By Rotimi Fasan
THE casualty figure has been put at anything between 20 and 70, but reports of the terrible accident involving several vehicles at the Berger Bus-stop end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway grieves to the marrows.
That so many Nigerians, men and women, old and young, could die in such a terrible way, burnt to ashes right in the vehicles they were moments before passengers, some of them nursing mothers with children strapped to their backs or entire families, including both parents and their children and extended family members- that these number of persons who might have been residents of Ketu, Ojota, Isheri and other adjoining parts of Lagos- that this people could die in such abominable manner only a short distance from their homes, speaks volumes of how low we value life and have descended as a people.
The Berger multiple accident occurred right in the heart of the city, unlike other cases where people had died in remote parts of town that could not be easily accessed by rescuers.
No, this time death took so many Nigerians right under our nose. And their distraught families are not even given the consolation of finding their remains for burial. Others who might have lost their loved ones to other equally avoidable causes as was this accident in Lagos are now left to believe that they might have been part of the Berger accident.
As is usual with this type of freak accident, nobody is taking responsibility. Rather people, organisations, have been trading insults, blame and shifting responsibility for the grievous occurrence.
Generally, the Police have been consistently identified as a major player in the tragic drama that played before a live audience of desensitised Nigerians. People helplessly watched as fellow compatriots and human beings were burnt to death, trapped in vehicles that became their coffins, in a part of Nigeriaâ€™s most cosmopolitan city where they would have thought help wouldnâ€™t have been difficult to come by.
Yes, police men have been blamed for the accident. Supposing this is indeed the case, it would only be partly true.
For even if some irresponsible members of our uninspiring Police Force mounted road blocks they invariably use to extort road users, say if they had mounted such road blocks that led to these multiple accidents, the damage could and would have been brought under control if other rescue or emergency measures had been functional.
Clearly this was not the case, and so many people had to pay for it with their life. Even at that, the Police are still not taking responsibility for anything. Their spokesperson in Lagos, Frank Mba, has been telling sceptical Nigerians that their investigations have so far shown no police man put up a road block at the point the accident occurred.
Of course Mr. Mba knows he is being disingenuous to say that. First, the investigation he talked about was conducted by the Police who very few expect to be honest in a matter of this nature. This may be terrible to say about a security agency on which we still depend for our security as citizens.
Yet it is the reality of our being Nigerians that we would rather deal with the devil himself than with our Police personnel.
But Mr. Mba must know that a roadblock needs not be legal before our Police personnel choose to mount one. Indeed, they are mostly illegal toll gates, misnamed road blocks groups of dirty-looking men, and sometimes women, in threadbare uniforms use to extort bribes ranging between N10 and N20, or more, from drivers who might have skulls of dead people in the booths of vehicles that had probably been stolen with nobody, least of all the police men, bothering.
In the last couple of weeks, I have been at accident scenes that were apparently caused as a result of long vehicular build-up caused by police men taking bribes from commercial drivers and others who might have infringed traffic regulations. The irony of it is that the police men checking vehicles in this manner are regular, general-duty officers or men of the mobile force who are usually not attached to any police station.
They swing their weapons carelessly at road users, especially drivers they suspect might not want to wait to contribute to their illegal collections. And as soon as an accident, caused by the illegal activities of these thieves in police uniforms, occurs the culprits disappear from the scene.
This is only logical, for these were unauthorised road checks mounted by renegade members of the Police establishment, people whose sole aim for joining the Force was to steal and plunder while in uniform. The Lagos Police spokesperson knows this, which makes his claim of some shadowy investigation into the involvement of police officers in the Berger accident very hollow indeed.
What honesty can anybody expect from people who openly take crumbled N20 bills from road users and go ahead to give change to those who try to avoid making such payment with claims they donâ€™t have change? They engage in this disgraceful conduct without any iota of embarrassment and demand bribe as a matter of right.
Those in the Federal Highway Patrol are a special breed in this regard. They take nothing less than N100. Most times they demand more. Is the Police hierarchy blind to all this? What is this entire ramble about investigating marauding bandits let loose on the citizenry because they were enlisted members of the Police Force?
The matter is further compounded by the infiltration of the Force by common criminals who impersonate real members of the Police establishment. Police uniforms can be bought off the market. Any black material will do, as will any black pair of shoes if not bathroom slippers.
As for their weapons, they can be fabricated metals made by some local blacksmith or automatic types imported by politicians bent on staying in office; others are either sold by or stolen from police officers themselves. How do you know the real from the fake in circumstances like these? But as I earlier mentioned, the Police is only part of the problem.
A saner people with proper emergency measures in place would have responded to the anguished cries of those trapped in the accident vehicles. Ours are man-made disasters.