By Cosmas Omegoh
For a long time, travelling at night has been a culture many have had to embrace without minding the danger involved. Those who have been doing so surely have their reasons. The Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) says that it’s well within their rights, to do so, but quickly leaves a caveat that overnight journeys are potentially dangerous.
Now, before you embark on your next overnight road travel, you might as well consider this warning handed by the FRSC Lagos Sector Commander, Mr Segun Ogungbemide, who advised motorists and commuters to travel more in the day than in the night.
Hear him: “We have continued to remind members of the public that once there is a crash at night, it is difficult for them to receive support.
“Yes, we work for 24 hours, but we are not 24 hours on the road. So, people must realise that to call for help during the night is always not as easy as it is during the day.
“Everyone must realise that at night, visibility is reduced. All sorts of vehicles are plying the roads; some are doing so without head lamps. Even when you think that your vehicle has all the facilities to be on the road at night, what about the other road users?”
Ogungbemide while interacting with our correspondent also said: “Majorly, one cannot compare the immediate help available in the day to what would happen at night. Once any disaster happens in the day, other road users would alert FRSC men.
“But in the night, accidents can occur where there is nobody to offer immediate help.”
He reminded everyone that “often the roads are not perfect. The road you met during the last trip could have been dilapidated and developed potholes that could throw vehicles off the road.
“Needless to say that there are often robbers who could throw logs of wood on the road to derail the drivers. Then what about the growing number of kidnappers taking travellers hostage and demanding ransom?
“These are why we keep doing all it takes to discourage night traveling. Having considered all these grave dangers, over time, we were persuaded to conclude that the better time to travel is during the day.”
But do a large number of Nigerians pay attention to the threat and terror Nigerian roads now hold mostly at night hours as pointed out by the FRSC boss?
According to Sunday Sun investigation, a large number of Nigerians are still streaming along the major highways at night, moving from city to city. Such persons are undaunted and unfazed; they are always shrugging off warning of danger.
Tony, a luxury bus driver, for instance, has been plying the highways mostly at night since the 1980s. He works with one of the big transport companies. And for years, he has been ferrying millions of people to the various destinations at night.
Does he share in fear that night journeys are dangerous? Here he waxes philosophical. “I believe whatever will be, will be,” he told our correspondent.
“I have been driving since early 1980s. God has been my helper. He has been saving me,” he said, while betraying his fear about night journeys.
He, however, added: “When you are regular on a particular road like some of us, there is this confidence you have, then coupled with your faith in God.”
He admitted that a number of occasions, he had come close to disaster at night, but God on each occasion saved him.
He revealed that a confident driver who is often on the roads at night needs to be courageous on the wheels, otherwise he has no business doing so, disclosing that his abiding faith in God has been his secret.
He recalled that the fear of armed robbers on the roads is particularly worrisome.
“I have had close shaves with armed robbers in the past, but on each occasion, I escape unhurt.
“Some of my colleagues have been victims. They were shot along Benin-Ore axis; some died, some survived the attacks.
“But if you keep remembering all that, you may not be able to drive. That is it.”
He recalled that in the past, drivers used to carry escorts on board their buses. The escorts used to challenge the robbers when they attack.
“But now,” he said, “that era is gone. Once you hit the roads, what sees you through is your faith in God. But if in the course of the job, the untoward happens, that is your fate.”
A trader, Emeka Nwakire, who claimed to have done a lot of night journeys in the past while saying his reasons for doing so said: “It offers traders a lot of opportunities to come to Lagos, for instance, from the East or North, buy their goods and return to their base on the same day.
“In doing so, you save money and time. But it is also dangerous. For instance, if an accident happens, it might be difficult to get urgent attention.
“Of course, there are armed robbers everywhere on the roads and we have kidnappers too. One can easily fall victim to them.
“But all the same, life is a risk. If one continues to consider the risks, he will die of hunger.”
Now, ask anyone who has had a brush with the bandits travelling at night, their stories and experiences are chilling – simply nightmarish. Here is one of such.
“In 2009, I put a final full stop to overnight travelling,” Sunny, a journalist, said, adding that “I was headed for Port Harcourt from Lagos on the night for an event next day.
“Somewhere around Okada Junction on the Benin-Ore expressway, we encountered this gang of robbers at about 2:00 a.m. The moon was shining brightly. I could see their marksman clearly positioned on the road median. He fired at our bus’ tyre just to impede our escape; he actually hit his target, but our driver pressed on.
“About a kilometer from the spot, our driver pulled up and fled into the bush, forcing a stampede; every passenger struggled out. In the course of that, I fell on some fresh excreta just at the edge of the road.”
He recounted that another bus from the stable of the same company which ran into the robbers was not spared.
“We learnt that the robbers killed the driver instantly. They spread bullets at the helpless passengers. And when the bus halted, they proceeded to rob the survivors. It was sad!”
But stories like this – though unreported – don’t seem to scare many motorists and commuters, Sunday Sun investigation revealed.
Presently, not much seems to have changed with even insecurity on the roads obviously assuming a leviathan status – with armed robbers and cells of marauding herdsmen, as well as kidnappers holding sway.
Last Tuesday evening our correspondent went out to Mazamaza to confirm how travellers still engage in overnight journeys.
Mazamaza is an overland transport terminus on the ever-busy Mile 2- Badagry Expressway in Lagos.
At that hour, the day was still bright and beautiful, the weather a bit breezy, yet hot and humid.
Mazamaza is an unmistakable inter-state and international transport hub on the western fringes of Lagos. Many bus services originate and terminate at the area. Any time, one can connect many parts of the country – East, North and other major cities like Port Harcourt from Mazamaza. It is also the gateway to many countries on the West Coast: Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo, Cote d’ Ivoire. And so, virtually all known transport companies, including the starts-up maintain their terminals and loading bays at Mazamaza.
And because of that, the area is a beehive of activities; it hardly sleeps. Every now and then, big luxury buses and small sprinter buses arrive and take off to various countries and cities near and far; the area ringing with lots of human activities.
On that Tuesday evening, workers of various major transport companies with elaborate loading bays on the Old Ojo Road, had begun welcoming mainly traders and their wares.
Many traders who were in Lagos to purchase goods were returning from the major markets. They kept pilling up their goods for way billing. Some of them would accompany their goods. The goods would ride in the under carriage of the buses, while their owners will sit in the passenger cabins, snoring away.
Towards the 7 O’clock hour, some other categories of passengers had started arriving. Women and their kids, and some middle-aged ones were in their number.
A woman told our correspondent that she was travelling for a burial the next day and to attend to other pressing family matters.
At a strip of land overlooking the expressway which commercial buses use at their park, a handful of sprinter buses were stationed. Some of their operators were calling for passengers to the East and Abuja, Kaduna and Kano.
Bolade, on Agege Motor Road, Oshodi, also in Lagos, is one of the spots passengers travelling at night board buses to various destinations. At 8:20 p.m on that day, a handful of rickety luxury buses were seen lined up. Some passengers were seated on a wooden bench waiting for boarding time. Various motor touts milled around canvassing and competing for the arriving passengers.
Our correspondent gathered that the buses begin to depart any time from 10:00p.m depending on the season.
Other areas in the city where one can board night buses, it was gathered, include Ijora, Onyigbo, Oto, Agege, Alafia, Ojo and Alaba, among others. At some of these locations, one can board mini and luxury buses travelling to many cities outside Lagos.
But even when it is feared that many Nigerians have not jettisoned the culture of travelling at night hours, FRSC’s Lagos Sector Commander believes the number had reduced significantly.
“The truth of the matter,” he said “is that unlike what the number used to be in the past – as a result of FRSC sensitisation effort coupled with the current situation in the country, – many people have ceased traveling at night. Of course, you will always see vehicles carrying cargo, but so many passenger vehicles have stopped travelling at night, that I can assure you.
“Yes, some are still on the roads but when you compare the number to what it used to be in the past, what you will see is that some commuters have started adhering to the advice of the FRSC because of the dangers there area.”
However, he maintained: “I still stand by the advice of our Corp Marshal, Dr Boboye Oyeyemi that we should avoid night travel – especially commuter vehicles.”
For many who must be unavoidable on the roads, his advice is apt.
He said: “Even in the day, we should be conscious of our movement. Anytime you are moving on a very busy road and all of a sudden you discover that the road has become empty, you should be conscious of our movement; note that something might have gone wrong ahead. It is better you park and ask questions or monitor what is happening.
“If you are moving on the road and see some people and you are not sure of their identity, reason demands that you should not stop unnecessarily because of the dangers that abound.
“The best of all is to make sure that your vehicle is in good condition before proceeding on any journey because if you put a faulty vehicle on the road, anything goes wrong, you may not guarantee what will happen.
“Avoid overloading that could impact the manipulation of the vehicle. Avoid unnecessary distraction from passengers. In Nigeria today, all the parties in the travel should concentrate and do all that is necessary to have a safe motoring environment. Be vigilant to know what is happening around you and be willing to give information to other road users when necessary.”