It was another sad day for Lagos residents and by extension, Nigerians. A scheduled meeting made me leave office that day and thereby helped me avoid the attendant chaos aftermath of the accident involving an articulated vehicle at the Otedola Bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
Perhaps, only the January 2002 armoury explosion compares with last week’s disaster in terms of havoc and devastation. I wager that most of us who either witnessed the horror or watched the videos must be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, very pathetic.
And as this newspaper reported, the casualties must surely be more than the official figures bandied around. But that does not, and should not, take anything away from the excellent work by the first responders, particularly Lagos State agencies like the emergency management authority, fire service, traffic management agency, and others who mobilized and worked hard till the next day in ensuring that our city returned to normalcy, if we can call what we have now such. Though they were aided by some federal agencies, but Lagos deserve kudos for responding beautifully.
Sadly, life can never be the same for those who lost families and properties in the avoidable tragedy. Those who suffered temporary dislocations like sleeping in their cars and vehicles because they could not reach their houses early enough and those marooned at different spots as vehicular movement became grounded, must surely be thanking their stars that their deprivations were not more than that.
For a country that just emerged from the throes of a disaster, as three local governments were soaked in a bloodbath, it was another carnage we could do without. Deaths have become so cheap that the rest of us living now look like walking corpses. Good enough that Lagos State government is embarking on some steps to prevent such disasters, but that should not make us oblivious to the fact that such should never have happened originally. Our negligence at different levels led to the deaths of those citizens last week.
From the Federal Road Safety Corps officials who turn blind eyes to articulated vehicles prowling our roads menacingly in obvious bad shape, to policemen who can be appeased with few naira notes and vehicle licensing officers who issued papers without ascertaining the state of such vehicles, the guilt is a smorgasbord of many factors. About six years ago at FRSC office in Ojodu, Lagos, I watched, appallingly, as most of those of us who were there to obtain driver’s licence goaded a man in his late 50s who failed an eye test, a result of advanced glaucoma, to go to another centre and obtain the licence. Mercifully, he was denied but I could not confirm whether FRSC had a way of blocking such persons. Think about it, how many drivers on our roads are blind technically? More often, I’ve challenged FRSC men who waylay private vehicles on the road, why they fail to bother commercial drivers; they’ve never given a satisfactory answer.
Our roads are cavernous and dangerous enough that only the seemingly mad and deranged can successfully navigate them. Drivers drive as though possessed and appear to be in a race on who will die first, even formula one racers cannot be so determined to end their lives. All these contribute to produce a bad driving culture that undermine those who are sane and want to obey traffic rules on the road. Across many parks and bus stops in Lagos, you see drivers and bus conductors quaffing alcohol in sachets with sellers ready to oblige them more and more. Policemen and other security agents join them in this early morning revelry and our roads are the worse for it.
But the Lagos State government should share part of the blame too. It is gratifying that the owner and driver of the truck that caused the carnage will be prosecuted and articulated vehicles are going to be subjected to road worthiness tests, however, the amputation of LASTMA shortly after Governor Akinwunmi Ambode assumed office contributed in no small way to the growing level of impunity now on Lagos roads. No doubt, the agency had its own excesses, but the directive that they should stop arresting offending drivers had given rise to reckless driving. It is now a common sight to see drivers driving against traffic without battling an eyelid just as motorcycle riders ride without any respect for rules and traffic regulations. The government might want to start from that area before going after articulated vehicles drivers.
Sadly, we will all go back to living our lives as if nothing terrible happened. By the way, will journalists please put faces to those who died in the accident so that they will no longer be anonymous even in death? That’s the least we can do to honour their memory.