Made-in-Nigeria Tragedies, By Olusegun Adeniyi

Posted by News Express | 17 September 2015 | 4,444 times

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A brilliant 300-level female student of Accounting, Oluchi Anaekwe, was electrocuted last week at the University of Lagos when a high-tension wire fell from an electric pole and she unknowingly stepped on it. She was said to have been rushed to the school clinic where, according to many students, she was not given adequate attention until she died. Not being promptly attended to at a medical centre is of course a familiar Nigerian story and so is death by electrocution, one of the several tragedies which depict just how very cheap life has become in our country today.

In one single incident in Port Harcourt in 2010, no fewer than 25 people died when, after a heavy rainfall, a cable fell onto a bus and electrocuted the passengers and some passers-by. Last year in Oworonsoki, Lagos, five people were electrocuted while running from a high-tension wire which fell on a car. And just last month, Justice Tersea Kume of the Katsina-Ala High Court in Benue State ordered the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the Jos Electricity Distribution Company Plc to jointly pay N25 million damages to the family of one Akpenwuan Chia, who was killed by electrocution. Justice Kume averred that if the high-tension cable, suspended mid air across the road, had been quickly removed after the report was made to PHCN, the 40-year-old man would not have been electrocuted.

So prevalent are deaths by electrocution, and especially by fallen cables, in our country that two years ago, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) revealed that 161 persons lost their lives through electrocution within a period of 19 months between January 2012 and July 2013. “From statistics available to the commission, last year (2012) alone, the industry witnessed 102 deaths from electrocution across the country and 72 injuries. In 2013, between January and July, the country witnessed 59 deaths and 60 injuries,” said the NERC chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi, who threatened sanctions at the time.
Yet even when the statistics by NERC may be chilling, it still does not tell the whole story of the criminal negligence that has sent many Nigerians to their untimely graves. Three years ago in Ilesha in Osun State, a live wire fell on the ground inside a compound and when one of the occupants went to complain at “NEPA office”, she was instructed to “look for someone to fold the live wire pending a time the company would come to fix the fault.” That same day, a two-year-old boy stepped on the cable and died.
Against the background that most of the electrocutions have resulted from the carelessness of the electricity company workers, who almost always ignore early warnings about faulty wires, and given reports that the cable that eventually fell at the University of Lagos was an accident waiting to happen, it is evident that the authorities do not seem to place much premium on lives in Nigeria. But of course there are people who would argue that one should not jump to such conclusion since electrocution can happen anywhere. They have a point there but only if the electrocution is in spite of all actions and measures taken to ensure public safety. A look at another recent tragedy, also pointing to neglect, bears this out.

Three weeks ago, a heavy duty container skidded off the Ojuelegba bridge, landing on a Nissan saloon car and a sports utility vehicle, killing three people in the process. While one account says the truck driver was drunk, there are also speculations that he might have been trying to overtake another truck when the container skidded off. Whatever was responsible, there had been a warning that was not heeded: In November last year, a container fell off a trailer climbing that same flyover and landed on an empty commercial bus (called ‘Danfo’) parked under the bridge at night!
So what am I driving at? I am sure many readers would say that accidents can happen anywhere and I agree; after all, a crane recently fell in Saudi Arabia, killing more than a hundred people. But that is precisely the point. That the Saudi tragedy resonates across the world is because cranes don’t just fall anyhow in the country. It is indeed an accident and we can all be sure that there will be investigations and lessons will be learned to ensure it doesn’t happen again. But can we say the same of our country today? 
I am sure many have now forgotten that just a few weeks before the Ojuelegba tragedy, a container fell and crushed a fully loaded commuter bus, killing all passengers right on the Sagamu/Benin expressway. The victims turned out to be mainly students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, who were on their way to Lagos. Two years ago, a trailer carrying a container which was poorly latched fell on a female pedestrian along Berger axis of Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The trailer had lost one of its tyres and as the driver struggled to regain control, it tipped over and the container fell, landing on the woman. In June of the same 2013, a manager at SLOT, a phone retail shop with head office in Ikeja, Lagos, was on his way to work when suddenly the driver of a truck lost control and the container on top fell, instantly crushing the man to death.
In the bid to stop these needless deaths, the Lagos State House of Assembly in January 2012 enacted the Road Traffic Law stipulating the period such articulated vehicles could move within the state. According to the law, with the exemption of tankers, articulated vehicles should not be seen between 6am and 9pm daily. Violators, according to the law, would have their vehicles impounded in addition to a fine of N50,000 or imprisonment for six months. However, the law has been observed more in the breach. Indeed, a few weeks after the law was passed, about three people were crushed to death when a truck carrying a 40-foot container hit a pothole, tumbled and crushed a Mazda car on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. Okay, these are road accidents that can happen anywhere. I also agree but let us look at water transportation that is easily the safest in most countries.
When in July this year, a motorised boat rammed into a canoe carrying 14 school children (who were not wearing life jackets) around Ojo area of Lagos, drowning six of them, not a few people felt moved by the tragedy. But within a matter of days, Nigerians had moved on; after all it was a common occurrence that had happened several times before. Four months earlier on March 28, Mr. Kunle Adewale, a Director in the Lagos State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs (the first son of the Olu of Epe, Oba Shefiu Adewale), drowned with five others after their boat capsized on their way to cast their ballots in the presidential election.

Hardly a week passes without news about such cheap and mostly preventable deaths. For instance, within a period of 20 days between March and April 2014, there were three such mishaps which claimed about 150 lives. First, a commercial boat capsized on a canal at FESTAC Town in Lagos, claiming the lives of 18 passengers. The same month, a passenger boat capsized in the waters around Cross River State, killing about a hundred people. And on April 2 in Majidun River, Ikorodu in Lagos, a passenger boat hit a solid object in the water, upturning and throwing all its 28 commuters into the open sea. The victims included some pregnant women and a young man and woman whose wedding was just a few days away.

Incidentally, one of the major causes of accidents on our waterways is collision with hard objects submerged in water and the authorities are quite aware. But what have they done about it? According to estimates from the United Nations (UN), there are more than three million shipwrecks in the ocean floor worldwide and Nigeria is one of the countries where numerous of such wrecks are said to be lying under the water bed. Other causes of accidents are poor vessel maintenance, over-speeding, poor lighting during night voyages, overloading of boats, collision with another vessel as well as navigational and human errors. But you don’t have to travel by water or in fact go anywhere to be killed in Nigeria. Even staying in your house could be hazardous.

Last Sunday, precisely five days ago, a two-storey building, housing an Islamic school, collapsed in Jos, killing ten pupils (as at the last count) while several others sustained serious injuries . “We rushed to the scene when the matter was reported to us this evening and our efforts yielded fruits as we were able to minimise the number of casualties,” said Alhaji Alhassan Barde, the Executive Secre