FATAL accidents caused by container-laden trucks called trailers have become common occurrences on our roads. Families on daily basis, are flung into the terrible trauma and pains of mourning by deaths caused on the express ways by these trucks, especially within the environs of Lagos.
It could be at the bus-stops, the interchanges, on the road, and virtually anywhere, these trucks can kill at any time.
The driver could lose control, run into unsuspecting persons at a bus-stop, or run into another moving or stationary vehicle, or run into shops, the market, offices or residential buildings, killing many, maiming others and leaving their usual trails of destruction,confusion, sorrow, pain and misery behind.
If it is a laden oil tanker, fire will be sprayed on poor citizens and their environment; the fire services will arrive deliberately late after the inferno had started fading. You cannot really blame them. They are ill-equipped, ill-motivated, ill-prepared and ill-trained. In Festac Town, when fire broke out in one of the Closes along 5th Avenue, November last year, the only functional fire truck had gone to Lekki it was reported, to supply water to some big men.
A private water company, Branca water came to the rescue. Great Nigeria!
The pains these trailersÂ cause are many, including delays and nerve-racking traffic congestion on the roads. Recently, my matter was struck off by an angry magistrate while I was sweating it out in a traffic jam, along Agege Motor Road caused by a broken down trailer!
In Lagos, people who have to use these terrible roads to get to their businesses in this rainy season go through challenges. This rainy season is peculiar because all things, the broken down and fallen containers and trailers, the deep ponds and flood rivers on the roads, the sheer impatience and indiscipline of drivers, the callousness of the moving trailers, all seem to be working together to confirm that our Ministries of Transport are, indeed, asleep, while our road manners in Nigeria need urgent re-branding.
When these trucks unleash their havocs, it could be happening at different places at the same time. For example, on June 30, 2009, trucks fell, blocked the roads,Â committing havocs along Orile Road, Agege Motor Road, Coconut in Tincan, and somewhere after Ojo Barracks along the Badagry Road. When it happens, you hear people blame Satan.
Now, who is this Satan? Is he our bad and inconsiderate driving habits, or the government that has selfishly and wickedly ignored Oshodi-Apapa Exressway, like they did to Shagamu-Benin Road, and Onitsha Bridge, or the truck owner who allows decrepit trucks on the road, or LASTMA and the VIOs who appear overwhelmed by these trailer drivers and fail to enforce the law, or the tanker drivers labour unions who would go on strike and ensure that we have no fuel if you dare to discipline any obstinate and ungovernable member of theirs and they are many of them. These drivers, often go on wheels after an overdose of the local drug they call Paraga.
Satan must be having a laugh at us for the sooner we accept responsibility for our wickedness the better for us. We just have to begin to learn how to change in our attitude to fellow citizens.
In respect of our terrible roads, for a long time, I was of the opinion, that the long and deliberate negligence of the Niger Bridge and the Shagamu-Benin Road was because the Niger Deltans and South Easterners were to benefit more from any intervention by the Federal authorities concerned.
With the continued poor and terrible condition of Shagamu-Benin Road even today, despite the tears shed by the then Minister of Works about two years ago while on inspection of that road, and the mindless neglect of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, the main route to the nations largest seaports, it became clear to me that it is all part of the disease that has since gripped this country.
That same sickness caused this nation to ignore the Niger Delta and even tried to suppress them until they were pushed to confront issues the way they did.
It is the same sickness that causes our rich and privileged citizens to fly overseas for medical check ups without thinking of having the same facilities here in Nigeria despite the rich human resources we have in the medical field.
That same sickness is the reason why the rich and powerful will have their children and wards in schools overseas, while Nigerian children spend extended years in schools stricken with strike actions by workers in the education sector.
When they manage to graduate, they are not sure of when they will go for their NYSC because they now have several batches and who you know now matters even in this area.
It is that sickness that is responsible for our remaining in darkness with industries being wiped out of existence. The sickness is manifest in the banking and other sectors of this economy. The sickness is called Wickedness In High Places (WIHP) !
The Road traffic Act Cap 548, 1999 criminalises the overloading of a trailer as well as exceeding the speed limit provided by law for a trailer, and that is 30 kilometres per hour.
The driver of such a vehicle is liable, and where the driver is not the owner as it is often the case with these trailers, the owner is liable and may be charged accordingly. The law places the responsibility for having good drivers on trailers on the owners of such trailers.
The traffic officers of our Police Force, LASTMA and VIOs know this but they seldom charge truck owners along with the driver when accidents occur whether fatal or not.
The trend is to charge the driver and release the truck too quickly without any measures to ensure that the cause of the accident is eliminated to prevent a future re-occurrence. The result is that most truck owners wallow in the stack ignorance of their responsibility under the law to Nigerians to keep the truck in good and road-worthy condition before it could ply the roads.
They often abandon their drivers when charged in court, by sacking them to avoid responsibility, while the same truck is released by the Police back onto the roads to continue with the destruction work, thereby creating a dangerous vicious cycle to the peril of Nigerians.
In Lagos, LASTMA, and the VIOs have the powers to ensure that commercial vehicles that ply our roads are in good condition and fitted with proper and functioning gears. The Flats trailers that carry the containers must be have straight beds with stoppers/hooks to clamp containers to ensure that containers do not slip off the truck as is often the case. The VIOs and LASTMA should compliment the efforts of the Police in this enforcement.
LASTMA deserve kudos for their genuine efforts at easing traffic all the time. The VIOs instead, always appear in large numbers around Mile 2 area, in their well ironed black and white uniforms, targeting only cars during peak hours, asking for all sorts of papers from owners.
They even stop properly robed lawyers en-route to courts! The result is that the trailer driver is in the end left to feel that he has become untouchable.
OnJuly 13, 2009, for example, at the peak period of 7.30am, near the Festac 2nd Gate by Agboju U-turn, a trailer driver stopped in the middle of the road, climbed down and was urinating near his truck, without listening to the orders of a traffic police officer to park well!
The questions that keep coming to me are: First, why are there no training schools for trailer drivers in Nigeria, and if there are none, can’t NARTO put one together? Second, why would an entrepreneur entrust the control and operation of a truck valued over N15.0 million into the hands of a driver who can neither read nor write, does not understand the road signs, who drinks and smokes all sorts? Such trucks are accidents waiting to happen.
There is dearth of good and strong trailers that can do intra-states hauls without difficulties in Nigeria.NARTO, NUPENG, and NURTW know this and they sing about it regularly to the government, but nothing is done. It is time before the new elections arrive, for governments that are serious to empower the banks under a special programme, to assist transport owners to phase out these rickety, dangerous objects of destructions on our roads called trailers.
Let no politician come to make promises about roads and transport come 2011; Nigerians are beginning to know who is in-charge now, they may not be deceived again by politicians, who deliver campaign promises only on the pages of newspapers and magazines.
Mr. Udegbe, a lawyer, writes from Lagos.