Respite at last for Okene-Lokoja-Gegu road corridor of deaths

Road Safety officials on patrol on the road.

Road Safety officials on patrol on the road.

Respite may have come at last for commuters and other users of the dangerous Okene-Zariagi-Lokoja-Koto Karfe-Geru road that has claimed 79 lives in the last five months, as the FRSC recently flagged off a special intervention patrol (SIP) meant to stem the tide.

The first phase of the operation, which is expected to end in December 2016, will involve a total of 52 officers and men, including six officers and 46 marshals drawn from Kogi Sector Command and the Unit Commands of Okene-Zaroagi-Lokoja-KotonKarfe-Gegu.

Already, 10 patrol vans, one ambulance and one utility tow truck have been deployed for the operations. Officers and materials will also be deployed to strategic locations on the corridor to ensure maximum compliance with traffic rules and regulations. This is coming after many harrowing years of near-death experiences of many road users.

It is always a nightmare each time one is forced to travel from Lokoja to Okene, a distance of about 55km that takes two hours due to the many potholes, lack of road shoulders and the heavy vehicular traffic on the one-lane road. Often times, there is a procession of not less that 20 trailers on the road, making it difficult for cars to move, even as the trailers struggle to overtake each other.

However, the Okene-Lokoja part of the corridor is the most notorious of the stretch with a distance of about 120km. The spot has been designated ‘a death trap’, having claimed 79 lives in the last five months.

Lokoja, the Kogi State capital is a gateway and has been a link for 26 states of the Federation via the corridor. The large number of deaths resulting from 95 road accidents, involving 147 vehicles and 786 people in the first half of 2016, has made Road Safety officials to focus on this axis by initiating the ongoing intervention.

Many of the lives lost on this stretch included that of prominent citizens, which were not always recorded. Tyres are an essential aspect of safety in vehicles, as they are the only part of the vehicle that makes direct contact with the road.

Experts have said that the appropriate lifespan of any tyre is four years. They say at two years, the quality of a tyre depreciates by 20 per cent and by the third year, this rises up to 50 per cent. But a tyre might not last four years, if it gets worn out, has alignment problems or high mileage, all of which reduce its life span. However, most motorists, especially commercial ones, are guilty of using worn out tyres, which is one of the major causes of road accidents.

According to some road users, who frequently ply the route, the main cause of the problem has to do with recklessness on the part of drivers, especially the commercial ones.

Yinka Okinbaloye regularly plies this route and he is advocating enforcement of the speed limiters, especially on commercial vehicles, as in his view, a high per cent of road accidents, is due to over speeding, dangerous overtaking, drunkenness and recklessness.

He said most of the deaths occurred between Lokoja and Gegu, as the Okene-Lokoja axis still remains one terribly dilapidated road.
Oyibo Mustapha, another regular traveller on the Okene-Lokoja road, said the road, which is barely 60km, is a shame to the nation. He lamented that the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) appears to have gone on holiday, as the potholes on the road have now become gullies.

He claimed that the agency had earlier said that the Okene-Lokoja portion of the corridor expired more that 12 years ago, as the lifespan of any road should not be longer than 10 years.

He would want the road concessioned, if government is finding it difficult maintaining it. He, however, recommended that such private organisations should have the capacity to execute the project.

The Zonal Commanding Officer Zone RS8HQ, Assistant Corps Marshal John B. Meheux, explained that the corridor is one of the busiest in Nigeria, next only to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

He was speaking during the flag off of the special intervention patrol (SIP) along Okene-Zariagi-Lokoja-Koto Karfe-Geru, when he said that the corridor also shares a boundary with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

He explained that a special intervention patrol already exists on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which is designated a World Bank Corridor. He expressed the commission’s readiness to enforce the use of speed limiters among the motoring public in Nigeria after so many shifts in date.

Meheux explained that all impediments to the enforcement of speed limiters have been removed, and that the enforcement would go a long way in assisting the special intervention patrol, which is being put in place to reduce road accidents.

On his part, Ogochukwu Ugboma, Zonal Commanding Officer, explained the rationale behind the project. He noted that most of the accidents that occur in Kogi State usually involve vehicles on transit, hence the initiative to stage the SIP on the highway.

Said he: “It is has also been observed that most of these vehicles do not stop, when flagged down. Rather, they increased their speed and overtake dangerously. This flagrant disobedience of traffic rules and regulation has contributed to the high rate of road traffic crashes recorded in the state, thus the need for this Special Intervention Project, which will run concurrently in all formations in the state for one week.

He said the SIP, which started from May 31, would focus on over-loading (OLV), speed limit violation (SLV), driving with worn-out tyre (TYY) and driver’s licence violation (DLV).

Others offences include the use of phone while driving (UPD), driving under alcohol or drug influence (DUI) and route traffic violation (RTV) among others.

However, the initiative is generating concern among some residents in the capital city, who wonder how long the intervention would last. The road safety officials, who were once known to be honest in the discharge of their duties, are now seen as not different from other security outfits, who compromise by allegedly taking bribes. They have always looked the other way, when overloaded vehicles with goods and passengers drive by and are let to go after bribing the officers.

Suleiman Abdulaziz, a resident of Lokoja, believes it is those entrusted with the task of keeping the road safe are the ones responsible for the many accidents on the road.

“If a road safety officer, who is expected to sanction defaulters, takes bribe and allow vehicles with worn-out tyres and other faults to pass, is he not contributing to the problem,” he queried.

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