By Mike Ebonugwo, Evelyn Usman & Bose Adelaja
FOR many eye-witnesses, it was a familiar accident and tragedy. Yet they were shocked beyond words as the fatal accident was an avoidable one. The scene was the popular Ijesha Bus-stop on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. The victim of this tragic incident was a pregnant woman who made the mistake of trying to cross the expressway rather than use the pedestrian bridge there. She was knocked down by a fast-speeding commercial bus popularly known as danfo that was being driven against the traffic. She died on the spot, while the fate of her unborn baby remains unknown.
Her tragic death is considered avoidable because on that fateful Thursday she was with her sister who, it was gathered, implored her to use the footbridge rather than risk her life dashing across the traffic-busy expressway. But she was said to have argued that in her condition she could not climb the bridge. Unfortunately that decision proved fatal.
Same fate befell another pregnant woman who was said to have been hit by a motorbike at Second Rainbow Bus-stop. Eye witnesses said she could have survived had help reached her on time. Rather than rush her to the hospital, sympathisers reportedly clustered round her, with each person suggesting what should be done, without any of them taking any step to act on the suggestions. She was said to have been on the ground for close to one hour before breathing her last.
The death of these unfortunate pregnant women only added to the growing list of those who have lost their lives in recent time to vehicles being driven against the traffic particularly between Cele Bus-stop and Mile Two/Berger on the expressway. It also re-echoes concern about the lingering traffic-gridlock in that axis and beyond which has repeatedly been blamed for why many motorists resorted to driving against the traffic in order to get to their destinations on time and meet up with their appointments.
Indeed the lingering gridlock along the Mile Two/Apapa axis of the Oshodi – Apapa Expressway created by a siege of articulated heavy duty vehicles and failed sections of the road left many motorists, especially commercial bus drivers, with no choice but to drive against the traffic from Cele bus-stop to Berger Under bridge (outward Apapa). Before the recent intervention of government by way of bringing some semblance of sanity in the area, most of them felt justified that it was the only way to beat the traffic if they must get to their destinations on time. It was an option many commuters readily embraced, especially clearing and forwarding agents as well as those whose places of work are situated in Apapa. In most cases, many of them preferred mounting readily available motorbikes to and from their destinations within that axis.
The fact that the relevant authorities, including security and traffic regulating agencies for a long time, did not move against commercial vehicle operators taking this accident-prone alternative seems to reinforce the popular impression that the law against ‘one-way’ driving had been suspended pending when the traffic situation in the axis improves. Unfortunately, the cost in lives has been high, especially for motorbike riders plying the expressway. While some of them are presently confined to their sick beds with severe injuries, others did not live to tell their stories after being knocked down by fast-moving trucks with defective break system.
Statistics at Vanguard Spotlight’s disposal showed that at least five lives are lost along the expressway in a week. The latest included a motorcyclist who was crushed by a speeding truck after he lost control of his bike at the Cele Bus-stop and another who was killed along with his two passengers after being knocked down by a commercial bus.
Same fate also befell an old woman, a trader at Cele Bus-stop. The pepper seller identified simply as Mama, was said to have gone to the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Movement Church, located at Ijesha. She was said to have been on the verge of crossing the road, when a vehicle being driven against the traffic hit her. She died on the spot.
Bitter tales of victims families
While some families are still bitterly counting their losses on account of fatal accidents caused by vehicles being driven against the traffic on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, those who survived after being involved in similar mishaps are no less traumatised by the experience of their narrow escape. Vanguard Spotlight met with three separate families who claimed their loved ones were knocked down by motorists driving recklessly against the traffic.
One of them, Alhaja Mulikat Ogunremi, said her younger sister, Adunni, had since been under medical observation due to the injuries sustained after she was knocked down by a commercial motorcyclist. “She was a factory worker at Warehouse Bus-stop and was returning home on that fateful Tuesday when she was knocked down by a commercial motorcyclist at Mile 2 Oke. This affected her limbs. She has since been confined to a wheel chair,” she lamented.
The case of the Aigboas family from Ekpoma, Edo State is worse as they lost the mother of the house in a one-way related accident that also left their 12-year-old grandson hospitalised. The head of the family, Mr. Sunday Aigboas, who is still mourning the tragic loss of his wife, informed that the incident happened precisely at Sanya Bus-stop while she was on her way home from Sanya market where she was a petty trader.
She was said to have left Sanya Market at about 7.30pm and was on her way home at about 7.30pm when she was knocked down by a hit-and-run motorist, which left her legs broken and her grandson seriously injured. Unfortunately Dorcas died while sympathisers were taking them to hospital. Meantime, the grandson is still in the Intensive Care Unit where he is undergoing medical treatment.
The 59 years old Dorcas was interred in her home town soon after. In a chat with Vanguard, the widower, Mr. Aigboas, said his wife’s death left a vacuum in the family. He said: “My wife died shortly after leaving the market. She was knocked down while trying to cross the street beside the popular white garment church at Sanya Bus-stop on her way to Coker/Orile with our grandson. She died on the way to the hospital but our grandson survived the accident though with severe injuries.”
He also informed that the late Dorcas, a mother of seven, was a peace-loving trader. Some of her co-traders and associates described her as a gentle and hardworking trader.
Why we drive against traffic – Motorists
When questioned why they gamble with their lives by driving against the traffic on the ever-busy expressway, many of the motorists attributed this to what they described as the “total stand still” traffic often from Second Rainbow to Berger and beyond. They added that the traffic jam usually reduced the number of trips they made per day.
A commercial bus driver, Mr. Jubril Abdu-Gafaru, said he bought his bus on hire for N1.5m and was expected to make a weekly return of N50,000. “My vehicle is routed and how do I balance this if I don’t drive against the traffic? If I fail to meet up the owner of the bus will threaten to take the vehicle from me,” he informed.
Another motorist, Mr. Ridwan Ajani, said he was compelled to drive against traffic in order to meet up with his family upkeep. He said: “I am an obedient citizen and was initially against one-way driving, but with the present crazy traffic situation along that route, I had no choice but to join those doing it. Before now, I used to make ten trips daily but this has reduced to three. My three children have dropped out of school while my wife is critically ill and I have no other business. So, tell me, why I won’t drive against traffic?”
Some commuters who patronise ‘one-way’ commercial vehicle operators claimed they do so for different reasons. Madam Tope Adedeji said she resorted to doing so because “I must get to Wharf before 7.30am otherwise I risk losing my job. The only option is to join the vehicles plying one way to Coconut and then take a commercial motorcycle to Wharf”.
Untill recently, ‘one-way’ driving by commercial buses had seemingly become permissible on that route. Not surprisingly, the situation also attracted garage touts, hawkers and road side traders. They claimed that their businesses were affected by the lingering gridlock and so had to shift base with the one-way commercial vehicle operators. Touts operating as ticketing officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, also became increasingly visible on the one-way route since most commercial motorists had abandoned the regular route.
One of the ticketing officials simply called “Orofo” said he was sent there by his union leaders. According to him: “My Oga asked me to move to this side because the gridlock has affected our daily delivery and the only option is to go to where we will make more money”.
Intervention by Task Force
But in a bid to curtail the excesses of erring motorists on the axis, the Lagos State Task Force had moved into action following which a total of 98 commercial motorcycles were impounded on the expressway within a week. The Chairman of the Agency, Mr. Olayinka Egbeyemi, said the enforcement operation was carried out after several warnings issued to commercial motorcycle operators to desist from operating on the route.
He said government was uncomfortable with the flagrant disregard of the law by some commercial motorcycle operators, coupled with the reports of crime incidents allegedly perpetrated particularly on the expressway.
He said the commencement of repair works on the 3000 capacity ‘ABAT Truck Terminal in Orile-Iganmu and other road construction/rehabilitation around Apapa axis, were part of the steps taken by the government, to address the perennial gridlock around Apapa.
Menace of tanker drivers
In the same vein, the Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, has described as alarming casualties resulting from the menace of tanker drivers and people driving against the traffic. Though, he did not give the crash figure, he, however, informed that accidents will reduce soon as the agencies involved in managing the situation intensified their efforts.
He also warned motorists that the law on driving against the traffic was still in force, adding that the Apapa route was not an exemption. He particularly appealed to people living within the area to exercise patience as the long awaited solution was in sight. “We appreciate the difficulties people living in Apapa are presently facing. We’re aware that on account of this, especially the traffic problem, many people are leaving the area,” he said.