Until last Wednesday, I never knew the mandate and responsibility of the Federal Road Safety Corps extended to investigation as to the cause of road accidents and making the reports public. Even if I ever imagined that, I could never have expected such speed of investigation and report in just three days after an accident. So, this speed (perhaps, the only speed which doesn’t kill) came because the accident under investigation involved a very important person.
Three days before then, on Sunday March 6, the Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi, his wife and son died from an accident on the Kaduna-Abuja Road. It is a death so painful that it united most of those who reacted in a common feeling of loss and mourning. It was easy to feel sad for the Ocholis. And this was not just because of the circumstance of their death. Ocholi endeared himself to many Nigerians who watched the Senate screening of potential ministers last October/November for his brilliance and depth of knowledge of his area of specialisation which was law. It was therefore understandable, the outpouring of emotions.
I am pained that Nigeria lost one of its brightest in what was obviously avoidable. But I am impressed that the investigation was immediately carried out and the cause of the accident determined. It accords with my position about providing proper closure to every incident involving human life. My only disappointment is that this doesn’t seem to be a regular feature of every road accident. It thus further creates a sense of inequality of citizens where some persons’ lives are considered more valuable than others.
The FRSC finding further gives credence to my submission three weeks ago when I weighed in on the agency’s planned introduction of speed limiters or speed governors to vehicles in the country. I submitted then that: “When eventually this policy is extended to non-commercial vehicles, would we be ready to fully implement it to all, including the VIPs (in both the public and private sectors)? If the speed governors would not be extended to government officials, politicians and their convoys, then we better drop the policy.”
Last week, the FRSC confirmed that among other causes of the accident was the excess speed of the vehicle. This prompted the agency to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to personally spearhead a campaign on compliance with speed limits, starting with installation of speed limiting devices in commercial vehicles. I would have thought the campaign should be targeted at government vehicles and reining in government officials and their drivers to obey safety rules. The road safety agency also found that the minister and his two family members who all sat at the back seats did not use the seat belts. As a result, they were ejected out of the car when the accident occurred and that explained why they suffered more than the persons in the front set who used seat belts.
That was another useful finding. But it seemed the FRSC did not focus much on the state of the roads. What might have caused the burst tyre in the first place? Could it be conclusively blamed on what the corps said that “the orientations of the tyres were not properly fixed”? To what extent could the condition of the road have been a factor to the accident, given that many public highways, including the particular road in question, are riddled with potholes and broken down spots? Could the burst tyre have been caused by contact with a pothole?
It is important to apportion responsibilities and blame for poor quality public infrastructure whenever they lead to injuries or deaths and appropriate state agencies and officials must be held to account. We should no longer simply sign off injuries and deaths in public infrastructure and spaces as “the will of God”, if the main reason is to exculpate the state and its officials from responsibility.
The state must take responsibility for keeping public infrastructure in conditions conducive to human use and ensuring compliance with rules and regulations made pursuant to protecting human lives. And this brings to mind incidents of collapsed buildings, like the one that occurred in Lagos last week. It is clear that while the owners and builders of such structures are to be held responsible for such incidents, the state officials responsible for issuing approvals, supervision and monitoring compliance cannot be exonerated from blame. This is because such officials may have compromised their duties for several reasons, including pecuniary.
We see the above compromise to standards in virtually all sectors of the society. And society sometimes considers them as trifles, until they result to casualties that wake us up to reality. I have recently had cause to complain about the standards, conditions and qualities of vehicles approved for public transport. One that sticks out for me is what I saw in Oyo State. There, the official vehicles used for township taxi service is the Nissan Micra car which looks smaller than the Beetle car, just that the Micra has four doors as opposed to Beetle’s two doors. Yet, the drivers are allowed to carry four passengers at the back seat and in most instances they carry two passengers in the single seat meant for a passenger in the front. In such situations, the use of seat belt is completely ruled out.
Has anybody in Oyo State worried about the risk of accident and the problem of rescue of the passengers in such a situation? In practice, it seems that the carrying of four passengers at the back seat and two sitting in front with the driver is commonplace for commercial vehicles across the country that they seem now like the norm.
Another area of even greater concern is the number of passengers we see in the ubiquitous tricycles popularly called ‘keke’ across the country. While the allowable capacity cannot be more than three passengers huddled in the back seat, it is ‘standard practice’ in Abuja to see another passenger perch on the same seat with the driver in front. I have equally seen some passengers commute, sitting inside car boots in some places in the northern part of the country. And all these happen right under the noses of road safety officials. The same agency that was quick to carry out an investigation and issue a report within three days on the Ocholi’s family car crash!
The FRSC and other law enforcement agencies would do well to focus more on prevention of the breach of safety rules than wait to submit reports of how it happened, even when such reports hardly lead to improved safety and prevention of recurrence.
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