How Black will These Ember Months Be?

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ROAD SAFETY ARTICLE

Jonas Agwu, amnipr, mcipr,mprsa,arpa

Assistant Corps Marshal

I do not know if this heading is the right brush to paint events of the last one week on various roads across the country. I also do not know how black the remaining weeks of this year’s Ember months will look like. Will there be more avoidable road traffic crashes and deaths? Will the crashes be fewer compared to previous years? Will the crashes be without deaths but minor injuries which has formed the core of the Federal Road Safety Corps’ end of year campaign focus?

These are posers begging for answers. But if the events of the last few weeks are taken or considered as possible precursors, then I must confess that I shudder at how we might end up in 2020. I know that the leadership of the Federal Road Safety Corps under the watch of the Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi is worried about this trend. The Corps Marshals’ fears and worries were expressed last week when reviewing road traffic crashes that have occurred in the last week.

I have therefore chosen to examine these road traffic crashes this week as we enter the last three months of the 2020 Ember months. Since home is home even when pained, as I am right now, I will begin with the crash that occurred at the Akaeze bridge in Akaeze in Ivo Development Area of Ebonyi State. Incidentally, Akaeze is a stone throw away from my lovely villa, Amasiri in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. As a Nigerian and an Ebonyi son, I am in a mourning mood over the deaths that occurred close to my home town and other deaths.

The Akaeze crash according to reports, involved a 608 bus hired by Christ Peculiar Church of Nigeria, Enugu State branch to convey about 30, 32 or 36 members to a burial ceremony in Afikpo in Ebonyi State. The trip to the ceremony was smooth and safe. The return journey was however tragic. According to the reports, the crash occurred when the Mercedes Benz 608 Bus conveying the mourners while attempting to overtake a MAN Diesel truck, lost control and plunged into the Akaeze river bridge. As at the time of this piece, the exact numbers could not be ascertained although about six survivors and twenty-four corpses were recovered after days of rescue efforts.

One of the rescued victims in an interview with BBC” stated in pidgin English that,’’ Our bus bin dey overtake anoda car wen trailer hit am and e tumble two times fall inside river. My seat fall off from di bus before di bus fall inside river, I just dey tell God inside di river say I dey your hand. One voice tell me to raise my hand up, I raise my hand up come find mysef ontop one tree inside di river”. An affected family member told the BBC that ‘’her family dey affected, say her husband younger brother, uncle and im pikin follow for pipo wey dey inside di bus and till now dem still dey find dia body. “My husband brother wey dey involved get pregnant wife for house wey go soon born plus two kids at home.”

The Akaeze crash was complex because it required special intervention by local divers whose efforts were complimented by professional divers from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Another complication was the absence of a crane which as at the time of the crash was not available to the Command in Ebonyi State. I am however relieved that the leadership of the FRSC in liaison with the World bank has procured one although more will be needed to improve prompt rescue nationwide in keeping with the mandate of the Corps.

The Akaeze crash equally raises a number of fundamental concern because of the Corps’ daily engagement with religious organizations and other stakeholders on the need to drive by the rules and patronize only safety conscious operators as stated in the National Road Traffic Regulations. The testimony of the survivor who spoke with BBC is that the driver was trying to overtake when it happened because of wrongful overtaking close to a bend. What this means is that this crash could have been avoided if certain steps were taken first by the church which could have hired a vehicle from a safety conscious transporter such as ABC transport.

The second is that the driver could have restrained himself from wrongfully overtaking at a bend while the occupants could have voiced their displeasure on the drivers irresponsible driving which I believe must have been displayed in the course of the journey from Enugu. The third concern is on the issue of the passenger manifest. Did the vehicle operate with a passenger manifest as contained in the National Road Traffic Regulations? If it did, the hazy picture on the number of occupants would not be a matter for conjecture as both the occupants and the officials of the church are not sure of the number of people who travelled with the vehicle.

It is however heartwarming to know that the driver whose blunder has thrown the Akaeze community, the church and Nigerians into mourning and anguish survived the crash. I also read that my workaholic Governor has condoled the families that are grieving but I will plead with the Governor in his drive to improve infrastructure in the State to support the FRSC in the State with necessary or more tools to aid rescue and enforcement.

If the Akaeze crash was tragic, the Lokoja crash was equally tragic in terms of the magnitude. I was privileged to have driven in the same vehicle with my colleague,Asistant Corps Marshal Victor Nwokolo who is the Zonal Commanding officer in charge of Kogi State when the news filtered in. I am still in shock at the damage and the casualty figures which according to the FRSC stands at twenty three deaths from the crash which occurred at Felele, along the Lokoja-Koton Karfe route in Kogi State.