers as well as the need to keep and respect social distance. Except for face mask and hand sanitizers which cost a stipend, it cost nothing to respect and keep to the social distance rule. Yet is a battle convincing Nigerian motorists to comply.
The protocols also includes complying with the traffic rules contained in the National Road Traffic Rules such as driving within the appropriate and approved speed limit which is 100km per hour for private vehicles on the expressway and 90km per hour for commercial vehicles. The rules for driving within built up areas and are also meant to be complied with, yet the average motorist flouts this at will daily.
I remember a driver who once took me to task on the rationale for restricting speed limit to 100km per hour. To my astonishment, he said the reason the FRSC is failing in curbing excessive speed and speed related crashes is because the Corps is not sincere and reasonable enough to base the approval on speed of vehicles as provided by the manufacturers. In his wisdom, the speed limit should be 180km per hour or even 220km per hours as provided by vehicle manufacturers. Motorists, such as this one, would be the first to pass the buck on Government and its Agencies for failing to protect lives and properties without taking responsibility for his error, his blunder and his irresponsible driving behavior.
Speed is not the only infraction that motorists indulge in with the huge support from passive commuters who fail to realize that they stand greater risk than the driver in the event of a crash. I wish that commuters know that in most crashes where the driver dies, an average of four or five passengers lose their lives because of the irresponsible act of one man. Yet these commuters are the ones who, according to most drivers ,urge them to speed excessively so they can meet their business and private appointments on time instead of heeding the safety warning to plan their journey in good time and also embark on the journey early. I have written on night journey several times on this page and would not bore you today with our attitude to night travels.
There are still other issues that call for concern such as overloading among commercial drivers. This is why the Corps is today clamping on this infraction all over .Unfortunately, my experience on Monday the 14 July 2020 while travelling from Jos, the Plateau State capital to Abuja to resume as Zonal Commanding Officer in charge of the Federal Capital Territory and Niger State was really shocking. There several pickup trucks overloaded with charcoal, operating at night when our patrols go to sleep because of the risk of night patrol on the highways. The sight was an eye opener for me as I resume duty in the FCT.
As I close on the level of infractions and the die-hard attitude of road users, I must end with thoughts of the pain of the loss of the first Nigerian female Combat helicopter Pilot, Flyting Officer Tolulope Arotile who died at the age of 24, after she was mistakenly hit by a friend’s vehicle at the NAF base in Kaduna. She will be dearly missed by us all.