At the rail crossing of Tsafe town, Zamfara state on my way to Sokoto, a stern looking officer of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), who demanded my vehicle’s particulars, accosted me. After examining the particulars, he demanded triangle and fire extinguisher and was promptly given. When he found nothing amiss, he tried to operate the extinguisher and, in the process, broke the pressure head. We looked at each other and he profusely apologised.
While the scene was being played, an overloaded commercial car passed with passengers, and goods were crammed in three times the vehicle capacity. The road safety officer pretended not to see the vehicle by looking the other way. I collected my particulars and drove away without uttering a word. Another time, a road safety officer stopped me in Funtua, Katsina state, and demanded to see my driver’s license, which I handed over pronto.
This type of scenario is being played in almost every road crisscrossing the entire country. Most commercial vehicle drivers commit all kinds of traffic offences and get away with it while innocent and humble-looking private vehicle drivers are harassed without committing any offense. The most disturbing thing is the adoption of the “new norms” in road transportation by commercial vehicle drivers and motorcyclists, which are mostly responsible for massive road accidents nationwide. What are the “new norms”? Before answering the question, what is the level of road accidents in Nigeria?
Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest rate of road accidents in the world. According to a study conducted by Wasiu et.al, there was an average of 1042 deaths for every 100,000 vehicles and a loss of ₦80 billion worth of goods annually due to road accidents in Nigeria (www.researchgate.net/publication/324088254_ROAD).
For a long time, road traffic accidents have always been very devastating with a high fatality rate. For instance, in 1984 Nigeria was reported to have the highest rate of road traffic deaths in Africa with the chances of a vehicle killing someone in Nigeria was 47 times higher than in Britain (Bolade and Ogunsanya, 1990). Data of recent fatality rate in Nigeria due to road traffic accident are either unavailable or difficult to access but the rate of accidents is likely to increase due to the increase of vehicle population as well as the road users and the adoption of the so-called “new norms”.
One of the “new norms” includes placing passengers in the vehicle booths meant for loading goods. It is a common sight to observe one to three people crammed in a booth of a commercial vehicle in addition to goods. I have observed severally on many roads commercial car with a maximum capacity of four passengers and driver carrying three in the front, four in the back seat, and two passengers in the booth. These vehicles drive at a high speed above the speed limit and such vehicles are involved in an accident, the consequences may be tragic. One may wonder why some passengers accept to be placed in a booth; the reason is the economic benefit by paying transport fare less than the passengers placed on the seat. These drivers get away with this practice despite the presence of road marshals on the road that is why the practice becomes a new norm.
Another “new norm” involves the operation of commercial motorcycles in rural and urban areas. The activities of these commercial motorcyclists, popularly named “Okada or Achaba”, have caused several road traffic accidents due to the dangerous and reckless manner they ride their motorcycles on our roads.
They don’t seem to be aware of road traffic rules and regulations governing road users. They are mostly at high speed aimed at conveying passengers as quickly as possible to increase their daily incomes. Two major “new norms” adopted by this category of road users are overloading and removal of the mirror of their motorcycles. I have severally seen motorcycles carrying 4 to 5 people or carrying three 100 kg bags of grains. A motorcycle carrying three people with a load while riding at high speed has been a common sight in most urban areas and satellite towns of major cities such as Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, and the rest of others.
Ideally, a motorcycle is designed to carry the rider and one passenger (two people) with a light load moving at medium speed.
In addition to overloading, over 90% of the motorcycles plying our roads have their mirrors removed by their riders. The mirrors are attached in the left and right sides of the motorcycle to assist the rider watches his rear for the incoming vehicles and avoid being overrun. The reason for the removal of these mirrors is a reduction in motorcycle speed as air resistance against the speed increases with the increase of the motorcycle width caused by the attachment of the right and left mirrors.
Thus, several accidents involving motorcycles are caused due to the inability of the rider to attentively watch his rear and dodge the incoming vehicles. Yet, another “new norm” is the refusal of motorcycles riders and passengers to use crash helmets, which prevent major head injuries in the event of an accident.
Some of the major responsibilities of FRSC are preventing or minimizing accidents on the highway; clearing obstructions on any part of the highways; educating drivers, motorists, and other members of the public generally on the proper use of the highways. So, why is the FRSC ignoring these traffic offenders? Why are the road marshals looking the way?
While it is commendable to observe the responsiveness and promptness of the road marshals when an accident happens. They are quick in evacuating the accident victims but they must wake up to prevent the accidents from happening. They must insist that passengers must not be carried in the booth and all motorcycles must have their mirrors and no more carrying of three people on one motorcycle. These will certainly go along in saving the lives of our compatriots.