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Our roads: Not fit for purpose


“The Test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ajegunle link road (before repair)

Our roads are littered with the tales of loss of lives. Over 70 people died and countless others injured at the Upper Iweka Roundabout in Onitsha, Anambra State. This happened last Sunday when a fuel tanker ploughed into a building and burst into flames.

It happened in broad daylight; the horror was compounded as the fire extended to and touched 15 passenger buses, motorcycles and burned its occupants beyond recognition. Amongst the victims were a pregnant woman and number of children.

This must have been a living nightmare for the victims’ relatives and those who were witnessing this horror as it unfolded were helpless to help as it took hold of its victims in full view and in a public place too.

Actually, the driver of the tanker had lost control and he was trying to avoid collision,witnesses said that the driver did try but failed to stop his tanker even with barriers on the road, the tanker’s acceleration and impact led to it over turning and busting into flames ,setting ablaze nearby building and vehicles.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror and shock that the eye witnesses will feel as the fire took hold and rages for over one hour before the fire brigade were able to subdue the fire. The aftermath was described as hellish and grizzly sight that people were:” burnt beyond recognition in the hour-long intense fire.” Unfortunately, such disaster has become usual in Nigeria. It should not be. Every life lost is one life too many. We should not be losing lives and limbs on our perilous roads, it should not be commonplace, we are so used to such disasters that we take it as the given.

In fact, we often dread travelling that we pray to be delivered safe and sound every time we travel and so do waiting for our love ones to arrive because we dread our roads. Something has to give. I wrote on the very same situation in 2013 and I would like to share that with you. The story sounded strangely familiar: in “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime, Outside Looking in on July 22, 2012, I wrote; -There are superstitions in some countries, where people avoid Friday the 13th.

For the superstitious, this day is a harbinger of doom. People would rather avoid going out on this day and some even would call in sick to avoid going out. On the 13th of July, 2012, early in the morning, an oil tanker in the southern Rivers State swerved trying to avoid three oncoming vehicles including a bus. The tanker crashed and rested on its side, hundreds of locals in the area flocked to the scene to collect the spilling fuel.

The authorities said the vehicle did not immediately burst into flames but did so sometime after the villagers rushed to collect the fuel. Many of the dead ones were okada drivers, who raced to fill up their tanks after learning of the crash, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Apparently, some troops who got to the scene before the fire broke out told the villagers to refrain from going near the tanker according the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Alagoa Morris, coordinator at advocacy group Oil Watch Nigeria, asks: ‘How can people who have enough to eat scoop oil that belongs to someone else? It is poverty! This is sadly, and the truth. Life is cheap and no lessons have been learnt to prevent similar accidents from happening again and again. No risk assessment, no contingency plan and no medical protocol to follow when dealing with burnt victims.

In fact, no emergency service was on site to take charge of the situation until much after   the explosion. The pictures of the dead was gruesome they littered the scene, burnt beyond recognition in what can only be described as   self-immolation. Most of the road accidents in Nigeria, often involving long- haul and poorly maintained tankers moving on our bad roads.

An accident scene caused by bad road

The quality of the roads are way below the standards for the purpose and too many vehicles including tanker and other heavy duty vehicles using the roads that is not maintained for heavy usage.

It is understood that at least two contracts have been signed over in the last six years to expand the highway that runs through Niger Delta states, according to a government website. However, corruption often hinders or slows down road construction and maintenance projects.

The death toll is stacking up and all we hear is talk shop and photo opportunity. In October 1998, more than 1,000 people died at Jesse, in the south-eastern Delta State, when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel.

In April last year, a fuel tanker overturned at an army checkpoint in the central part of the country, sparking an inferno in which about 50 people were killed.

125 people were killed by a pipeline explosion in Ovim village in Abia State, September 16, 2004 nearly 60 were killed when a pipeline exploded on the outskirts of Lagos. More than 17,000 people died in about 31,000 road accidents across Nigeria.Every life lost is one too many.”

We are in 2015 and yet again, two years down the line and similar road accidents and countless of other in between. Most finger of blame is at the politicians and their corrupt ways. No one I have spoken to thinks it will change for the better. The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Hosea Karma, who visited the scene of the incident with senior police officers of the command, could be seen directing the evacuation of the charred remains of the victims.

As of 5.15pm, charred bodies were still being evacuated from the area by   security and Para-military operatives as well as   officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps.

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