By Chude Ojugbana
Truly, life has its special way of producing reasonable and unreasonable coincidences or even a mix of both, depending on how one’s lenses are polarized. Specifically, about a week before the November, 20th commemoration of 2016 World Day of Remembrance, WDR for road crash victims, as the Management of Nigeria’s lead agency on road safety, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC was busy effectively co-ordinating activities in respect of annual memorials for road crash victims and drawing public attention to the huge preventable road deaths, suddenly, a worrisome headline appeared in many Nigerian newspapers “Missing Nigerian Journalist Found Dead”. According to a major online media, Sahara Reporters, “Mr. Adeparusi left his Kugbo, Abuja apartment on his motorcycle at around 1:00 p.m on Sunday. After not returning home, Mr. Adeparusi’s neighbours, friends and colleagues placed several calls to his mobile phone that went unanswered. His employers, Naij.com noted that this was unusual, as Mr. Adeparusi was a “very professional and clear-headed individual; not the kind of person to wander off.” He was subsequently declared missing and found dead on Tuesday in an apparent motorcycle accident”.
The sad narrative of the late Adeyinka Adeparusi, a renowned photojournalist who died on the spot of the road crash and his later discovered in a morgue in Abuja is not an isolated case. It happens every day on the roads of Nigeria and in most African countries. Adeparusi’s death coming in the week of 2016 WDR which is dedicated to improving vital post crash actions with emphasis on Medicare, Investigation and Justice should not be dismissed as mere coincidence but a disturbing urgency that calls for a candid reflection on the plight of an average African road user that is usually denied of all the above mentioned necessities in the event of a road crash.
As Nigeria joins other governments and nongovernmental organizations around the world to commemorate the 2016 WDR by remembering the millions of lives lost or hurt by traffic crashes, the awful truth is that after eleven years of UN recognition and 21 years of observance of Remembrance Day by road safety interest groups, these important events are yet to attract appropriate political will of the Nigerian government on its worrisome road tragedies. Yet, Nigeria remains a country where every road user is a probable road victim with long list of Policy makers including Ministers, Federal Legislators, Governors, top government officials and their family members lost to preventable road deaths.
It is fair and good to recognise that Nigeria has a purposeful National Road Safety agency, FRSC that its staff and Management have demonstrated knowledge for addressing road traffic injuries especially with innovations and expressed best efforts but what is the capacity of the agency in terms of human, facility and financial resources to address the needs of over one hundred and forty million Nigerian road users. Candidly put, as we remember the hundreds of thousands of road deaths in Nigeria on this 2016 WDR especially those that occurred in the year including the late Ocholis, former Minister of State for labour, the two children of a serving Senator, many innocent youths, noble Nigerians and loved ones that their lives were abruptly terminated through road crashes, it is hard to be satisfied with the level of attention extended to the disturbing road death statistics by all tiers of government especially given that road crashes claim more lives on daily basis than any known insurgence or war situation in Nigeria’s post independence. How did the Nigerian road safety crisis get to this depressing situation and what can be done, one may ask? Certainly, it is a shared blame that requires a collective response approach by all stakeholders including all road users.
Sadly, given the many challenges that confront Nigeria in recession, what is increasingly clear is that the road safety situation may get worse if necessary remedial steps are not speedily taken. Indeed, as with every recession, vehicles will not be well maintained, roads will experience increasing deterioration and the commercial driver population will drastically increase as many workers in Nigeria have already found it expedient to use their personal cars to augment their income. With such a situation that puts more pressure on our roads and over stretches the limited facilities of the FRSC with negative consequences of increased road crashes, there is great need for the Nigerian government and its citizens to speedily embrace the recommendations of the 2016 WDR in strengthening vital post crash actions by enhancing rescue facilities for the FRSC and expanding capacity of those that can provide care for road crash victims.
However, with Nigeria in a recession era, it is difficult to imagine that the FRSC, an age long underfunded agency will be protected from the effects of the massive contraction on government spending. Thus, we must expand our thoughts on how to take care of crash victims whilst urging the Presidency and Legislature to explore cum encourage innovative funding options for road safety in a manner which will ensure that all those that make commercial gains from road development and road use should compulsorily fund road safety including companies that contribute to increased motorization and alcohol beverage manufacturers that grossly increase road risks.
On the specific call by 2016 WDR for enhanced Medicare for road crash victims, the FRSC and the Federal Ministry of Health have done well to address the problem of hospital rejection but what about victims that need prompt attention on road crash scenes? On this, there is no reason for road users to allow Nigeria’s temporary economic decline to destroy their Good Samaritan instinct in helping people in need at road crash spots. This is where it becomes necessary to restate that the earlier recommendation of the 2007 Accra Declaration on road safety for compulsory First aid knowledge by drivers and the call by Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire to make persons who apply for driver’s license for the first time to undergo a ‘First Aid course’ before being issued a license is overdue for implementation especially in such recession period. On this, the need for the Ministry of Health to encourage all NGO’s working on other health related issues to support the FRSC on first aid training for persons that live in communities along major highways is an urgent call that will assure that first care and response for crash victims are not left as burden for only FRSC officials.
In a country like Nigeria that road traffic injuries have become top killer disease where there is increasing number of persons that leave their homes to use the roads but never return, some are later declared missing or found in the morgues, ignoring the theme of 2016 WDR will further worsen a situation that affects all. The present huge statistics on preventable road deaths which is major threat to the nation’s ambition to meet the Sustainable Development: SDG target 3.6, which aims to reduce global road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2020, should be a major concern for every road user.
The commemoration of 2016 World Day of Remembrance in Nigeria will be incomplete without advocating and appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari, a Nigerian leader that enjoys the trust and confidence of the International Community to lend his voice on the sad issue of preventable road deaths. Indeed, President Buhari’s call on global partners of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety, major International Donors, Jean Todt, UN Special Envoy for Road Safety and local philanthropists to support his government’s good intentions will not only help change the complexion of road safety funding but help reverse the statistics of Road Traffic Injuries in African’s most populous nation.
May, the souls of Adeyinka Adeparusi and the many innocent victims of our past collective disappointment on road safety, rest in peace!
(Ojugbana is Project Adviser, PATVORA Initiative, a Road Safety NGO. He is also Country Ambassador, International Road Federation, IRF. Geneva.)