By Sunmola Olowookere
Opelenge was a popular carpenter cum furniture maker who had his workshop situated along the shoprite/Oda road axis in Akure, the Ondo state capital. He was all the more popular because he derived the name “opelenge” from his massive stature which his customers mischievously turned around in a complete antithesis of the true state of things. The yorubas usually give slim people the appellation “opelenge”. However, people started calling him “opelenge” and the name stuck.
Most people that plied the road could attest to the eye-turning furniture that he built and puts up for sale in front of his workshop. He also had apprentices that were undergoing training in his workshop. To cut it short, he was a successful furniture maker.
One morning towards the tail end of October, 2017, Opelenge was on his way to work. He rode on a motorcycle along with another passenger. It was around 7 a.m. when civil servants in Oda road axis are rushing to work and most of the drivers and motorcyclists drive like maniacs.
Most of the motorists plying this route are all bent on one mission; how best to cut corners in order to avoid the long queue that usually ensue on the road due to congestion and the mad rush. This mad rush often results in head on collisions.
It was during one of these mad rush that the motorcycle conveying Opelenge to work got hit by a car which must have vanished into thin air as soon as the accident happened because as other motorists arrived the scene, they could only see the three men on the motorcycle sprawled on the ground with Opelenge lying on the floor and his legs twisted at a funny angle. No car could be seen.
The other passenger was not very much hurt. However, the same cannot be said of the motorcyclists who was bleeding from the head profusely, yet he still had enough strength in him to shout his lamentations aloud for anyone that cared to listen.
Passersby rushed to help them. They pulled off Opelenge’s shirt in order to revive him as he lay lifelessly on the floor. They were however not prepared for the charm they discovered tied around his waist.
Some of them sprang back in fear and reservation. Motorists were afraid to help as no one wants to be embroiled in the police and hospital’s procedure in handling accidents.
At last, a Hilux van pulled up and the accident victims were loaded onto the back of the van. All would be well, none of the victims died, onlookers present thought as they heaved a sigh of relief and went back to their businesses. Alas! All was not well.
Opelenge gave up the ghost the second day after a brief struggle for his life at the hospital.Though he suffered not much outer injury but he was said to have hit his head on the ground when he was flung off the motorcycle during the accident.
This young man had his future which could have been a bright one cut off due to an avoidable accident. This scenario is just one of numerous accidents that occur on our roads as people scramble to make ends meet. These are people who have loved ones but soon become a number in accident statistics recorded at the end of every year.
It has almost become an established fact that the ember months are associated with accidents so much so that most people rarely travel during this period.
The quartet of September, October, November and December – otherwise known as the ember months are the crowning or capping months of every calendar year.
Rightly or wrongly, many people believe that these are fast-paced months. Some, superstitiously, believe that the ember months come with evil foreboding.
There is a Myth that Ember months are synonymous with road traffic accidents and that the road crashes are caused by evil spirits.
Indeed, it is worthy of note to mention here that compared to other periods of the year, there is an increase in incidences of road traffic accidents in September, October, November and December.
According to road transport data, 11,363 road crashes occurred in 2016, with 28.85% of the crashes occurring in the last quarter of the year. December had the highest record of road crashes. Also, data from previous years – 2014 and 2015 – show an increase in road traffic accidents during the end of the year.
Another Myth is that there is high death toll on Nigerian roads during ember months. The fact however remains that more people lose their lives in this period. In 2016 alone, 5,053 people were killed due to road traffic accidents. 35% of these tragedies occurred in the ’ember months’, with December recording the highest number of death.
Data trends from 2014 and 2015 also show that the end of the year, especially December, records high incidents of fatalities from road accidents. This has also been linked to increased number of travelers; especially families traveling to visit loved ones in commemoration of the end of the year festivities.
This statement is corroborated by a report by the World Health Organization, WHO that Nigeria accounts for the highest fatalities with 33.7 percent per 100,000 population every year on road traffic deaths in selected African countries.
The report titled “Road Safety in the WHO African Region”, said more than one in four traffic accident deaths in Africa occur on Nigerian roads. The report also claims that road accident is the third leading cause of death in Nigeria.
This places Nigeria as having the second worst traffic fatalities in the world followed closely by South Africa with 31.9 percent per 100,000 population, then DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
In the same report, Africa was listed as the “least motorized out of the six continents in the World, but suffers the highest rates of road fatalities” of the 37 countries that the survey covered, with death rates well above the average of 18 deaths for 100,000 population. The fatality figures for United States and Britain are 15 and seven percent, respectively.
The above statistics from WHO and the FRSC have indeed shown that most of the road crashes occur in ember months.
For instance, in 2009, FRSC said total fatal accidents across the country were 2,460; serious cases were 6,024, minor cases 2,370. Total cases stood at 10,854 with 5,693 killed, 27,270 injured out of a total of 32,963 casualties.
In the first quarter of 2009, there were 2,855 cases of road accidents with 7,372 injured, 1,414 killed out of a total casualty of 8,786, while the second quarter shows 2,660 cases with 6,720 persons injured, 1,699 killed out of 8,419 total casualties.
The third quarter shows 2,707 cases with 6,426 persons injured, 1272 persons killed and 7698 as total casualty; while in the fourth quarter, 2,632 cases were recorded, 6,752 injured, 1,308 killed out of a total 8,060 casualties. In the fourth quarter, 2,632 cases of road accidents were recorded 6,752 injured, 1,308 killed out of 8,060 casualties.
Truthfully, what no one can deny, however, is the fact that road mishaps, banks and internet frauds, armed robbery and other criminal activities are usually on the increase during this period.
Experts’ explanation for the high rate of crime and accidents recorded during this period has to do with the frenzy and obsession to end the year on a note of grandeur and financially well-oiled celebration(s).
According to a security operative, Olaniyi Michael, in the bid to catch up with the responsibilities attached to this period, nearly everybody resort to both legitimate and illegitimate sources of generating additional income in readiness for the spending spree that usually characterize this period of the year.
He believed that at this level swindlers and scammers throw their spanners to work with a view to defrauding as many victims as possible, women of easy virtues also see this period as a season of boom for their sinful and dehumanizing trade.
“To compound this phenomenon, commercial drivers throw decorum to the winds, overloading their vehicles and speeding with reckless abandon all in a bid to increase the number of trips they would make in a day and rake in extra money during this period. The unfortunate outcome is usually increase in road mishaps and needless loss of human lives.
“These warped mindsets and extreme approaches to the ember months are unfortunate and condemnable. We view this period as one of stocktaking and evaluation than anything else. It ought, rightly, to be a season of looking back to see how far one has fared vis-à-vis the targets one has set for the fading year.
“Strangely, many wait for the ember months to set in before they embark on an avoidable rush and frenzy to get so many things done. Like they say in warfare, why wait for the war before embarking on arms acquisition?”
He expressed that accidents are situations that are avoidable in the first place. Individuals and even organizations must develop the culture of meticulous planning as well as set feasible goals at the dawn of every year as antidote to the needless fire-brigade approach to the end-of-year seasons.
Since prevention, they say, is better than cure, he advised that the onus is on the security agencies, particularly the Police to ensure adequate security and a crime-free society during this period; the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to evolve strategies that would reduce to the barest minimum incidents of road mishap and so on.
He said that Nigerians must realize that security and protection of human live is a collective responsibility. They should, therefore, collaborate with security agencies by volunteering useful information that would aid their operations and, more importantly, strive to live within the confines of the law throughout this season and beyond.
“Of course, some factors have been attributed to the frequent fatal accidents on our roads such as increase in the poverty level of the people, poor driving culture, danger of night trips, over loading, dangerous driving, poor vehicle maintenance, among others.
“No doubt, this frightening statistics call for immediate action by the Federal and state Governments, safety agencies, motorists and other stakeholders to find lasting solution to the issue of frequent road crashes.
“A major cause of road accidents in Nigeria is bad roads. As at today, it is difficult to ply the length of any our roads without experiencing dangerous portions and death traps. This is not good for a richly endowed country despite 55 years of nationhood.
“We call on the Federal Government as well as state and local governments to immediately fix the roads before the Xmas celebration in view of the heavy traffic usually witnessed during the period. It is a serious indictment that road accident is the third leading cause of death in Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the FRSC should double its efforts in promoting healthy attitude on the road. It should come up with fresh strategies and ideas aimed at regulating the operation of different categories of vehicles that ply the road. Besides, the ember months’ accident -free campaigns should go beyond the various motor parks to churches, mosques and markets to enlighten members of the public on the need to always apply caution while driving. All should join hands to make the ember months accident-free.
Similarly, it is shocking that motorcyclists and their passengers are not made to wear protective helmets which would protect them against head injuries.
Poor planning of roads without provision for pedestrian crossings, and overhead pedestrian bridges is another problem and where they exist, they are often ignored by pedestrians.
Enforcement of existing laws and changing behaviour must be at the heart of making any progress in this area- making it clear that by drinking and then driving people put their lives and those of other road users at risk.
Introducing Breathalyzer tests for drivers leaving motor parks, scrapping the sale of alcoholic drinks in motor parks, insisting on the use of helmets for motorcyclists, enforcing speed limits and raising public awareness of the problem are very important factors towards addressing the issue.