Africa

Nigeria: Driving to Death

Drivers navigate heavy traffic in Kano, northern Nigeria. (Photo: Nicholas Reader/IRIN)

One of the most dangerous things anyone can do in Nigeria is get into a car. "Remember that every road user is mad," reads a hand out from the Nigerian nongovernmental organization, Volunteers from Safety Alliance. "You are the only sane one."

With the oil boom in the 1970's, the government built many expressways but didn't maintain them. Gapping potholes suddenly appear on modern-looking roadways around the country. Worse yet: Nigerians drive astonishingly fast, and often with little or no training.

It is not just that there are more accidents in Nigeria; it is that the accidents are more deadly. Officially, around 50 percent were fatal in 2006, and that figure has been much higher in other years. Serious injuries are even more common. Out of the 9,114 reported accidents in 2006, 17,390 people wound up in hospital.

At the national hospital in Abuja, trauma surgeon Oluwole Olaomi told IRIN that out of the 703 patients he treated in the month of August 114 were road accident victims, most between the ages of 20 and 40 years old.

Nigeria is undergoing a "road crisis," but it is not being widely discussed. Officially, only about 400 people die on the Nigerian roads each month, according to the head of the Federal Road Safety Commission in Abuja, Osita Chidoka, but many deaths are never registered.

"The number of people killed and injured in road crashes is widely thought to be much higher," Chude Ojugbona of Prompt Assistance to Victims of Road Accidents, an international N.G.O. that operates in Lagos, told IRIN. He said rural road accidents are often not counted, nor are people who die of their injuries in hospitals.

What to Do

The percentage of people that die from road accidents is high all across Africa even though the continent has one of the lowest vehicle per capita ratios in the world. An estimated 28.2 Africans are killed by cars per 100,000 according to the World Health Organization and by 2010, 11 percent of global fatalities from driving will occur in Africa.

Part of the problem is that many vehicles are not roadworthy. "There is a lack of competent mechanics," the president of the Driver's Welfare Club of Nigeria, Comrade Monday Eligimbe, told IRIN. "But remember: no mechanic will tell you he doesn't know how to fix something."

Yet even more dangerous than the vehicles are the drivers. "The majority of accidents are due to carelessness," says Isiah Ogacheko, program coordinator of Safety Alliance.

According to government figures, 47 percent of all accidents in 2001 were caused by speeding and another 37 percent by dangerous driving.

Drivers go through little or no training before they receive their licenses. Fake licenses are widely available for around $40. "Being on the road with a driver's license [and no training] is a license to kill," Chidoka said.

Nigerian drivers often dart across traffic lanes and speed through intersections in a way that foreigners find suicidal. "It is a lifestyle thing," says Ogacheko of Safety Alliance.

Safety

Both the government and N.G.O.'s have a goal of cutting the accident rate by half. Better policing is the answer, says the road safety commission. It says that currently Nigeria only has enough traffic police to cover 12.5 percent of the nation's roads and those that are there have a reputation for taking petty bribes rather than prosecuting traffic offenders.

N.G.O.'s are providing driver education courses and the commission says it plans do the same. It has already begun giving cars free safety checks, with police trained to look at car safety and offer free advice on emergency preparedness. "The whole idea is to cause an internal change of culture here," Chidoka told IRIN.

But in the coming weeks the statistics are unlikely to improve. At the end of the year, most people will go back to their homes and villages by road, Bo Oyeyemi of the Federal Road Safety Commission in Abuja told IRIN. "This is the period for more accidents," he said. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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