•How overloaded vehicles cause crashes on Nigerian roads
By Cosmas Omegoh
Some years back, Nigerian commuters used to be pitiable sights often seen hounded in public buses by transport vehicles owners, a burden the latter seemed to have chosen by themselves.
They were also mostly seen encumbered by their loads, such that they hardly had an inch of space to move their bodies. Transport vehicle owners used to cram both the passengers and their loads into available spaces in such a way that some got harmed by numbness, a condition that could lead to stroke.
Then at some point, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) woke up to the grim reality that Nigerian commuters were being put through hell sometimes for no fault of theirs. So, the commission came out mandating mini passenger-bus operators, especially those shuttling between cities, to carry only three passengers per cabin. The commission also demanded that each vehicle should carry minimum loads so as to guarantee passenger comfort and safety.
With its men on the roads, the FRSC then began to enforce the directives. Consequently, passengers began to experience relative comfort while travelling. Those shuttling between Lagos and Ibadan as well as other towns in the South West for instance, all began to feel huge relief even when they were made to bear a slight increase in fares.
Operators of the sprinter buses, which plied between Lagos and towns in the South-East and South-South, had continued to carry three passengers in their vehicles’ cabins. However, they often crammed their vehicles with their passengers’ loads, a development that left most of their buses labouring and the passengers agonising. Anyone would be right to call it a burden the passengers place upon themselves since they bear the full weight of their own loads.
Now, some transport bus operators, plying between Lagos and towns in the South west and beyond seemed to have jettisoned the FRSC directive on overloading, and have returned to their old ways. They have devised clever ways of avoiding men of the commission amid allegations that some road safety operatives had begun to compromise.
But recently, the FRSC through its Lagos Sector Commander, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, assured that incidences of vehicle overloading would be tackled headlong and with renewed vigour. He said the commission’s earlier ‘Total War on Overloading’ had been re-launched, reiterating that commuters had a sacred duty to ensure that they were not unfairly treated by public transport operators, who often rode roughshod over them.
Indeed, many Nigerians are often seen on the roads, shuttling from point to point, a development analysts had predicted would have been reduced with the expanded usage of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) services. When the services were rolled out in 1999, operators were upbeat among other things that the innovation would help to keep many Nigerians off the roads. They contended that with the full operation of the services, all most Nigerians needed to do was to place calls and solve problems that ordinarily would have demanded their physical presence right in the comfort of their homes. And that sounded right.
Now, nearly 17 years down the road, this prophecy appears not to have come true. GSM services providers have not really held back Nigerians or minimised the rate at which people hit the roads travelling. One needs to visit bus parks that dot every nook and cranny of the cities to know. And festive seasons largely provide a perfect opportunity to see the average Nigerian struggling to secure opportunities to travel to various destinations. They storm the bus stations with unbelievable tons of loads – food items, boxes of clothes, among other things – some of which they might not need throughout their stay away from the city. Then on their return journeys, they also haul to the cities, various items they adjudge would benefit them. In doing this, they tend to place on themselves, enormous burden too much to bear, a trend that vehicle operators heavily profit from because it benefits them as they charge high for the loads being ferried.
“My family and I had travelled to the village for the last New Year celebrations,” Mr. Chukwunyerem Ugo told Daily Sun recently. “We had packed as much load as we thought we all would need in the village – about three boxes of clothes and other things and headed home. Of course we paid through the nose for the loads. But surprisingly, I in particular didn’t use as many as four clothes out of the lot we took home.
“When we were about to return to Lagos, I discovered that we didn’t really need a quarter of the items we suffered to take home. That was when I began to reflect on the foolishness of my action.”
Just recently, Daily Sun visited some motor parks in Lagos to witness first hand how passengers struggle to board vehicles to various destinations. What largely presented itself on each occasion was the amazing pains passengers allow vehicle operators to inflict on them. It was also discovered how passengers pay through the nose to get their loads on the vehicles.
It was 8am on the particular day. At the popular Ijeshatedo on Mile 2-Oshodi Expressway, a transport company was loading passengers bound for Onitsha and other destinations in the East. The passengers were largely women, some accompanied by their children. Expectedly, most of the passengers had lots of things stuffed into giant polyethylene bags, aka ‘Ghana Must Go bags.’ They also had beside them, giant sized boxes, some too big to ride on the awaiting sprinter buses parked nearby. Then came loading time and the job was to be undertaken by a scruffy, gaunt-looking lad, who had been hovering around all the while.
He cast more than a passing look at the bags, which had massed beside the operating vehicle and then let out a wry cry: “Make una ready una money ooo,” signalling that he and his principals would be making a meal of the situation. “Na who get this?” he demanded, pointing at a giant bag standing a touching distance to his right hand side Next, he grabbed it and expertly shook it vigorously, trying to size it up before the owner, a woman, showed up promptly. He cast a look at her and demanded N2,500, thus starting an argument. He had similar argument with every intending passenger who had any load that was sizable. Then, one after the other, he began squeezing the loads into every available space. At some point, only very little space was left for some passengers to stir. Yet five were left; there was no space for them. They couldn’t be left behind and the company didn’t operate cargo service. With the vehicle isle already filled, the lad began conjuring the impossible; he ended up squeezing everything in, even compelling owners of the smaller bags to carry them on their laps.
At the popular Maza-maza Motor park on Mile 2-Badagry Expressway, passengers and their loads were being loaded into a middle-aged, Mercedes Benz luxury bus headed for Port Harcourt via Aba. The operating bus seemed dedicated to traders. Already several tens of cartons of goods had being loaded in the vehicle’s booth. A lot more were being loaded in the passengers’ seats. Half of the seats were taken. The vehicle was evidently heavy as it rolled out for the journey. As it sputtered off, it showed signs that it was in distress. Yet it pressed on all the same.
Then on this day during the last festive season, the reporter was travelling to Enugu by road for an urgent assignment. The sprinter bus was fairly, fully loaded, but there was limited petrol to undertake the journey. Then, at a filling station close to Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, the driver chanced on petrol. He pulled up and filled his tank. Then he thought up another idea. He rallied for a 50-litre container, filled it with fuel and hauled it into the vehicle as a back up. A bitter argument ensued over the danger in the practice. The driver’s action split the passengers into two halves – one for, the other against. In no time, those in opposition were silenced. Then, the driver gained greater strength, scolding and lecturing those opposed to his action as the journey progressed.
Although some of these practices do no often result into fatalities, FRSC insists that they are absolutely unhealthy. The organisation believes that all and sundry has a moral duty to ensure safety on the roads. This much was handed down by Mr. Omeje when he spoke to Daily Sun recently, informing that there was a renewed war against overloading and other unwholesome practices, which the commission had vowed to win.
Said the FRSC boss: “In all honesty, the corps marshal has reiterated the urgent need to check incidences of overloading on our roads. After over speeding, overloading is the next practice that has made our roads unsafe.
“Right now, we have our strategy for combating this menace. We call it “Total War on Overloading.” It was launched in the past. But now, we have re-launched it with greater emphasis on areas that the campaign did not cover in the past.
“In order to realise this goal, the sector commanders are now to render weekly reports of their operations in their respective areas.
“In Lagos, we are making overtures to our sister organisations to give us arms backing, because we have discovered that motorists who dangerously overload their vehicles now operate from 7pm when we have wind down our operations. So we now want to stay at the old Lagos Toll Gate for as late as 9pm since it is now a cat and mouse situation.”
He also admitted that during the petrol scarcity days, drivers used to carry extra fuel in their vehicles, describing the practice as dangerously unhealthy.
“We condemn this. We urge passengers to speak out because if they don’t and an accident occurs, the consequences might be fatal. It is better for passengers to stay for one hour to buy fuel than to carry the product and be burnt alive if an accident occurs. We want passengers to know that they pay transport operators to take them to their destinations and not to the mortuary. It is everybody’s responsibility to ensure safety on the roads. The commission would increase its enlightenment programmes henceforth to realise its set goals. ”
Foundation distributes free hearing aids in Lagos
…As Ambode warns residents on air pollution
By Tessy Igomu
At 12, Olasunkanmi feels like a prisoner trapped in his own body.
Having been born deaf, his parents started training him at an early age to lip-read, so as to easily communicate his needs without much difficulty. Despite attending one of the best schools for the physically challenged, not being able to hear and express himself had been for him a demoralising daily ordeal.
For 42-year-old Mrs, Tinuke Odumosu, who has been deaf since birth, the loss of her husband, Seye, and child under terrifying circumstances was one travail too many. Her late husband, also deaf, had died during a brief illness because the doctors could not accurately diagnose his ailment and administer treatments on him.
According to the woman, who spoke through a sign language interpreter, in her husband and child’s cases, doctors could not understand how they felt and the health challenges they faced. So, it was difficult to treat them.
For many hearing-impaired people across the country, living in a soundless world could be very difficult and unpleasing, especially in a clime where they face uncertain economic and social future.
Reducing this scourge was what the MTN Foundation set to do recently. The foundation distributed 250 hearing aid devices to beneficiaries of the MTN Foundation Hearing Aid Support project (HASP), including children less than one year old.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about five per cent of the world population (328 million adults and 32 million children) are suffering from one form of hearing disability or another, representing about 360 million people across the globe.
Dr. Audu Eneche, Chief Executive Officer of International Centre for the Prevention of Deafness and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impaired Persons (ICPDRHIP), said about 6.7 per cent of Nigerians suffer from hearing disability, meaning that of the country’s 180 million persons, over 12 million were either deaf or going deaf in the country.
This number has been predicted to increase in the coming years, especially in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria where there seems to be no significant will power to tackle the scourge.
The gesture, it was learnt, was part of the initiative to distribute over 1,500 hearing aid devices in the six geo-political zones of the country.
While speaking during the programme, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, lamented that noise-induced hearing impairment was hardly a matter of public health concern in many developing countries, especially Nigeria.
The governor, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Primary Health, Dr. Femi Onanuga, decried the alarming statistics on hearing disability and called on collective drive to give life back to those who are unable to hear. He noted that the need to check the increasing number of people coming up with the scourge reinvigorated his drive to ensure that enabling factors like noise pollution was eradicated.
He restated the government’s resolve to enforce relevant regulations on noise pollution in the state, stressing that no individual or corporate culprit would be spared in government’s renewed onslaught against defaulters.
He encouraged the beneficiaries of the project to join the crusade of campaign against noise pollution in the society.
Also speaking during the programme, the governor’s wife, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, stressed the need to make life meaningful for persons living with disability. She noted that millions of Nigerians were suffering due to hearing loss but unable to provide solutions for themselves due to financial constraints or lack of awareness on what to do to manage the situation.
She advised Nigerians to take care of their ears, noting that they might not know how important the ear was until they lost it. She encouraged parents and families with deaf persons to always exercise patience while relating with them.
Mrs. Ambode, who helped to fit the aid on some of the beneficiaries, described MTN as a company with a high sense of commitment to the execution of corporate social responsibilities. She said the hearing aid project would help to tackle hearing disability in the country.
She disclosed that the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO,) had almost concluded plans to carry out a similar programme later in the year.
While pledging unalloyed commitment to assisting those with hearing impairment, the director, MTN foundation, Mr. Denis Okoro stressed that the foundation would continue to uplift the welfare of challenged persons. He disclosed that the event was the first phase of MTN Hearing Aid Support Project, aimed at distributing 1,500 devices to hard-of-hearing persons in six states of the country – Akwa Ibom, Benue, Lagos, Bauchi, Kastina and Anambra.
He also thanked the state government for being the first to establish a department totally dedicated to overseeing the welfare of challenged persons.