Death of Three Journalists; “Accidents” or Road Terrorism? By Issa Aremu

Aremu new 400I had planned to spend the last ten days of the Holy month of Ramadan in total devotion as we are enjoined as Muslims. So far, its being so spiritually  refreshing for me in Ilorin during this annual leave; breaking fast with my family, neighbours, friends alike and happily  in company of tens of hundreds of kinsmen and women after tafsir in preparation for Taraweeh and late Tajuud.

Distinguished Senator Ayo Adeseun, Chairman Committee on Capital Market on Saturday invited me to Ibadan for Lam Adeshina tafsir  lecture  in memory of the late governor of Oyo state. I was  excited to attend. But that was after with trepidation, thinking through how to drive along the notorious Ogbomosho-Oyo road,(a by-word for carnage and deaths) being one singular  legacy of OBJ’s lost decade of mis-governance. I resolved to be in Ibadan for this additional spiritual food –for-thought tafsir scheduled for 11am on Sunday. I therefore put a call to my natural host comrade chairman of Oyo state NLC, Comrade Bashir Olarewaju. I discovered however that he was away for Umurah. Readily my comrade sister Fatimah Abdulkareem came to mind to direct me to late Lam Adeshina’s house in a city I had visited repeatedly but still come out as a first timer visitor anyway. Fatimah ‘s ever regular Jummat text message every Friday passes for a tafsir and I was quite sure she must be aware of the Ramadan lecture. I tried repeatedly but her mobile could not be reached. I nearly fingered network problem until the radio newspapers review heralded the tragic death news of three Nigerian working Journalists who were members of NUJ in a road crash on the pot-hole ridden Federal Akure-Ilesa road in the State of Osun on Saturday August 3, 2013.  The comrade journalists died on duty while returning to their respective workplaces after  a national assignment of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), which held in Abuja on Thursday.

Those reportedly died in the crash are Olatunde Ojenike, Chairman of the NUJ Radio Nigeria, Ibadan Network Centre chapter, Adolphus Okonkwo of the Voice of Nigeria and Kafayat Odunsi of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Tejuosho, Lagos. I was struggling to come to terms with the sad news of the dead journalists, when I heard that among the survivors of this road carnage is my comrade sister  Fatimah Abdulkareem, who is also the National Treasurer of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). Others are Gbenga Opadokun and Deji Elumoye, chairmen of Oyo and Lagos state councils of NUJ, respectively. This tragic news made my trip to Ibadan a total, rather than a partial commitment. Seeing these survivors on Sunday at the University Teaching Hosipital Ibadan would make us change our perception of  treating accident victims as mere statistics (3 dead ‘only’, 10 surivors! ).

Accident victims are agonizing humans (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, bread winners,) with all the complex human relationships put on hold on account of avoidable “accidents”. A visit to  a typical emergency/casual ty ward in our hospital shows that road accidents do as much violence as terrorism does.

My heart felt sympathy towards the dead, their dependents as well as  the ten others that  sustained injuries in the accident . I pray and wish all of them a quick recovery. Indeed the sudden deaths of these working journalists further points to crisis of governance in Nigeria.

Nigeria today qualifies as an unofficial global capital of “accidents”. Let’s halt this road-terrorism. We should not be a Nation of mourners due to avoidable criminal “accidents”. An accident is defined as happening “unexpected” or “unplanned”. The serial catalogue of road deaths, are far from being unexpected or unplanned because we all know that our roads are unmotorable,  our drivers are reckless and that often our road safety officials are not on duty. When accidents prove addictive as they are in Nigeria, they are anything but “accidental”.

Addictive accidents mean incidents for which the governments at all levels must be held accountable.  These “accidents” are certainly not inevitable.

It’s  time President Jonathan declared emergency on Federal roads to stop these “accidents”. There must be time frame to fix all major highways and halt the ongoing road-murders.

I salute the Governor of the State of Osun, His Excellency, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and his Oyo State counterpart, Abiola  Ajumobi  for putting in place quick rapid responses infrastructure which helped to reduce the number of casualties.  The Deputy Governor of the State of Osun Otunba (Mrs.) Grace Laoye-Tomori was commendably at the scene of the accident helping to save lives which helped to reduce the number of casualties. But if we don’t stop or minimise accidents, these official tears are nothing but  official crocodile tears which when dried up, herald more deaths.  Victims are class-blind and gender blind. Statesmen, sportsmen, soldiers, police men and even road safety officials have died on our roads. The late Lepzem Wubang was a good friend of mine. He was an Assistant Commandant of Road Safety Commission and together a participant of 2005 Senior Course 27 at the National Institute for Policy and strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru Jos. His project was on the danger of Nights Travels. Lepzem eventually died on a road accident some four years ago between Jos and Bauchi road. Nigeria is the only country in which a Road Safety official dies on the road and it is business as usual! Researchers, including my dear late friend, have long explained the causes of accidents on our roads. It is time we put an end to the road madness. These accidents (sorry, incidents) once again task our sensitivity and points to the need for governance on the roads.

All we need are small soft issues to save the next vulnerable life. First there is the need for an emergency on all our roads with the hope to save another student, another mother or child due to auto-accident. Until we fix the roads, please let there be road signs and even town criers announcing to road users that pot holes are ahead. Let there be safety volunteers that must impose and enforce speed limits with rewards for compliance and sharp sanctions for default. It is better to arrest reckless drivers than to allow them commit more suicide and murder. Road Safety Commission must be empowered and given the benchmark to reduce the current accident rates by 2015, falling which the commission ceases. The  emergency agency (NEMA) must do mass education on emergency/safety awareness with the slogan: Accidents kill more than HIV/AIDS yet accidents have a cure: safety consciousness! Tears are not enough: there must be mass action against accidents.

Issa Aremu mni

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