The darkness is heavy. Motorists who dare travel after the sun sets usually pray and fast anxiously till they reach their destination. A daytime journey is equally stressful. No matter how many times one has navigated the route, the journey is the same. The combination of the stench, filth, mosquitoes, litter, and lumps of soft dark soil laced with urine leaves to the imagination the daily reality of those who park illegally by the side of the nation’s busiest express road. A man defecating under his trailer sores the eyes. It gets worse. One can see a man having a quick wash and a woman trying to sell food to the man who has just been to the toilet.
Peradventure your vehicle breaks down (and it is raining), your journey to hell has just begun. Welcome to the Lagos/Ibadan expressway. Pitch dark due to absence of streetlights, massive potholes with portions of the road damaged or no longer in existence, the road is often plied by over speeding commercial buses, some of them without front or rear lights, slow lorries, fuel tankers and refuse dumps. Along the road are religious camps, bonfires to attract attention in case of a breakdown, desperate hawkers, corpses, occasional highway robbers and bush meat sellers. They all make this road simply Nigeria’s most horrible road. This road is an example of the many roads across the nation many people will always remember for the blood of their loved ones.
A long time ago, driving across Nigeria was a pleasure. Now, it is foolhardy. Driving in the United Kingdom, UK, though is a beautiful experience, if you love driving. Any route chosen, you are guaranteed a smooth ride. If you decide to travel from London to Birmingham, you will drive mainly through the M1 North. You will not find armed robbers at any stretch. Your tyres will not wear and tear, for the road built in 1959 still functions perfectly. This is only possible because of what is called ‘road maintenance’. Certainly not the Nigerian type where jobless thugs invade the middle of a road and persuade Nigerians to part with their hard earned cash. This is real maintenance work by serious road engineers who care enough about their reputation to get the work done from 10 pm to about 5 am the next morning. It is the norm that advance notices are given before road work commences.
Should you prefer to read a John Grisham novel instead of driving, you can with £15 by taking a train to Birmingham from London Marylebone station. Should you prefer to fly or take a coach, it is up to you. There is only one route between Lagos and the rest of the country. Business, leisure and transporters have no option of freighting their goods by rail. It is just this road, heavily used and in serious need of repair. The busyness of the route should have placed the road as a priority for development a decade ago.
The Lagos/Ibadan expressway is only 105 or 120 kilometres but many people who started the journey in good faith have died unnecessarily. In the eighties, a good car could make the journey to Lagos (old Toll Gate) in a little over an hour. In today’s estimation, depending on the experience of the driver and reliability of vehicle, the same journey could take about 90 minutes to two hours.
Unfortunately, the Bi-Courtney agreement, having experienced several false starts, is yet to register its presence credibly. As a result, a national paper published a statement from the Federal Road Safety Corps, Ogun State Command, stating that 775 persons died in 2,075 accidents on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway between January 2011 and March 2012. The data showed that between January and March 2012, 446 persons were involved in 61 road accidents, leaving 31 of them dead and 131 injured. The data further revealed that the death toll increased with the number of accidents recorded, compared to previous years. For instance, 1,175 crashes occurred on the road, which resulted in 649 deaths in 2010, while 1,980 crashes occurred in 2011, with 720 deaths. One wonders what the fatality data is like for all of Nigeria’s motorways.
Great Britain has one of the best road safety records in Europe and the world. Despite massive increases in traffic over the last few decades, the number of people killed on roads has fallen from around 5,500 per year in the mid-1980s to well under 2,000 in 2010. However, this still means that around five people die on Britain’s roads every day. In April 2012 alone on the Lagos/Ibadan stretch, there have been 24 fatalities, with 228 injured from 95 crashes recorded. People don’t die on the Lagos/Ibadan road because they are drunk or inexperienced; they die because the road itself is a death trap. There are no blood sucking demons on the road; the road is in obvious need of emergency infrastructural rehabilitation and maintenance.
How many more people need to die before the roadworks commence in earnest? When is the haggling between Ogun, Lagos and Ondo states and all the stakeholders going to materialise into action? Why does it appear that stakeholders are indifferent? The reality of this evil road is that many people have lost loved ones.
Common causes of unnecessary road tragedies in the UK include speeding, which causes around 430 deaths annually; drink-driving, 250 deaths; careless driving, 300 deaths; inexperience from which more than 430 people are killed in crashes involving young car drivers aged 17 to 24 years every year. It is thought that a third of all fatalities are caused by drivers coming back from work.
In Nigeria, the problems with our motorways are obvious. The road surface is extremely hazardous as a result of many potholes. A lack of functionality in distress is appalling. For example, one cannot pullover on the hard shoulder to call a national help line in distress. Fear of being attacked by armed robbers keeps many people in distress moving on. In an accident, you have to depend on the goodwill of members of the public to get you to hospital before death strikes.
Nigeria has had over a decade of civilian rule to sort out decaying infrastructure on federal roads. The Lagos/Ibadan express road is an example of what can go wrong when governments are apathetic to reform and transformation. Till real change occurs, Nigerians who survive the menace of road journeys must continue to pray and do all they can to stay safe.