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Night Travels and Road Safety

Last week, over 20 passengers were run over by a speeding passenger bus on the Lokoja-Abuja road. The unfortunates were traveler whose vehicle had been intercepted by armed robbers and who were made to lie face down on the roadside while they were searched and tortured. Another fully loaded bus traveling on the same route ran over the grounded passengers. This incident throws up serious questions about the advisability of night travel, the condition of our roads and the effectiveness of the nation’s security agencies in providing safe passage for citizens engaged in their lawful business and activities.

It goes without saying that every driver faces over 70% less visibility and extremely high risk of accidents by the mere fact of traveling at night. Oncoming vehicles present dangers either from the inability to correctly assess the intervening distance, or simply from the glare of headlamps that may impair proper object identification.

Except for frequent users of a route, road bumps and bad spots will not be detected on time and even frequent users often do not fair much better at night. Bends are a nightmare and may sometimes be seen only when it is too late to make a smooth turn.

Noting these clear dangers and taking precautions when traveling at night will ameliorate these dangers. But that is not all. No amount of care by a driver can fix a bad road, or fill a gaping pothole on a highly travelled highway. Our roads are bad and getting worse by the day. The Abuja-Lokoja route is particularly fraught with precipitous bends and winding sections that offer grave danger even to the day traveler. The Federal Government has been threatening to dualize the road for over five years now but the current pace of work, if maintained,will ensure that the project is stillborn for another ten years.

Meanwhile, death toll on the road keeps rising. Unfortunately, too, this epileptic dualization programme is following exactly the same winding route of the old road, which was constructed with close attention to saving costs by making lousy detours rather than aiming to create as many straight sections by overcoming as many natural barriers as possible. The effectiveness and relevance of security patrols on our highways is another matter.

Over 80% of the check points that sometimes delay travellers during the day, because they are ostensibly set up to identify and stop felons, disappear by nightfall. The few left standing are either lit up by bonfires while the security men sleep in their packed vehicles or they are so far between on the long stretch of road as to serve as any deterrent to aspiring mischief makers. In the end, security is not provided for the citizenry and the interest of the nation is not served.

But the matter of effective patrols must also be viewed by asking whether the Nigeria Police functions as an operations and logistics savvy organization. It does not. Personnel have been known to be on their beats without relief duty for days, and sometimes weeks. Equipment is obsolete and patrol vehicles are barely mobile and will not be able to give a healthy turtle a good chase. Even military firepower falls far short of the vastly superior capabilities of the felons on our roads. Notwithstanding, the police have a job and a duty and should address its personnel and institutional challenges and conduct itself with greater sense of responsibility.

Nigerians cannot be expected to understand that the institution has been parading the same complaints for over 30 years now, even with changes in leadership and repeated claims about reforms for greater efficiency. Transport owners should also pay closer attention to the behavior of their drivers, particularly their night drivers.

Many of them are known to live by the maxim: “It is only after you have filled your head with something hot to confront the forces of the night that you can fill your fuel tank and commence a night trip”. Such a practice is clearly unacceptable. We therefore urge the FRSC to intensify its road user education programme while transport owners and the security agencies must rise to the challenge of meeting the legitimate expectations of Nigerian road users about their safety.



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