Lagos Decaying infrastructure, over speeding, reckless driving and non-usage of seatbelts among others are some of the reasons prominent Nigerians and even ordinary citizens die in fatal vehicular accidents involving Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV), popularly known as jeeps.
Few years ago, the minister of state for labour and employment, Chief James Ocholi, his wife, son and aide-de-camp were involved in a road accident along the Kaduna-Abuja road. Ocholi and his son died in the crash involving his vehicle, a Prado SUV, and another Lexus SUV. Only recently, the director-general, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State, retired Brigadier General John Shagaya, who also served as onetime minister of internal affairs, died in a ghastly road accident around Amper in Kanke local government area of Plateau State in his Toyota Land Cruiser. In October last year, retired Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Olufunsho Martins and his driver also died after their Ford Explorer SUV plunged into the Lagos lagoon on a Sunday night. These are not the only ones. Both experts and men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) have been brainstorming on the puzzling incidences. When asked the possible causes of the high frequencies of such accidents, FRSC public education officer, Mr Bisi Kazeem told LEADERSHIP Sunday only technical investigations by the Safety Engineering Department establishes the causes of crashes. However, he said one prominent factor that causes fatality in most of the cases is lack of usage of seatbelts by the passengers at the back of such vehicles. “This is why mostly you realise that front occupants survive such crashes with injuries. VIPs must cultivate the idea of fastening their seatbelts at all times”, Kazeem said. The FRSC education officer added that the nature of SUVs commonly used by prominent people is not good for speeding because of the high gravity that does not allow stability in case of crash, especially when it is on top speed. He, therefore, advised that the VIPs should control the speed of their drivers or, more importantly, install speed limiting devices in their vehicles. Director of Safety Beyond Borders (SBB), a non-governmental organisation focused on safety initiatives, Mr Patrick Adenusi, corroborated Kazeem’s view that “big men” die in their SUVs because they neglect to wear seatbelts. According to him, investigations done on crashed vehicles show that drivers and orderlies of such men hardly die because they wear seatbelts unlike those at the rear. “Because of the force of gravity and the height of those SUVs, it is compulsory that everyone inside those vehicles must wear seatbelts. Even in our cars, everybody must wear seatbelts,” he said. Adenusi, therefore, advised that everybody inside moving vehicles should strap their seatbelts, not only people at the front. “But all of them, they don’t wear seatbelts, because they think that they are big men, forgetting that accidents do not recognise status. Accidents have no respect for names, titles or professions. When accidents happen, what will increase the severity is non-usage of seatbelts,” Adenusi noted. The road safety expert also remarked that because of who they are in the society, such VIPs do not expect anybody to stop them, so they drive above the recommended speed limit. “The recommended speed limit is 100km/hour but they don’t do it that way. The third issue here is that most of their drivers are reckless; they overtake at bends and take other such liberties. Another reason is that some of them have escort drivers and escort vehicles. When the escort vehicles overtake a vehicle, for example, in single lane roads, rather than the vehicle that is being piloted to slow down so that oncoming vehicles can pass, they will still want to show that they are driving their “oga”, and others in the entourage will follow.” Other probable causes of such accidents, according to Adenusi, include inadequate vehicle maintenance, bad tyres, bad roads, over speeding and the pressure to meet up with crowded appointments. On his part, an automotive marketing consultant and senior lecturer, Covenant University, Dr Oscar Odiboh, also gave bad roads, poor surfacing and the desire of the VIPs to meet up with their schedules as probable causes for such fatalities. Dr Odiboh noted that there is undue pressure on some of the Nigerian prominent men as their attention and presence are often needed in many social functions. “In their effort to meet up with their engagements, they are always in a hurry, and in some cases cover about 12 events in a hurry. “The demand of the people on many of these government officials is high. People want them to be in all their events. They are under pressure to meet up all the appointments.” Odiboh added that because of the nature of their high offices, many of them take vehicles that are too sophisticated for the Nigerian environment. The implication, according to him, is that the country does not have trained mechanics and drivers to handle these sophisticated vehicles. “Sometimes, the vehicles are too sophisticated and there is need to understand the hydraulic system, tyres, etc. Again, the drivers are always in a rush. Many of their drivers don’t know how to handle these sophisticated vehicles. It is a case of highly advanced vehicles in a poor environment”, Odiboh explained. Warning that Nigeria should not shift blame to the government, he said the society should learn how to imbibe good driving culture and also try to adhere to traffic rules at all the times. On the way forward, the university don said there is the need for traffic law enforcement agencies to adopt technological measures in their work. With such move, he said, erring drivers would be easily identified and saved in a central database with high tech surveillance gadgets. “Traffic controllers should be armed with technological equipment so that any errant car can be tracked and stored in the database. We need high tech gadgets that can help traffic controllers do their jobs better. “If you misbehave, they record you even when you have gone. We need a strong database and high tech gadgets to support our traffic law enforcement agencies to do their jobs better and easier. We need such gadgets that can make this problem fizzle out and have les carnage on our roads and have less people, not just prominent people but ordinary people, dying like fowls on our roads”, he said. In his view, transportation expert and instructor at Nezhap Driving Institute, Warri, Delta State, Engr Akpos Okeren noted that SUVs are very safe but also have their shortcomings. Engr Okeren pointed out that most of the accidents are as a result of human error. In his advice to vehicle users, the instructor said, “Sometimes it is as a result of over speeding which arises due to undue pressure. I will advise that the so-called big men schedule their appointments rightly and try to move early whenever they have engagements.” Okeren warned against the danger of overrating SUVs, pointing out that bad roads are also major factors in such accidents. “The drivers of big men need proper orientation and direct training after driving school. The functionality of Toyota is different from that of Mitsubishi; some drivers, however, do not know the difference. SUVs should not be overrated. There should not be anxiety on the part of the drivers,” he advised.