By Bayo Oluwasanmi
The recent death of six medical doctors from Ekiti State and their driver sadly describes the funeral of a state. Before the tragedy, Ekiti State oscillates between death and destruction with life seeming to come apart at the seams due to poverty, disease and unemployment. Now compounded by the tragic death of the six – the very best of the best – it is a tear-stained portrait of a once proud state now reduced to an empty shell.
As I write this obituary, I watch helplessly the calamity that envelops my state. I can almost wring out the pages, so soaked are they with the tears of the families, friends, and colleagues of the departed six medical doctors and their driver.
On Sunday, April 24, 2016, the six doctors and a driver were killed in a ghastly auto accident on their way to Sokoto for the annual conference of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). The deceased : Dr. Alex Akinyele – Secretary NMA Ekiti, Federal Teaching Hospital (FTH), Ido Ekiti, Dr. Tunde Aladesanmi – General Surgeon, FTH, Ido Ekiti, Dr. O.J. Taiwo – Anatomic Pathologist, Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH), Ado-Ekiti, Dr. J. B. Ogunseye – National Association of General and Government medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP) National Secretary, Hospital Management Board (HMB), Ekiti, Dr. O. Olajide – Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), EKSUTH President, Dr. Atolani Adenine – Secretary NAGGMDP, Ekiti State, and Mr. Ajibola – NMA Ekiti Driver.
Regardless of the death toll, the rate and the number of deaths on our roads provides a sense of magnitude to the latest tragedy. The tragedy hits close to home. The loss is excruciating, and paralyzing. It heightens an awareness of both the fragility and preciousness of life. I experienced such emotions intensely some years ago when my Mother died. The death of a loved one is hard to bear. We grieve with the families, friends, and colleagues of the deceased and we pray for comfort and solace during these unimaginable circumstances.
When it comes to deaths on our roads, fortune favors the ruling elites who looted our treasury. New, safer cars are more expensive and only thieves in the Senate can afford them. Majority of Nigerians are poor and own older, less mechanically sound vehicles. The death of the six doctors and the driver brings into sharper focus such dramatic emergency events like auto crashes on our roads and why the government should make road safety a pressing priority issue. In a split second not only were lives lost, but the lives of families and friends of the victims were altered forever. Sudden losses are not unusual. They occur with regularity whether taking place in war zones or in car accidents, or in natural disasters. But the difference in auto accidents is that they are cheap deaths that could be prevented or minimized.
The death of the deceased evokes rawness of the pain and loss so evident. Their death was unutterably sad. The doctors were members of the NMA. They unselfishly shared their knowledge with the world. Needless to say, their services were vital and indispensable. They gave their best for the sick, the crippled, the maimed, and for the troubled in mind and spirit. They were there for the people – day and night, rough and tough times, even when their salaries were not paid. Certainly, the sun had set over our jewels in Ekiti land. Our healers were snuffed out prematurely. They carried their touches bravely and selflessly for the benefits of thepeople.
Over the years, our governments have taken little or no initiative when it comes to reducing auto congestion and auto accidents on our roads. Bad roads, poorly maintained road networks and a lack of enforcement of road safety laws, and non-existence of medical emergency services are major factors. In Nigeria, public transport vehicles are believed to be among the main causes of vehicular deaths.
Some years ago in Lagos, I saw “molue” with overflowing passengers going at a neck-breaking speed with one head lamp while a Tilley lamp was dangerously tied to the right head light to serve as substitute for head light that was out. Majority of vehicles used in Nigeria are not able to meet basic road safety standards that are the norm in civilized countries. Regulations in Nigeria for roadworthy vehicles are lax and in most cases non-existent, making it possible to serve as a dumping ground for old, rickety, ramshackle boxes on four wheels.
Road safety in Nigeria is a particularly acute problem. Pedestrians and commercial bikes (okada) populate the roads that are increasingly crowded with cars. Nigeria has no comprehensive set of laws to prevent drunk driving, set speed limits in urban areas and increase use of seat belts, child restraint, and motorcycle helmets. In 2013, only 264 people died in road crashes in Sweden, a record low. A story published by the influential Economist February 26, 2014 about Sweden’s safe roads says “The number of cars in circulation and the number of miles driven have both doubled since 1970, the number of road deaths has fallen by four-fifths during the same period. “With only three of every 10,000 Swedes dying on the roads each year,” continues the Economist, “Sweden’s roads have become the world’s safest.” In contrast, Nigerian roads are killing fields.
One of the survivors, Dr. Stephen Ayosanmi of EKSUTH, spoke on his hospital bed exclusively to Vanguard on the accident: “When the accident happened, some of us came out and people came and tried to help in the rescue effort. I came and I found out that I did not have any fracture or serious injury. By the time the members of the Road Safety Corps came, some doctors that were severely injured had died. Five of them! But, we have two who could still survive. So we rushed them to the nearby hospital (Doka General Hospital, about 70 km to Kaduna). “At the hospital, I was surprised when they said that there was no doctor there.
•Oluwasanmi writes via [email protected]