IT is no longer news in the country about the number of deaths attributed to accidents involving convoys of government officials, especially the political bourgeoisie. My worry is that these are preventable deaths if only we do things right.
Convoys are not peculiar to Nigeria but the deaths associated with convoys are becoming unacceptable. Those who lose their lives are usually breadwinners to their various families. So as we do not have any good pension scheme or welfare system, you can understand the implications for the families left behind because of what we can prevent. Looking through the deaths, I note that those who die are journalists, and aides of the principals. When principals are involved in accidents they may be quickly flown overseas for treatment on state expense. The aides are usually left at the mercy of our ‘fantastic’ health system.
I do no want to count how many deaths so far in the past few years. A Punch editorial recently reported that 26 people died within three years because of recklessness and breakneck speed of these convoys. The FRSC said between 2008 and June 2012, no fewer than 12 state governors’ convoys were involved in fatal accidents. But why should this be? I am not saying accidents cannot occur, but most of these accidents that have caused deaths of workers are preventable. One reason given for these accidents is speeding on our bad roads. This is more like Fela’s “dead body get accident”…speeding on a bad road hmmmmm! I am sure the result is very obvious. So where is the FRSC? Is anybody above the law?
The Punch editorial said, “One disturbing fact about these convoy accidents is that some of the drivers are not well trained. A test reportedly conducted by the Federal Road Safety Commission in May 2012 indicated that about 300 governors’ drivers either did not have valid driving licences or their licences had expired. Besides, most of them reportedly had poor eyesight and high blood pressure. The drivers are so unruly that they have no regard for traffic rules and regulations”.
This raises a number of questions that need answers. For instance, there are issues of driver training and I wonder who is responsible for this? There are also issues of drivers not having valid licences and I wonder whose responsibility is it to ensure drivers who drive on our roads have valid licences to do so? And then the most disturbing is that some of these drivers have poor eyesight and high blood pressure. This flags up the question on the effectiveness of our drivers’ licence issuing system and the health check associated with it.
In an article I wrote on Nigerian drivers and fitness to drive in 2009, I did ask a number of questions, which I believe are still relevant today. These are:
• How can drivers drive safely when they do not go for driving tests to gain their drivers’ licence? I may be wrong but many Nigerians have gotten their licenses without a driving test.
• How can there be safe driving when the vehicles are not road worthy? We all know that most vehicles do not have any documented service history to show.
• How can drivers drive safely when there are no road signs? Even where the signs are available they are difficult to read or not obeyed.
• Why will there be safe driving when no one can be held liable for an accident? There are no insurance covers for most vehicles. Even when such covers are available, they are provided by roadside third party insurance companies that cannot be traced in cases of liability payments.
• How many Nigerians drivers have been held liable for drunk driving? Drinking and driving is the in thing. This can be witnessed over weekends when drivers are heavily drunk and are behind their steering wheels. How many driving licenses have been seized or suspended for drink driving?
When I worked as a personal physician to a governor, I remember that many times our hearts were in our mouths whenever we were out until we are back to base. This was because the breakneck speed we drove was frightening for many us. As can be imagined, this was compounded by the state of the roads, which were any thing but bad. Research shows that at 112 kph, it takes 51 seconds to drive 1 mile while at 129kph it takes 45 seconds, which is only a saving of 6 seconds. So in essence when you do a 100 km journey driving at 129kph as opposed to 112kph, there is only 10 minutes difference at the arrival point. Therefore, thinking through, the need for speeding is defeated if your journey is well planned.
There is obvious need for more driver education, which one would expect the FRSC to carry out in various states. There may be need for driver updates with certificates issued to drivers after such update training. Have we not reached the stage were a government driver’s licence is confiscated for driving offence hence leaving the driver out of driving duties?
Principals also need to take responsibility for safety of their workers by ensuring that appropriate instructions are passed on to employees with regards to speed limits. When a car crashes as has been seen, it is not only the driver but also other occupants including the principal that may be injured.
As part of my role during my time in Government House I ensured that those who drove my principal and other drivers also in the convoy were fit to do so. We subjected convoy drivers to eye tests and blood pressure checks. Those found not okay were stopped from driving until they were provided with glasses or their blood pressure treated with medications and lifestyle advice. This is not difficult to do in any government house.
I must say that, though driver variables are the major determinant of the risk of a crash, even in the absence of any specific health-related impairment, arousal and factors that affect it, such as fatigue, alcohol and certain drugs (whether prescribed, over the-counter or non-therapeutic) all influence a driver’s performance. Our roads cannot be said to be driver friendly. Road signs appropriately illuminated and readable are lacking.
Safe driving requires the driver to have effective and reliable control of the vehicle, the capacity to respond to the road, traffic and other external clues knowledge of and a willingness to follow the ‘rules of the road’. Drivers consciously learn all these skills to pass the driving test and I believe some of the people who drive in Nigeria have the ability to achieve a satisfactory standard.
There needs to be a compulsory insurance policy for all convoy staff, including journalists. This should be put in place by the employer. This is necessary for a worker-friendly environment. I definitely believe we can do these things if we are serious. Convoy drivers and other staff need to be protected and the time is now because the hardship on families from deaths in convoys is preventable.