Nigeria’s deadly roads: The issues involved

Travelling on the country’s roads is usually accompanied with trepidation as it is now a dangerous sortie. Several lives have been lost on the roads while many promising Nigerians have been maimed. But what are the authorities now doing and what are they not doing? Tayo Adelaja, Head, Special Investigations, examines the issues involved.

The deterioration of most roads across the country often begins with cracks on the pavements or at the edges and potholes along the drive way which differ by their shapes, configuration, movement of traffic and rate of deformation. The problem is so bad that the construction company involved are using a construction scheduling software to ensure the project is kept on time and the roads are fixed in the quickest way possible.

Some of these potholes are like a fishing pond. Their presence aside from human and vehicle related factors is known to be the major cause of road traffic accidents. The immediate cause of a road accident may also be as a result of mechanical factor and carelessness in the form of omission to check and maintain the vehicle at the appropriate time. Accidents may be fatal, resulting in deaths of the road users (passengers, drivers or pedestrians), or minor when it is not severe enough as to cause substantial hardship. For any vehicle driver, it is important to require the correct insurance. For example, if you are a lorry driver, you should look into getting the right lorry insurance to cover any damage to the vehicle.

Vehicular accidents occur worldwide but the incidence is more in developing countries. Annually, about 1.24 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Thus road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15-29 years. 91 per cent of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these nations have approximately half of the world’s vehicles.

In Nigeria today, hardly does a day go without the occurrence of a road traffic accident, leading generally to increasing incidence of morbidity and mortality rates as well as financial cost to both society and the individual involved. Information on some of these traffic accidents get to the news rooms of media houses and are aired while the majority go unreported. Nigeria has the highest road accidents rate as well as the largest number of death per 10,000 vehicles, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO.

One may be tempted to believe that the level of awareness on the causes of vehicular accidents is very low among Nigerians. The roads have become killing fields without protection for their users. Travellers heave a sigh of relief whenever they make their destinations. The country has the status of a developing country where road facilities are grossly inadequate to cater for the teeming population of road users.

The discovery of oil came with its own problems. Prior to the ‘oil boom’, road accidents were rather rare. The boom brought along with it an increase in disposable income of the people which in turn increased vehicle ownership and brought about ‘rapid’ industrialisation. This undoubtedly called for improved road network accessibility. Roads were therefore built albeit without dire attention to standard. These developments were not matched by adequate measures and control.

Consequently, the roads not expanded as traffic increased grew to be a death trap for the citizens and its users. It becomes worrisome with the fact that the road accidents are on the increase. Corps Public Education Officer of the Federal Roads Safety Corps, FRSC, Jonas Agwu, traced the regular crashes to the recklessness of the drivers. While not dismissing the role played by bad roads, he argued that crashes are caused more by the poor attitude of motorists than the poor state of the roads. Because of the frequency of these kinds of accidents, there is always an auto accident attorney that will help you get the compensation you deserve if the accident wasn’t your fault.

He said, “All we are saying to Nigerians is that bad roads don’t cause accident; bad vehicles don’t cause crashes; it is the bad use of the roads and the vehicle that cause accidents.

“So, we appeal to Nigerians to change their driving attitude. As the roads get better, don’t be tempted to say you want to do 120 kilometres per hour; cut down that speed. Don’t be tempted to say you can drive and use your phone at the same time.”

Assistant Corps Marshal in charge of Ekiti, Kogi and Kwara states, Kehinde Adeleye in agreement with Agwu attributed recklessness of drivers as a prime factor for the frequent accidents. He said it had been discovered that many drivers engaged in making or receiving calls while driving on top speed, adding that this affected their concentration often, resulting in crashes along the road. He disclosed that acts of indiscipline and flagrant disregard of traffic rules were particularly rampant among the elite.

Olalomi Musibau, a driver that plies Lagos-Kwara route strongly disagreed with both of them. He noted that most of the accidents are due to the deplorable state of the roads.

“I’ve been on this road for about three decades. Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, one of the busiest roads in Nigeria. Since it was built, when did the government deem it fit to expand it? How many times do they do patch-patch job which doesn’t always last? I’m even talking about expansion when that road was a death trap. It was the same road that claimed the lives of so many Nigerians. I’ve lost count of how many times I’d to help accident victims on this road,” he bemoaned.

He recalled the death of Chief Rufus Giwa, a renowned industrialist and former Chairman and Chief Executive of Unilever Nigeria Plc, in 2003.

“I arrived at the spot of that accident a few minutes after it happened. His Lexus Jeep tried to avoid a pothole on that road and that was what claimed the life of that man on the same Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, at the Sagamu end. It was an avoidable death,” Musibau added.

There are so many cases of such deaths on our roads. Celebrated actor and university teacher, Dr Larinde Akinleye, also died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 2004. In 2011, another Yoruba actor, Ishola Durojaye, popularly known as Alaasari also died from injuries sustained from a car accident on his way to promote his new movie titled, ‘Omo night club’ in Abeokuta.

Popular Gospel comedian Cee Dee John (Ibu Chineke), met his untimely death in an accident on his way from an album launch in Lagos. Koko Mansion star, Chidinma Mbalaso, was unfortunate as she died in a car crash on her way from Kaduna. Olaitan Olanipekun, popularly known as Da Grin had an auto crash which claimed his life on April 22, 2010. Da He presumably would have become one of the mega stars around today. He connected with his fans on such a real level. His demise, which marked the end of his career, left a vacuum that is yet to be filled by anyone.

MC Loph, the ‘Osondi Owendi’ exponent also was a victim. Rapper, Nwaozo Obiajulu aka MC Loph, who came into the limelight with the release of a remix of Osita Osadebe’s hit song, ‘Osondi Owendi’ died in his prime. He had a tragic car accident which claimed his life, alongside his only sister, Chinwe on September14, 2011 while on his way to Enugu for his traditional wedding. He died on Benin-Ore Road due to the bad state of that road at that time.

The carnage on the road continues with the death of a senior lecturer at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Dr Gbenga Dally and two other persons along Abeokuta/Sagamu Road. The head of operations of the anti-robbery squad of the Ogun State Police Command, Folahan Ogunkoya, also died in a ghastly auto crash on the same road.

The foster mother to Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of the President, Madam Charity Obah had an auto crash along East-West Road and she could not cheat death as the accident claimed her life.The Emir of Ngelzarma in Fune Local Government of Yobe State, Alhaji Mahammadu Mai Yeri Ibn Isa II, a first-class emir also died in a terrible car crash in Gerei, Adamawa State.

Students were not left out as Donald Onukaogu, the Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and five of his colleagues were involved in a grisly motor accident on their way to University of Uyo to mediate in the crisis rocking the institution. Also, three student union presidents from the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and the Ondo State School of Midwifery were killed in an automobile accident near Emure Ile along Owo Road, Ondo State. They were returning from Abuja after attending a ceremony organised by NANS to honour Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo State. In that accident, those that lost their lives were Dapo Awopegba of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Abiodun Akintola of Adeyemi College of Education and the Student Union President of Ondo State School of Midwifery.

Journalists also lost their colleagues to fatality last year along Ilesha-Akure Road. The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) officials from Oyo and Lagos State councils returning from Abuja were involved in a fatal auto crash which claimed the lives of Adolphus Okonkwo of the Voice of Nigeria and the Lagos NUJ Secretary, Kafayat Odunsi of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Tejuosho, Lagos and the chairman of the Radio Nigeria, Ibadan Network Centre of the NUJ, Tunde Oluwanike.

Nigeria also lost one of her best brains when Professor Festus Iyayi, former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) died in an accident on Lokoja-Abuja road.

Last month, the immediate younger brother of Nigeria’s Vice-President, Namadi Sambo, also died in a grisly accident in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Mr. Sambo was a pilot in the defunct Nigeria Airways. He later became the CEO of Manyata Engineering Services Ltd, an aviation consultancy business he started 7 years ago.

These bring to the fore the volatility of our roads. According to the FRSC, not less than 3,000 people died in road accidents in 2011 alone in the country. 2,235 fatalities were recorded in separate road accidents across the nation according to the Corps Marshal of FRSC, Osita Chidoka.

He further disclosed that on Dec 25, 2012 a total of 94 persons lost their lives in road crashes in 191 incidents recorded in just five days across the country.

He disclosed this in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, when he stopped over in the course of the aerial monitoring of traffic situation on Lokoja-Abuja highway. He however blamed the crashes on speed violation by road users.

Another official figure released by the FRSC stated that a total of 124 persons were killed in crashes on Lokoja-Abuja road between January and September 2013.

According to reports, 78 crashes occurred in February, 2013 across the nation. The crashes also caused injuries to over 200 people. 10 persons lost their lives in different crashes on February 18 while 38 others sustained various degrees of injuries.

Some of the roads where the accidents occurred on February 18 include Enugu –Port Harcourt Expressway; Oyo-Ogbomoso route; Egbu –Awka junction along Owumu route; Lagos – Ibadan Expressway; Irrua junction, Ekpoma; Zaria-Kano route; Koton-Karfe/Abuja route; Issele- Azagba Junction; Aku village, Kano; and Zaria-Kano road.

Three people were killed the next day (February 19) in various accidents while 23 were injured.

The accident occurred along Lagos– Ibadan Expressway; Okigwe –Umuahia route; Television garage, Kaduna; Hadeji –Balangu route, Ugba junction, along Aba–Owerri route; Yola–Numan route; and Keffi–Masaka route. The FRSC recorded 11 deaths and 20 injuries on February 20 nationwide.

One of the accidents of February 20 was a robbery-induced crash at kilometer 9, Abuja–Kaduna road and it led to the death of 10 men while four others were injured. Armed robbers had earlier barricaded the road before a Mack trailer conveying about 14 passengers ran into the obstruction. On February 21, one person was reported dead in 11 crashes in different states; while 34 persons were injured. The following day, six people died and 57 others injured in 15 crashes across the country. February 23 recorded the lowest number of crashes with five accidents recorded by the FRSC. Two people lost their lives while 13 people were injured from the crashes.

On February 24, nine persons died while 15 others sustained injuries in 10 crashes that occurred across the country. In Ondo State, road accidents consumed 189 persons in 10 months.

Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, President Abdulwaheed Omar, who spoke on the Lokoja-Abuja crash which claimed the life of Prof Iyayi said, “The Lokoja- Abuja stretch of the road is arguably one of the busiest in the country. The contract for its dualisation was awarded about 10 years ago to ease vehicular movement as well as reduce carnage on the road. Quite sadly and unfortunately, no appreciable work has been done, thus turning the stretch of the road into a slaughter slab.”

Reflecting on the road that has now become a death trap, Eno Essien, a businesswoman that lives in Abuja but Accident scenes across the nation Failed section of Benin-Ore road travels frequently to Lagos noted that the road was constructed by the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and it was completed within a year and half with less hazard and accident. She therefore wonders why the current effort to rehabilitate and expand it has become a lifetime project.

Essien decried the death and disability the construction work had caused many because of the failure of the companies working to put diversion signs on the road.

“I’m not too sure that our lives matter to these people. Many times, one would have run into some construction equipment carelessly placed on the road without proper notification before knowing it. This has caused countless number of accidents,” she said.

The ongoing construction of the Lokoja- Abuja dual carriageway has been divided into four sections with each given to different construction companies. The first section, which commences from Zuba and runs to Sheda Village Junction, with interception from Giri Village Junction to the Airport Link Road Junction, is being handled by Dantata and Sawoe Construction Co. Limited. The second section, which spans between Sheda Village Junction and Abaji, is being handled by Reynolds Construction Company (Nig) Ltd. Section three of the road, from Abaji to Koton Karfi, was awarded to Bulletin Construction Co. Ltd, while the last section, Koton Karfi to Lokoja, is given to Gitto Construzioni Generali Ltd.

“We are told that the road has been given to four prominent construction companies, that should have facilitated the completion of the project, but that has not been the case. One expected that by now, the project would have become history, but only God knows when they will actually complete the project and save us from the problems we face on this road. This project has been on for the past 10 years. Why should the construction of a road as busy as this last for this length of time?” Essien added.

When the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, motorists plying the ever-busy road breathe a sigh of relief. The contract was awarded to Julius Berger and Reynold Construction Company, RCC, in July 2013 and is expected to take 48 months.

Prior to the contract award, there was public outcry as the road recorded several accidents some of which led to loss of lives and destruction property. The frequency of these tragic incidents as reported in the media prompted public outcry. This underlined the need for palliative measures in terms of temporary repairs on some severely failed sections of the road which caused motorists to spend several hours on the road.

During the inauguration by the President, the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos State, Oluwatoyin Obikoya, promised that emergency repairs would be carried out on bad portions of the road.

According to him, “Julius Berger will carry out emergency repair of those sections so that motorists would enjoy a smooth ride and not spend a long time on that road again.”

Almost a year after this contract award-signing event, amidst pomp, the situation on this road is becoming worse. A journey from the Sagamu end of the road to Lagos now takes between two and three hours due to so many bad portions and recklessly parked articulated heavyduty vehicles.

Among the bad segments which demand urgent attention is the adjoining bridge between Berger Bus Stop and Kara Bus Stop towards the Berger axis of the road. This portion is fast deteriorating as the adjoining bridge now has huge cracks leaving a big gap between it and the road. This situation is responsible for the daily long queue of vehicles which take their turns to pass at a snail speed.

Isiaka Omojola, a commercial bus driver, lamented on the number of hours spent each time he plies the road.

“How can one be on a road for five hours or more on a journey of two and a half hours from Ife (in Osun State) to Lagos? We spent less than two hours to Ogere and the remaining hours from Ogere to Lagos is like eternity,” he said. Ogere is a town in Ogun State close to The Redeemed Christian Church camp in Mowe, Ogun State.

Barrister Kunle Obijimi who lives at Asese, a town along the expressway, lamented: “Why do we live as if there is no government in this country? A road of this importance should attract urgent attention from a responsible government. How long do we have to continue like this?

“The incessant traffic jam on this road which is as a result of the deplorable condition has made many travellers vulnerable to armed robbery attacks, leading to loss of cash, other personal belongings and also lives. My friend, a journalist, was attacked just last month at Ogere. He was robbed and dealt with in broad daylight, in the presence of his three kids!

“I wonder how long it will take before the road is repaired. We complained of Bi-Courtney taking too long to repair and build new roads as agreed. We’re happy when Federal Government took responsibility for the road. It is about a year now, our lot is to waste productive time on the road,” he said.

Ekegbu Chibuzor, a private school tutor in a Lagos secondary school pointed out that the 125 Km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has since been defying every attempt to upgrade and restore the status of the longest road in Nigeria. He noted that it had been suffering diverse setbacks from indiscriminate parking of heavy vehicles by the roadside, lack of consistent periodic maintenance and upgrades, unending signing and cancellation of reconstruction contracts, just to mention a few.

He stressed that the resultant effects are unending tragic accident scenarios as witnessed in 2010 when a most horrendous accident occurred at the Berger section of the expressway which claimed about 60 lives with about 25 vehicles burnt.

A similar tragic accident occurred at Ibafo which resulted in about the death of about 10 persons, including children and the loss of 13 vehicles to inferno, while a lot of people sustained injuries. Also, it aids robbery attacks, kidnapping, ritual killings and lots of other mishaps which are mostly the cross of the common man.

“The accident was caused by obstruction on the expressway, particularly the indiscriminate parking of trailers by the roadside at Ibafo. The accident at Ibafo occurred when a tanker loaded with petrol lost control due to break failure. Some people said it was a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) that collided with another car that was avoiding a pothole on the road. As they were being rescued, a petrol tanker on high speed came from behind and hit one of the vehicles before crashing into three other parked tankers. The impact ignited an inferno that engulfed other vehicles trapped in the usual traffic jam, including trailers parked by the roadside,” Chibuzor said.

He pointed out that usually there are more than one account of accidents because of the angle the witnesses of such incidents view it, but it is sad and depressing that the expressway that should be free and unimpeded for movement of vehicles, especially from the Ibafo axis, has long ceased to be so. He lamented that the expressway built over 30years ago has suffered neglect and, worse, trailer drivers have the effrontery to abuse it with impunity.

In a bid to save the nation from the carnage on the roads, the Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, last week explained the effort of the government to salvage the situation when he said that 25,000 kilometres out of the total 35,000 kilometres federal roads are now motorable. He also said that work would soon begin on the expansion of the Oshodi- Murtala Muhammed International Airport Expressway, Lagos.

The minister added that all the federal road projects in Borno State had been suspended because of the activity of the Boko Haram insurgency.

He stated, “On the Oshodi-Murtala Muhammed Airport Road in Lagos, the ministry is currently at the detailed project development stage in the planned expansion of the road to an eight-lane expressway with flyovers and pedestrian bridges to ensure a befitting gateway to our country’s foremost commercial city. Early work on this project is expected to commence soon.”

According to him, in 2011, only 5,000 kilometres of the 35,000 kilometres of the federal roads were in good condition.

He stated, “From about 5,000 kilometres of fair roads in 2011, today about 25,000 kilometres of the 35,000 kilometres of federal roads are now in good and motorable condition.”

The minister disclosed that in 2013, the Federal Government completed nine road projects nationwide, totaling 421.6 tukilometers at the cost of N57 billion.

The projects, according to him, include Oturkpo-Oweto Road in Benue State; Otukpa-Ayangba-Ajaokuta-Okene Road in Kogi; Ningi-Yadagunmgume-Fuskar Mata Road in Bauchi State and Yana-Shira Azare Road also in Bauchi State.

Others are Wukari-Takum Road in Taraba State; Benin-Ore Road in Edo and Ondo states; Enugu-Abakaliki Road, Enugu and Ebonyi states; Ogoja Junction- Ikom Road in Cross River and Ado-Ilumoba- Agbago-Ikare Road in Ekiti State. On the insurgency in the North-East, the minister said it had affected the projects of the ministry.

“All the road projects of the Federal Government in Borno State have been suspended,” he stated.

Onolememen recalled that Boko Haram killed five workers of the CCC construction company, adding that seven expatriates of Setraco construction company kidnapped by the insurgents had not regained their freedom. The minister said that two engineers of the ministry were killed by the insurgents.

He stated that 184 road projects were being undertaken by the Federal Government across the country. Giving a breakdown, the minister said 30 projects were going on in the North-Central at the cost of N275.6 billion. He put the length of the projects at 1,255.1 kilometres.

However, Corps Marshal Chidoka unfolded a new initiative at an air rescue demonstration at Girin Junction, Gwagwalada, Abuja also last week.

He said the helicopters would complement the 23 ambulance points on some major highways in parts of the country in attending promptly to crash victims.

Chidoka disclosed that the commission had entered into agreement with some petroleum companies for the use of helicopters in their fleet during such emergencies.

“The FRSC is committed to reducing the impact of road accidents on victims,” he said.

Chidoka, however, pointed out that not all road accident victims required air ambulance rescue, stressing that only in critical cases would the services of the helicopters be requested.