Towards safety on our roads
By Theo Adebowale
In Ondo State, commercial vehicle operators enjoy so much liberty on the highway, throughout the length and breadth of that sunshine territory, on the few smooth distances and the whole of God forsaken, pot hole infested roads. Federal roads in the state are barely motorable. May be from Ilesa to Akure, from Ore to Aponmu. The state is attending in a modest way, from Owo to Akungba, to Ikare, Akungba to Isua roads. Commercial buses have no passenger limit, no speed limit.
Except for a few commercial cars and buses driven by their owners, speed competition on death trap is a spectacle. These drivers maintain and sustain cordial relationship with officers and men of the Police and Federal Safety Corps. They greet and hail them, the operatives just wave back at them as they zoom past check points in their overloaded vehicles all day long. If you want to travel by the passenger vehicles, you must keep your calm because these drivers are permitted or ignored to carry up to double capacity.
Once in a while, a vehicle may even pack commuters in the trunk. In order to maximize freedom to load, some drivers could spend more time than anticipated as they discharge and reload.
In fairness to the drivers, they behave around military check points. They comport themselves in speed and overtaking. Whether in Owena-Ijesa, Owena-Idanre axis, Okitipupa or Owo-Ipenmen points, accidents or autocrash of any type are hard to come by so it will be overgeneralization to claim that driver behaviour on the roads in Ondo State is speedy, reckless and careless. Unless when there is a dearth of commuters, all commercial drivers must overload their vehicles fairly used or ramshackle. Welcome to our state. Many drivers are ready to slug it out with any passenger that wants to complain about speed, capacity, or loading and reloading if the vehicle has a music player, the driver may be provoked to slot in music genre abusive and offensive in high decibel and lyrics. And only a few commuters have a choice. If you have a car do you have the liver to compete in speed with the maddening ‘convoy’ ready to edge your car into the bush? Can you risk driving on an ever failing road? Again with the spate of robbery and kidnapping is it not safer to move in groups?
If you mistake the friendliness of the Police and Road Safety officials toward commercial driver to be free for all road users you are dead wrong. The seat belt is not engaged by commercial drivers anywhere in the state, but ‘for you safety’, an official can book you if you forget to engage it even when you are still in front of your house! My driver went to collect my car tyre from the vulcanizer but returned home with a N13, 000 road safety ticket. The extra tyre he was booked for was healthier than what most commercial vehicles run their race with. His license which had expired 6 weeks earlier may be more valid than commercial drivers!
Traffic law enforcement agents are interested in the conduct of private motorists on Ondo State roads. Unlike commercial drivers, you must always engage the seat belt, extra tyre must be new, C caution and fire extinguisher must be in place. Driving and vehicle documents must be correct. Do not be surprised if the Police ask for your birth certificate!
And the drivers? The only ‘universal freedom’ enjoyed on the roads in Ondo State capital, Akure is to drive against traffic. The traffic light are violated by motor bike riders, commercial and private motorists gleefully. On the Airport Road, from Araromi to Mobil Fiwasaye, watch out on the road. Whether during the night, on in the broad daylight, a vehicle could just burst out. If it were in the night, it might not have head lamps. If the lamps are on the driver might use them to force you out of the road. One Sunday morning, my friend and I were driving past the General Post Office Akure towards Sacred Heart Cathedral, suddenly, in violation of traffic lights, a bike rider (okada), sped into the intersection and was knocked down by a motorist. Before we knew it, traffic wardens on duty disappeared and that motorist was at the mercy of hoodlums, who believed ‘no matter what’, the driver had to cater for the man that just attempted suicide.
A motorist needs to be extra careful in Oba-Ile area of the journey to the Airport. Even drivers of government vehicles, including law enforcement agencies, not on any form of emergency may just abandon the rightful lane and speed against you. This may be contributory to fatalities on the highway. In the past three months or so, there was street light on this highway which switched off sometime in March. Rates of night accidents as well as causalities has since increased on this road.
Traffic signs have become obsolete in the Sunshine State. They are no longer erected on newly rehabilitated roads like Airport, or on the newly constructed like Oke Ogba. Steering happy drivers are taking advantage to wreak havoc on limbs, lives and property. They endanger their lives and those of other road users, that even lone accidents must now attract greater attention.
The National Assembly as well as State Houses of Assembly must show more than passing interest in our safety. Forensic auditing must be employed to confirm budgetary allocations to various agencies get to the smallest units for vehicle fueling, maintenance and other sundry expenses, not only on paper but in cash. On duty, how do operatives feed? If these agents fuel official vehicles and kit themselves, aggression is passed to the general public. Tips and gratification may be employed to minimize the costs. After extorting heavy levies from its members, National Union of Road Transport Workers is left with only one option: to protect members at all costs by paying for protection in ‘innovative manners’.
Safety on the road must be guaranteed for it to obtain in homes, streets and alleys. By failing to erect traffic signs, Ministry of Works has been negligent and various users can just build on that for infraction.
Federal Ministry of Works, Ondo State Ministry of Works and related departments and agencies should begin to pay more serious attention to deplorable state of roads in Ondo State. Road signs must be installed promptly and government officials should begin to pay attention to safety on the road. The various agencies and agents should be properly funded so they can stop using the roads as toll collection centers.
Remember that dilapidated roads provide safe havens for kidnappers, armed robbers and ‘toll collectors’. Their activities must end now.