Africa, Headlines

TRANSPORT: Nigeria Moots the Idea of Banning Night Travel to Curb Accidents

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Sep 18 2003 (IPS) - Nigeria is mooting the idea of banning night travels by luxury buses to curb road accidents which are claiming thousands of lives yearly.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has warned against night travelling especially by luxury buses when he sent a condolence message to the families of last week’s road accident.

More than 100 persons were burnt to death in a multiple motor accident along the busy Abuja-Lokoja road in central Nigeria last week.

Most of the passengers, who were travelling on the bus that Monday night, were burnt beyond recognition when the driver, according to police reports, miscalculated the distance between the bus and a stationary truck, when overtaking. He rammed into the truck, while another mini-bus which was following very close behind him smashed into the bus.

A similar accident, involving a luxury bus, travelling at night without good headlamps, occurred almost at the same place in 2001. About 70 persons lost their lives in that accident. And, in another ghastly accident, 24 persons died when a commercial bus travelling from Benin to Onitsha in eastern Nigeria crashed in August last year.

Though the police are yet to conclude investigations into the causes of last week’s accident, commentators are already pointing their fingers at bad road, bad driving habit and un-serviced vehicles.

Statistics from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) show that between 1989 and 2000, 218,243 accidents were recorded, with 82,384 persons killed, while 239,771 others sustained various degrees of injuries, across Nigeria. The figures rose to 253,833 cases with 112,789 deaths by the end of 2002.

In Lagos State, the commercial hub of Nigeria, more than 2,500 persons are involved in road accidents – of which over 600 are killed – every year.

”I do not expect the figures to climb down this year because a lot of new cars have joined the large numbers of vehicles as a result of democratic dividends (multi-party democracy was re-introduced in Nigeria in 1999). We also expect traffic chaos because the expansion of existing roads cannot keep with the volume of vehicles on the roads,” says Jonas Agwu, Director, Public Enlightenment Unit of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC).

Agwu also blames last week’s accident on over speeding.

”We have over the years campaigned against night journeys because of the conditions of the roads and the poor visibility which is one thing that is encountered at night,” Agwu told IPS by telephone from Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

”We expect Nigerians not to travel at night because of the inherent dangers. Often vehicles are overloaded and the drivers over speed. That is why when accidents, involving overloaded vehicles, occur, the figure of deaths is usually very high,” he explained.

Agwu urged passengers to check and caution drivers when over speeding. ”No matter how mad a driver may be, if all the passengers tell him to slow down, he will. But Nigerians are always in a hurry and they will not mind if the driver is over speeding until they have a problem,” he said.

Agwu also expressed concern about the state of Nigeria’s vehicles. "A lot of vehicles that should not be on the road are plying our roads. Driver’s licenses are issued to undeserving people. Some even learn driving within a day and obtain their licenses. How do they obtain them? These are issues we should be talking about,” he said.

Agwu appealed to financial institution such as banks, multinationals and rich individuals to help provide patrol cars and ambulances to enable the commission perform its duties on the highways effectively.

Though Nigeria’s traffic laws include a 100 kilometres per hour speed limit, the west African country does not have a law banning night travel. So president Obasanjo’s warning against night travel, according to analysts, will only be a piece of advice not binding on travellers who prefer night journeys because it saves the cost of lodging in hotels.

Night travelling has been tagged by those who undertake it as ”Good night Abuja, good morning Lagos”, as buses which leave their point of departure late in the evening arrive their destinations very early in the morning giving the passengers ample time to prepare for work. Apart from accidents, travelling at night also portend dangers as there have been cases of armed robbery attacks mostly when such vehicles breakdown at night.

”People are free to travel the way they like since we are in a democracy. Some drivers make more than 180 kms an hour on the highway instead of the 100 kms per hour accepted by law. Enacting a law banning night driving will not work. What we need is continuous enlightenment campaigns,” says Patricia Abbey, a caterer in Lagos.

Agwu said this year’s campaign, which kicks off this week, will be taken to churches, mosques, schools as well as the usual motor parks rallies for commercial vehicle operators.

Superstitious Nigerians have woven a myth round the months which end with ’ember’ (September to December) as months in which blood socking devils are on the roads and highways causing accidents and spilling blood.

But the commission disagreed.

”Though December is a month characterised by death occurring from accidents, the month is like any other month. The causes of these deaths are over speeding, overloading and the desire to make more money during the festival period. So, the month is not different from any other month,” said Taiwo Esein of the Road Safety Commission during one of the enlightenment rallies in Kwara State.

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