Mr. Patrick Adenusi is a respected road safety advocate in Nigeria. He is a Director of Safety Without Borders, an international road safety NGO, and President of Road Safety Coalition, a coalition of road safety-focused NGOs. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s John Ogunsemore, he speaks on salient issues facing road safety in the country. Excerpt.
For the benefit of our readers, tell us about yourself?
My name is Adenusi Patrick. I work for a non-government organisation, Safety Beyond Borders. I am a Road Safety practitioner.
From research, I found you were a commercial bus driver. How did you move from that to being a safety professional?
Well, driving is a profession. A driver is in his right a professional like a lawyer or a medical doctor. Prior to when I drove the commercial vehicle, I owned the vehicle. I had drivers; they were not behaving very well. And so, lest they think that just tying tie was all I knew to do. My father was a transporter; he was a fleet owner. And so I took over one of the buses and drove it for nearly five months.
We are in the ember months when the rate of interstate travel spikes for obvious reasons. What do you think interstate commercial fleet operators can do to forestall road traffic crashes during this period?
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. You don’t start preparing from September. If you want to finish well, start early. The campaign for safety improvement should not be September, October, November, December; we should start the campaign from January. Now to the fleet operator, yes during the festive period from November ending upward, a lot of people want to go home, more movement from point A to point B. One of the major things that they should not toy with is not to stress the driver because if the vehicle is in order and the driver is stressed everything is at risk.
Human error is a major cause of RTCs and an inadequately trained driver is more susceptible to human error. As a trainer of drivers, what do you think can be done about this?
More than 80 percent of people who drive in Nigeria are not trained to drive. So, there is a major risk out there. In the clime where 99 percent are trained to drive, they say that the most risky venture they embark upon on a daily basis is driving. And so in an environment where more than 80 percent are not trained you should know that the risk is multiplied.
What is your advice for those planning to embark on interstate travelling this festive period?
There is nothing planning cannot do. Proper planning prevents poor performance as I said earlier. So, commuters should plan their journeys on time. They should as much as possible make their trips during the day. And where it becomes inevitable that they can’t travel during the day, if they must travel at night, they should get to the park in good time so they will be able to still check the vehicle that they are boarding. Even during the day, it is still advisable to just walk round the vehicle that you want to board, look at the tyres. Are the tyres worn out? Does it have a swollen part on the tyre? Then you should know that that is a potential accident waiting to happen. It is not out of place to ask to see the driver who wants to drive the vehicle. If you have already boarded the vehicle, the driver is not there, the people that are usually referred to as agberos – who call passengers into the vehicle, by the time the driver is walking to the vehicle, be observant, take notice of your environment. If you see somebody that is walking down and he’s staggering and he enters the vehicle, you already know he is drunk and you are as good as dead. A lot of people see these from take-up points and they keep quiet. There is no need gambling with your life, you just have one. A tyre when it bursts can be replaced but when your life is punctured, that’s the end. Nothing can happen to it; it can’t be replaced.
Is there a singular event or incident that convinced you that road safety advocacy is the path for you?
Yes. As I said earlier, my father was a fleet operator; he had several vehicles. He was involved in transportation of both human and goods. There was one particular incident in 1973. We were coming from Benin and going to Ondo. Just about 10 miles from Ore, we saw a timber-loaded truck that had broken down and a vehicle ran into it. The teeth of the driver were stuck to the log. The brains smeared the log and I asked my father then what happened. The explanation he gave to me I cannot readily relate right now but it left a very strong mark on my inside because that is violent death. Every road traffic fatality is violent death. So from then I began to pay attention to road crashes, and I have from that time volunteered to join in rescue operation whenever I get to any accident scene. And so (in) 1983, ten years after, I narrowly escaped crashing into a stationery truck in Gbagada, Lagos at about 10pm. Yes I was young, I just went to Ibadan to buy a Passat, it was tripping and I was cruising. How I escaped crashing into that stationery truck I can’t explain till tomorrow.
You are the President of Road Safety Coalition, a coalition of road safety-focused NGOs and you recently organised your annual summit. What has the experience been like and how did the summit turn out?
The summit was from my personal assessment a huge success and from feelers we got from people it was like “this is distinction,” that most of the participants had not had anything like that prior to that particular maiden one. Everything about movement has rules, including the food we eat. When you are eating, you don’t talk. And the same way when we drive, when we operate those machines, equipment moving humans and goods from point A to point B there are guiding rules. And to avoid the flouting of those rules we have enforcement agents. So, looking at it in this country, enforcement has failed. And so from my personal view all those people being paid as enforcement agents, we are just giving them free money because we are not seeing the benefit of the essence of their being paid. Successive governments for many years have neglected and abandoned the improvement of our roads. More than 85 percent of Nigerian roads don’t have signs. Where they are, the signs are not proper. So the other side of it for the enforcement agents is that there’s no sign for them to enforce. So one could also explain that out that the reason the enforcement agents have not fully performed is because there are no signs for them to enforce. Where the sign is “No U-turn” if there’s no U-turn sign there, if anybody does U-turn there you cannot arrest him. In America they have over 65 million road signs. We don’t even have 100,000 good road signs in Nigeria. So, it’s a complex environment that we are in. Our roads are not marked; when you are on a one-lane road you don’t know you are on a one-lane road because there’s no marking to show that this is a one-lane road. When you are on a two-lane, three-lane road respectively, there are no road markings. Everybody does whatever they like. Out there on the road, it is just full of chaos, and that is costing Nigeria and Nigerians a lot of hundreds of billions every day. Take for example on the Lekki (Lagos) corridor. I did a rough calculation and I found that on the Lekki corridor probably as many as 100,000 vehicles ply that corridor daily. On a daily basis, at the very least, 60,000 will be caught up in traffic, traffic that shouldn’t have been. Because we have converted a two-lane road to a five-lane road, we are not moving as it were. A stretch of 10 kilometres that you should do in less than 15 minutes, you end up doing in one and a half hours, and so the engines are running for consistent one and half hours. Let’s assume that each of the vehicles of the 60,000 burns N500 additional fuel, that is N30 million daily. At the end of the week – Monday through Saturday – that’s N180 million burnt for that week. At the end of the month, it’s N720 million. At the end of the year (laughs), it’s almost N9 billion just on the Lekki corridor, taking a base of N500. So on a daily basis we are wasting at least N30 million on the Lekki corridor totalling about N9 billion at the end of the year, N9 billion that could have been spent judiciously, N9 billion that could have improved the Nigerian life. Because we just burn it into the air, we are not making progress, we are still getting late to where we are going, we are depleting the ozone layer because we are releasing more smoke into the atmosphere. The law enforcement agents that are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that traffic flows in that region, who are standing there, we give them more carbon monoxide to inhale. So we are killing them also instalmentally. So government, relating to road safety management in Nigeria, has failed.
At the road safety summit you took the Acting Commissioner of Transport in Lagos (Prince Anofiu Elegushi) up on an incident that occurred on the Lekki corridor as a result of lack of pedestrian crossing. Can you expatiate on that incident?
The Lekki corridor was a dual carriageway previously. So the Lagos state government through Public-Private Partnership commercialised the road. They introduced toll to the road, and along that corridor people live on both side of the road. So they increased the road from four lanes to six lanes with three pedestrian crossings in a stretch of about 25 kilometres. So that means that government has made up their mind to kill the people. Unfortunately, there is a school on that corridor, right on the expressway. Eighty percent of the pupils in that primary school come from the opposite side of the road. As we speak there is still no pedestrian crossing there. In doing the road audit before construction, the construction company or the concessionaire should have taken notice of the school. If a pedestrian bridge is to be built, the first that should be built would have been for those children who are the most vulnerable on that road. Unfortunately, nothing like that was done and an incident happened where about five children were killed crossing the road. And like I said, as we speak, there is still no standing pedestrian crossing there. Yes they gave us reasons why the pedestrian crossing they started has not been completed. I mean that is medicine after death. The children are still crossing in the morning; they are still crossing in the evening. The risk has not reduced. So as a matter of urgency whatever it’s going to take, the government should prioritise that. The governor should stop sleeping. If that bridge is not going to be completed, if the risk that those children are exposed to is not reduced, then what is the governor doing sitting on the seat of government because the children whose lives are at risk are the ones that will be the leaders of tomorrow. So how many of them do we want to kill more? We have killed several of them. Do we want to continue the killing? There are inadequate signs on that particular corridor. The best way to describe the road signs on that corridor is that there are no signs because on that corridor at the very least there should be 2000 road signs but what they have there is less than 100. So, that is failure already.
Again, the Lagos state government is installing signage around town in Lagos. Good. Nice. But the administration, the people who are saddled with the responsibility of fixing the sign, is doing what does not necessarily fit. Look at the Third Mainland Bridge. It is a four-lane road right now. Previously it was a three-lane road because the last one on the right side was the shoulder of the road. Now that has been taken as a lane because a lane has been dedicated to BRT. So, it is a four-lane road as it is. The minimum size of the road sign on that road should be three feet and it must carry one message. In reducing or saving cost, they put speed limit sign and write two particular speed limits on the sign. It is already crowded. The person who is on the last lane will not be able to read the lettering on that sign, so it is as good as there is no sign because he would need to necessarily get there before he sees it. The sign should be what you can see from minimum (of) one pole. You should be able to read it. ‘Ok, it is 80 (km/h) speed limit on this road’. Most of our roads don’t have speed limit sign (but) Road Safety says people should drive at common-sense speed. What speed is called common sense? They should up their game and wake up from running campaigns from September to December saying ‘we are doing ember month campaign’. That is not necessary. I am opposed to the myth that more accidents happen between September and December. It is not true. Accident happens every time. More people die during the rainy season. So why don’t we have a campaign called rainy season campaign? We create unnecessary fear by saying we are in the ember month. It’s not true. More people are not killed in December than in January. More people are not dying in December than March. Let them check their records. Even the figures that they are pushing into the public domain they know that it is far from the true. They are being economical with the truth. These are human lives, not tomatoes. If you spill one seed of tomato on the floor, it will sprout but these are human beings whose lives are being wasted and we still economise the figure. Instead of us to come out with the true figure and let a state of emergency be declared in that sector where all of us will take strong responsibility to use the road safely, they are managing the figure. They are doing a great disservice to the nation.
What message do you have for commuters – pedestrians and motorists – in this period?
Generally, my campaign is not seasonal; I am not a seasonal campaign person. I don’t believe in ember month campaign. I believe that you should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Only yesterday I was talking to some group of pastors and I was talking about the hazard of excessive speeding, and one of them said it was normal for him to speed. And I told him that it was also normal that he would soon end up in his grave. He overtakes in bends and I told him that if he died he would go to hell because he committed suicide. The global law is that you don’t overtake in a bend.
So, I want to admonish road users starting with the pedestrians: walk facing the traffic, don’t walk with your back to the vehicle. Walk face-to-face to vehicles, don’t walk backing the vehicle. If the vehicle loses control or the driver is distracted pressing his phone, tuning his radio, if you are backing the driver, he can run you down. But if you are walking facing a vehicle and you see that the vehicle is swerving towards where you are you can run for your life. So, let us make up our mind to do the safe thing to do by walking facing oncoming traffic.
To the cyclist, wear your helmet. When your head is protected the chances of your survival in an accident is 80 percent. But if your hard drive is hit, you are gone. To the commercial drivers, I want to admonish them not to drink and drive. If you drink, don’t drive. Know that when a vehicle is committed into your hands and there are human beings there, that’s like a state that you are given. If you say the governor of the state is mismanaging the state and you are given a vehicle with human life and you are mismanaging it, you are not different from the person that you say is mismanaging the state. So manage that vehicle (well). They paid you to take them to their destination safely; they didn’t pay you to kill them. So, drive safely, use the road with responsibility. Be responsible. Be a professional.
Also, I will want to admonish the private car owners. All private car owners should also not drink and drink. They should refrain from excessive speeding. When they are tired, don’t drive. One of the major reasons why accidents happen during the festive period (more crashes happen, not necessarily that more deaths happen) is because of fatigue. They are tired, they are still driving. When you are fatigued, you are not different from the person who is drunk.
And to the law enforcement agent, you are paid to ensure that there is sanity on the road. Let our two-lane road be two lanes. Don’t collect money from an offending or a dangerous driver. He might kill your loved one.
Saving our environment from unhealthy drainages
The battle to save our drainages and make our environment habitable is an ongoing one as far as the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Dr. Babatunde Adejare, is concerned. He is willing to fight with the last drop of his blood to make this dream a reality. The energy he exudes when on the field with his team during the monthly environmental sanitation days is infectious. His dream is, “Our drainages must flow freely to avoid flooding.”
One out of the many problems bugging our environment and calling for urgent attention is the drainage system. Taking a cursory look at drainages all across Lagos communities, ‘unhealthy’ is the word to tag it. This ranges from the canals to the gutters, amongst others.
Moreover, the importance of drainage systems in our society cannot be overemphasized. In fact, they serve as key auxiliaries in controlling one of nature’s great elements – water. Water in itself could come in two forms- either controlled or uncontrolled. The controlled is the deliberate release of liquid by man into the drainages, while the uncontrolled has its source from nature with no input of man; example includes the rain. The drainage system definitely can’t elude this. Truth is drainages serve the society and its inhabitants by controlling the level of water that the overall environment is exposed to. And like the saying goes, “controlled power is valuable.”
Why has flood remained a major environmental concern during the rainy season? The simple answer is poor drainage system. The government has tried her best in ensuring good drainage constructions in many communities. Meanwhile, it seems that there is a misunderstanding in the proper use of drainages by the populace.
Drainages should be a channel for the inflow and outflow of water. Sadly, our drainages have been transformed into dumping grounds for sewages, trash cans, pet bottles, tetra packs, wrappers, and other disposables. In fact, it has become a norm for the people who are not enlightened and aware of the adverse consequences. In some canals in Lagos for instance, you would weep at the sight of what you see.
A vivid example of drainage misuse is one canal at Ikotun Area of Lagos. Residents of the area are often seen throwing refuse of all sorts into it, disrupting the free flow. Among those who throw refuse into the canal are school students and road-side traders, to mention a few. They do this undeterred, unhindered and unquestioned.
One would recall November 7, 2015, when Adejare led a team in coalition with West Africa Energy to tidy up that particular canal in Ikotun. This was done to show the importance of a clean environment. And even till date, Adejare still emphasizes the need to maintain clean and free-flowing drainages devoid of debris.
However, the vultures have gathered again on the carcass as the canal has returned to its previous unhealthy state. This reveals the need for more public advocacy.
Again, what is most puzzling is the nonchalance of residents in the drainage’s vicinity as many overlook the harmful effect of such unclean sight to their health. Many traders sell their wares under such conditions with excuse of eking a living. They perhaps don’t know the adverse effect of unhealthy drainages.
According to a Safety expert, who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hybrid Group, Mr. Dapo Omolade, the role of the government in ensuring the decency of drainages is limited. He said the public also had a role to play.
“No matter how much the government spends maintaining drainage, it will continue to get dirtier. So the thing is that Nigerians need a reorientation. You and I are the ones dumping those things there so you and I must come to a level when we actually create the change for ourselves. If we don’t throw it there, it will not get there by itself. So it’s not a case of asking the government to clean it, it’s a case of asking you and I not to throw it there. We are going through a system where a lot of things have not been given priority. As it were we have become a little bit lawless. And because we are now lawless, you do what you think is right, except you are caught. So everybody does whatever they want. So we have to go back to a point when everybody will start rethinking and say what we can do to get things better and that’s when we can change the situation,” Omolade said.
Moreover, there is a consideration that if there is a change in the kind of drainages that government contractors are constructing, it could serve a good purpose in ensuring its cleanliness. Some construction companies are fond of abandoning their jobs half-way, or doing imperfect work during construction. Some who are contracted to construct roads, do so and don’t care about the kind of drainages they construct. Though there are few changes on their part, there seem to be no standard for construction companies in Nigeria. Some constructed roads are left with open drainages; while some others are constructed closed- a wavering standard for road construction.
Well, for open drainages which are uncovered channels, there is usually no restriction to the way the public dispose rubbish into it. When this becomes incessant, it can lead to blockage and cause flood or overflow when rain falls, unlike closed drainages that only give room to the passage of water.
In his view, Omolade, who is also an environmentalist, said, “For operational health waste, if you have drainages that are open, micro-bacteria breed in that region. So any time they are open without any control, and we are close to it, we come down with sickness and some of those sicknesses don’t occur immediately. One does not even know that it has been imposed on them and by the time it sticks it becomes too late for him to come back to life. We are all culprits of this environmental hazard. If it is not managed, one can eventually become a victim without knowing.
“Basically, it’s both individual and corporate responsibility. The construction company doing the road job has a responsibility on their part – what we call corporate social responsibility. Those companies need to do the right which is – you are doing the road, you must manage the construction part; if you open the drainages, you must close them up to make sure nothing goes in there. Nobody forces them because they are not been monitored. Let the government regulate,” he added.
A construction expert and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kevron Consulting Limited, Mr. Kayode Fowode, who is well abreast of safety issues as regards construction in the country, specifically Lagos, said that there was need for a more standard regulations and increase in the level of awareness of the public.
He said, “I think construction safety is not well regulated at the moment. The regulators need to do more. Most construction companies work the way they want and not the way the regulator wants it. So I think we need more regulations tailored towards them.
“The level of awareness also needs to increase. We also need more experts to also advise the construction companies on what they need to do.
“For example, most construction companies are only regulated when they start work on their drains or roads; but the effect of their construction activities also needs to be taken into consideration before the construction, while the construction is going on and even after completion.
“There is still need for more awareness on the issue of disposing things in the canal, more regulations and more penalty funds. Environmental agencies and officials also need to show more presence. We need more enlightenment through the media. The public should know that safety goes beyond their immediate home. Safety also falls into the environment where they find themselves.”
As Nigeria is not out of the race yet in safety consciousness, all hope is not lost for our drainage system. Hopefully, we will see changes coming from the government, safety agencies and most especially the public.