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Hungry Nigerian Roads - by Chika Unigwe

I read this article and decided to share it. When the news of the accident came on the radio and for over 2 weeks nothing else was said, every child and adult heard the story, everyone talked about it. The funeral service was aired live on many Radio and TV channels, kings and Prime ministers attended the funeral.....my first thought was "how many people die daily on Nigerian roads and hardly get mentioned?, have we seen so many deaths that life no longer holds value for us?"

Please read!

        On the 13th of March, a bus carrying 6th graders returning to Belgium from a school-organised holiday in Switzerland crashed and killed twenty-two children and six adults. At every street corner, in every bakery, people stopped and talked about it. The Belgian Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, flew out to Switzerland as soon as the news broke. The families of those involved had military airplanes made available to fly them out to Switzerland. In Switzerland itself, within minutes of the accident happening, at least 200 professionals descended on the scene to help: policemen, medics, fire service teams, and psychologists. There were helicopters to fly the injured to hospitals around the area. According to reports, it took two hours to get the last injured victim out of the mangled bus. Once that was done, investigations began to determine the cause of the accident. The bus was towed away and checked for any technical malfunction that might have been the cause of the accident. An autopsy was performed on the driver to figure out if he had fallen ill or drunk, something that would have affected his driving. No stone was left unturned. There were lots of speculations. Not a single one of them involved ‘enemies of progress’, or the state of the road.

I was in Benin City last year and had taken a cab from my hotel to a different part of the city. The driver had come highly recommended from the hotel staff. His car was in tiptop shape. I gave him the address I had to get to and he said, “I’ll try”. I did not think he meant it literally. I thought “I’ll try” was his way of saying ‘deal’, the same way an uncle of mine always replies ‘How are you?’ with “I’m fine. O so so agu (my only complaint is hunger)”, when in fact he is not hungry. 

I had not been out much in Benin City, and now that I was, the state of its roads depressed me. It was horrendous. The bumpier the trip got, the more I realised that the “I’ll try” said earlier was a promise that meant just that. Despite his goodwill and his car’s condition, the driver abandoned the journey at some point; his spirit completely broken. The road was impassable. There were gullies so deep that no car could possibly drive through. The only way to get to my destination was for me to walk. I asked the driver how long the road had been in that state. He looked at me, smiled sadly and said, “Forever”. Perhaps he had hoped that by some miracle, the government had fixed the road since the last time he was there. In which case, his “I’ll try” was not just a promise but a prayer of hope. 

Benin City does not have the monopoly on bad roads, unfortunately. Our cities are littered with them. Every day, there are tragic road accidents in Nigeria. It is as if our roads have an enormous hunger and nothing short of human blood would assuage that hunger. Only recently, Nigeria lost a brilliant performance poet, Ify Omalicha, in a road accident on the apparently notorious Lokoja-Abuja highway.  A google search on this highway reveals the shocking extent of its notoriety. Try it. Count how many times the word ‘carnage’ comes up.

Our Nigerian situation is exacerbated by the fact that nothing seems to be done in the aftermath of the accidents. We scrape the corpses off our roads, sometimes we blame some ‘enemy’ somewhere plotting evil against us, we bury and we carry on. We bask in our resilience, our ability to stare death in the face every day we take road trips.

In addition to covering the roads ‘with the blood of Jesus’, we must begin to harass our elected officials into working for us. That is what they are there for: our state governors, our commissioners, our senators, our local government chairmen and councillors, the federal government. If they are blind to the state of our roads, if they are impervious to the pain, the sadness that cloaks families every time they lose someone in a car accident, we must open their eyes and shatter their wall of selfish imperviousness. Death is inevitable, but some ways of dying are avoidable.

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