THE pile-up of Wednesday, November 16 on the Kara Bridge, at the Ogun State portion of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, has once again exposed the lack of adequate response to emergencies in the country. On a day that the very best of efforts were needed to restore order in the midst of a complete bedlam that had taken over the road, following a multiple accident, nothing but utter helplessness was forthcoming from the relevant authorities.
With agencies such as the National Emergency Management Agency, Federal Road Safety Corps, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Ogun State Traffic Compliance Enforcement Agency, Federal Fire Service and Nigeria Police on hand to attend to the situation, it is still difficult to fathom how an accident that occurred at 2.30 am could result in a 15-hour gridlock on a road as busy and strategic as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
No fewer than three people were reportedly burnt to death in the accident that involved six vehicles. The main cause of death was the crash by a heavy-duty vehicle into a fuel bearing tanker, which then sparked fire and engulfed the other vehicles that were around. The situation would, no doubt, have been worse were it to be during the day when the traffic is usually heavier. This is a road that is plied by 25,000 vehicles on a daily basis, according to the FRSC Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi.
However, given the time the accident occurred, in a country where things work efficiently, there is no reason why the carcasses of burnt vehicles that blocked the road should not have been cleared before the usual early morning traffic rush. This is even more so that the fire was said to have been put out by men of the Lagos State Fire Service within an hour of its occurrence. Unfortunately, that was not the case. As the main link road between Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, and the rest of the country, the loss in man-hours and other economic terms can only be imagined.
For those living in Lagos who had business to transact in other parts of the country, Wednesday’s gridlock was indeed a bad experience. The hardship commuters witnessed could only have happened in a country where scant thought is spared by those in authority for the lot of the ordinary citizen. Many of those who undertook an early morning trip to the eastern parts of the country, usually a whole day’s journey, would have ended up sleeping on the road, with the risk of being attacked by armed robbers. Although only three lives were directly lost, according to reports, who knows how many medical conditions must have been worsened by having to be held up on the road for hours on end?
It was either the men assigned the duty of clearing the road were clueless about what to do or they did not have the necessary tools to enable them to act effectively. This is not surprising because, with the exception of Lagos State, it is doubtful if other states do have the equipment to evacuate heavy-duty vehicles if they happen to break down on the highway. A top official of the FRSC once confessed to not having a breakdown truck to tow vehicles that obstruct traffic on the highway. But, in a serious country, it should not be so.
Quite so often, this same situation plays itself out in other areas, where helplessness takes over at critical periods when a timely and adequate intervention should have helped to save lives. This is most obvious whenever there is a plane crash. Members of the relevant agencies turn out in large numbers at the scene but offer little or nothing to save lives. For instance, in the case of the Sosoliso Airline flight crash in Port Harcourt 11 years ago, reports had it that when the plane crash-landed and caught fire, people on board were crying for help that never came. Many believe that if the emergency response services had been effective, many more lives than the two that survived could have been saved.
The experience of last Wednesday brings to the fore the enormity of the challenges the country faces in the handling of emergency situations. There is no doubt that a lot has to be done in the area of training and exposure to modern techniques. Besides, there is a need to ensure that the emergency services agencies are adequately equipped to be able to handle situations better. For instance, there is no reason why agencies like NEMA and Fire Services should not have helicopters to help in their work so that, in a situation where they cannot reach their targets by road, they can do so by air. In advanced parts of the world, fire emergencies are fought both on the ground and aerially.
Wednesday’s seemingly endless gridlock is also a strong reason for the government to make the provision of infrastructure a top priority. Although there are alternative roads through Epe, Ikorodu and Abeokuta out of Lagos, there is the need to provide more parallel roads out of the city to serve as a relief to the overburdened and overused 38-year-old facility. Moreover, these other roads are in a deplorable condition. They have to be urgently repaired.
Besides the roads, the railway also provides a good alternative means of transport that has been proven in the mass movement of people and goods in other parts of the world. According to the Mirror, a United Kingdom newspaper, the number of rail trips in the country reached 1.3 billion in the year to March last year. With a functional and efficient railway system in Nigeria, many people will not risk putting their vehicles on the road for every journey that has to be made. It will also greatly reduce the large number of articulated vehicles that cause accidents on our roads.