The Monday June 1st diesel tanker crash in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria that has left 70 people dead and damaged an untold amount of property in a heavily trafficked commercial area in one of South Eastern Nigeria’s largest commercial hubs is unfortunately not a new or rare occurrence. According to the most recent available 2014 OECD Road Safety Annual Report, Nigeria logged 6092 fatalities from road accidents in 2012 alone. This is only slightly lower than the total number of people killed by Boko Haram that same year. Road fatalities are so frequent in Nigeria that an accident last year where 15 people lost their lives when a tanker laden with 33,000 litres of petrol lost control and rammed into vehicles at Kirikiri, Lagos, hardly caused people to raise an eyebrow. The causes of road accidents vary, from bad roads, to reckless driving, unqualified drivers and un-roadworthy vehicles that, because of bribery and corruption, are still allowed to operate on Nigerian roads. This most recent devastating accident in Anambra shows that the Nigerian government must take swift action to tackle issues of road safety in Nigeria. It can do so relatively easily. Here’s how:
Nigeria needs stricter licensing requirements
Nigeria might be one of the easiest places in the world to obtain a driving lisence. Though the Federal Road Safety Commission has made strides in computerizing and standardizing the accreditation process, in many places you can buy the right to operate a motor vehicle – of any sort. Many drivers learn by apprenticeship and very few drivers are formally educated in the rules of the road. In 2013, the Federal Government started a campaign to make vehicle licensing stricter, but corruption has hampered its implementation. Interested parties can pay three times the regular licensing fee to obtain an official permit whether they know what they are doing, or not.
Nigeria needs to reform the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC)
Making the highway safe for motorists and other road users as well as educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of discipline on the roadways is the function of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). Instead of enforcing proper road rules, “Road Safety” as they are colloquially called can sometime constitute more of a problem as they harass innocent drivers in order to secure bribes while ignoring major road hazards. Anyone who lives in Abuja knows that the end of each month can bring an increase in blue and white vehicles at every intersection with uniformed officers hungry for money causing dangerous congestion and pile ups. The FRSC desperately needs to be reformed into a professional service with a clear mandate that does not overlap with existing law enforcement agencies.
Nigeria needs tougher vehicle inspections
There are too many cars and trucks on Nigerian roads that simply should not be there. Every Nigerian citizen has seen transport buses without doors and large trucks travelling the roads at night without proper lighting. Then there are the problems we can’t see like faulty breaks and toxic emissions. Much of this results from the importation of old and un-roadworthy vehicles from countries where they are not allowed to operate. The issue of vehicle inspection in Nigeria should be tackled from the root. The Nigeria Customs Service needs to aggressively monitor and prevent the importation of second, third, and fourth-hand “killer” vehicles. Large corporates and individual drivers alike should be required to present their vehicles for regular servicing and inspection and faulty vehicles should be immediately banned from use for personal or commercial purposes and their owners severely fined.
Nigeria needs dedicated routes and times for the movement of potentially hazardous materials
In other countries there are strict procedures and rules that govern the transport of hazardous commodities like fuel, toxic waste, and construction equipment. Often, some activities are only allowed at times of low traffic volume to minimize the risk of casualties in the event of an accident. In many places there are dedicated routes for the movement of hazardous materials. While Nigeria lacks the road infrastructure to create dedicated routes for fuel delivery or hazardous materials transport, we can improve safety by truly enforcing a ‘specific time’ law for the movement of trailers, tankers, and heavy- duty vehicles. These vehicles should be equipped with proper lighting, thoroughly inspected and then, only allowed to transport goods, at low peak times when there are fewer travelers on the road.
The government, Federal Road Safety Corps, and companies who own heavy-duty vehicles must work together in restructuring road safety and management. All commuters should also demand better safety practices and improved enforcement from their elected officials so that accidents like the one in Anambra cease to be a part of daily life.