The potential danger facing road users on badly damaged federal expressways coupled with the indiscipline of trailer and tanker drivers, has caused thousands of untimely deaths. Kingsley Megwara who heads the Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS) advocates the need for dedicated lanes and a national ambulance corps with the type of services offered by Abia and Lagos states as well as FCT in assisting accident victims. He speaks to Nduka Nwosu
As someone with the mandate to regulate the activities of road users in Abia State, what’s your take on the recent tragedy at Otedola Bridge in Lagos?
The tragedy at Otedola Bridge could have been avoided if we all had done what was expected of us. We as a nation stand to be blamed. It is even more saddening when we realise that there is a potential for this to happen again because it has always been a recurring decimal this reckless loss of lives. The regulatory agencies in doing their work must make sure the drivers of heavy duty vehicles must abide by road traffic laws and regulations. The vehicle in question was not road, was in a poor state of disrepair, being driven by a reckless driver, a combination of human error and dereliction of duty.
What is a more effective way of regulating the irascible behaviour of heavy duty vehicles on our roads?
Regulation of this set of drivers ought to begin with the issuance of a driver’s licence after strict monitoring, training and re-training.
In the US there are categories of licenses issued to road users. We need proper training for our trailer drivers. Trailer drivers and the regular drivers cannot receive the same training. I do commend the work of road safety officers yet they need training and re-organisation as well as an upgrade of the equipment needed for their work. Again in the US and UK any human error gets traced to the regulatory agencies to find out how much of an irregularity or dereliction of duty has helped to cause an accident of this nature. We should wake up as a nation to adapt to best practices from other countries.
Can a rail system help reduce the carnage on our roads?
Obviously, a rail system will go a long way to reduce the number of trailers on our roads and by extension accidents and accident victims.
The problem we have now is that there are more trailers on the roads the normal vehicles. In the US and the UK vehicles carrying combustibles cannot ply in certain areas and they are often restricted to night movements. You can only see heavy vehicles carrying perishable goods, farmyard products heading for the groceries and which are not a source of danger to normal road users that can ply during the day. Military vehicles carrying military hardware or conveying soldiers to some duty post are also restricted in movement so they don’t get unduly exposed to the larger populace.
Are you okay with the rules rolled out by the Lagos State Government, seeking to restrict the movement of these heavy duty vehicles in certain areas of the state?
The Lagos State Government should be commended for rolling out regulations that seek to restrain these vehicles from movement in some of the strategic roads open to regular users, yet I am extremely very sad that what we could have done more than two decades ago is what we are doing now after so much loss of lives. I hope these laws should be extended to other big metropolis in the country where these vehicles ply. The owners of these tankers and trailers must equally be held responsible irrespective of what they are in society. It is so sad watching a woman with two children roast in an inferno that was avoidable.
How is Abia State coping with situations of this kind through ASPIMS?
The Abia State Passenger Manifest Scheme (ASPMS) as you know is an ambulance related service which conveys accident victims to hospitals in the quickest possible time, which brings me to the poor response time that attended to the victims of the Otedola Bridge accident. It is understandable the heavy traffic on the road must have impacted negatively on the movement of vehicles on a rescue mission to the bridge. Ideally there should have been a special lane dedicated for the movement of the ambulances rushing to convey the victims to the hospital. Given the indiscipline on the roads, this type of dedicated lane can also be abused by road users. All these call for re-educating everyone on the use of our roads and why such dedicated passages or emergency lanes (HOV lanes) are necessary and should remain so without abuse when they eventually are constructed.
In Abia we also go around to educate commercial vehicle drivers. The Lagos experience has further exposed us to the understanding that heavy duty drivers and in fact the larger population of road users must be educated and re-educated on the right mental attitude when using the roads especially the expressways. We need to heavily double our efforts in our sensitisation efforts on how to use the roads in Abia and the stakeholders extend to commercial bus drivers, Okada and tricycle drivers. In the coming weeks we are expanding our sensitisation programme to accommodate all these categories of road users because what happened in Lagos can happen elsewhere.
How do your trauma centres play out in all this?
We are working hard in putting our trauma centres in top form and according to best practices. One of the top priorities of the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu administration is that he has invested heavily in the health sector.
Upon assumption of office as governor, Ikpeazu started to fortify all our general hospitals including the purchase of new and relevant equipment. Just recently two container loads of medical equipment were taken delivery of by the Ministry of Health and the idea is to ensure all our general hospitals located in the local governments answer that name in deed and practice.
We also have a Federal Medical Centre. There is a trauma centre in Amachara, a trauma centre in Aba and there’s a trauma centre in the state capital Umuahia nearing its completion. The governor has been very supportive of ASPIMS in ensuring proper medical services are offered to those who need them especially accident victims. An example is our ambulance service, which is tenured to quick response time in saving lives.
Governor Ikpeazu is of the view that the ambulance service must be supported with a trauma centre, which foundation was laid by him when he was the general manager of ASPIMS. We are also going to set up a blood bank for accident victims. We hope to make the blood bank available to other medical centres requiring such support. It is eighty percent completed and would be ready before year end. The governor has said the trauma centre would be incomplete without a blood bank. With our ambulance service and blood bank, we would go a long way attending to the needs of our victims while making our services available to other stakeholders.
How do the reckless activities of trailers add to the number of accident victims in the state?
Let me report that a large number of the accidents on our highways is caused by trailers or heavy duty vehicles. These accidents occur because of the recklessness of these drivers. The deplorable state of the roads add to the number of accident victims while the tendency of trailer drivers to overtake other road users complete the action that translate to gory accidents on our expressways. Apart from the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road that is receiving some attention right now, all other expressways in Abia have been ranked the worst in the country. We are at the bottom of attention being given to federal expressways. Sometimes we ask if we are part of the country given all these anomalies. We are therefore renewing our call to the federal government to look in the direction of Abia State and help resuscitate these dilapidated expressways that have remained a death trap to unfortunate road users. However, we are doing our best to sensitise our road users on the need for tolerance and obedience to traffic rules and regulations. We go to the parks to educate our commercial vehicle drivers, tricycle and okada drivers on how best to operate while on the road whether such roads are federal expressways or roads outside the highways.
As an advocate of a National Ambulance Service Corps, how would this and the fire service assist in cases of the type that happened along Otedola Bridge?
The fire service in Abia State works in collaboration with the ambulance service. This is the practice in every civilised clime.
When we have a problem on hand, they give us a supportive back up given a more enhanced profile with the new equipment of the fire service. Right now we are working to be on the same page. A collaborative effort among these three organs-ambulance and fire service with the activities of ASPIMS, will provide the best results in curbing the spate of accidents on our roads. I am surprised and shocked that except for the Federal Road Safety Corps which is under-equipped, there is no national ambulance in the country. Except for Lagos State, Abuja and Abia State, state or federal ambulance services strategically located to evacuate accident victims and help save lives are non-existent on our federal highways.
Is the number of accident victims going down or up in Abia since you came into office and how is the Governor helping you to actualise your dream in this sector?
We are trying our best to reduce the statistics of deaths on our roads while appealing to the federal government to do something about Abia’s deplorable expressways. I am happy to say that the state governor has been very helpful in making this work do-able. Only recently we received some subvention to carry out our activities. The governor was once on this seat and he understands the peculiar needs of this job.
We have been talking to members of the petroleum services sector and drivers of tankers and other heavy duty vehicles on the consequences of reckless driving using the disastrous experience in Lagos as our peg.