Minister Ocholi and the road carnage challenge
He was one of the exceptional nominees during the 2015 ministerial screening. He was articulate and forthcoming with ideas that could solve some of the myriads of problems facing the nation. Unlike some of the other ministerial nominees, the senators kept him for one hour and he was like a fish swimming in water, answering their questions brilliantly.
Mr James Ocholi was charismatic, incisive, and demonstrated that he had a good grasp of legal and socio-political issues. He was forceful with his presentation, without been belligerent. So impressive was Ocholi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) that many Nigerians, especially on the social media, were clamouring that not only should he be cleared by the national assembly but that he should be appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. Eventually though President Buhari chose to make him Minister of State for Labour and Productivity.
It is therefore a great loss that barely 10 months into the life of this new administration, Nigeria has lost this ebullient statesman and orator to the cold hands of death. Mr Ocholi died with his wife and son, on 6 March, in a ghastly road accident 57 kilometers away from Kaduna after a rear tyre of the jeep they were driving in burst, forcing the vehicle to skid off the road and somersault several times before crashing into the bush. The driver of the car and Ocholi’s ADC who suffered serious injuries are still battling for their lives in hospital.
That unfortunate incident truncated not just the lives of Mr Ocholi and other family members with him but also the hopes of many Nigerians including this writer who had expected him to excel as a minister and help in transforming Nigeria’s labour sector.
Still, we must be reminded that Mr Ocholi is just one more talented Nigerian that has sadly passed away as a result of road accident. Daily, Nigerians are killed in avoidable road crashes. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria is ranked 149 out of 184 countries studied for their road traffic safety record. This means we already have a global reputation as having one of the worst road safety record in the world. There’s no mincing words here – what is going daily on Nigerian highways is simply carnage.
Yet, there’s so much that can be done to reduce these needless deaths. First, it is very important to sensitise drivers on our highways on the danger of reckless driving and over-speeding which has been rightly identified as one of the major reasons for these fatal road crashes. High speed was fingered by FRSC as a major reason for Mr Ocholi’s accident.
I also think it is high time the Nigerian government devised a means of backing the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and other related agencies to enforce official speed limits on our roads as it is the case in other developed climes. It is extremely reckless for drivers to drive on our roads as if they are driving race cars.
Let me also point out that most of our highways are in sorry states. So any attempt to reduce road crashes must prioritise fixing these roads that have all sorts of craters and potholes. Many road accidents in this country occur because drivers suddenly either slipped into or swerved to dodge these dangerous “death-traps” that litter our highways.
It’s also necessary to say that an integral aspect of making our roads motorable is having proper road markings and signs. Absence of these signs on our highways is tantamount to making drivers go through a cul de sac, as they are not able to anticipate what lies ahead nor prepare in case of sudden mishaps. I know this because in 2007, I survived a serious road crash that could have been prevented if there had been a sign to warn me that I was approaching a sharp bend. Till date, I still marvel at how God saved me in that crash. Not many Nigerians are lucky to survive such avoidable crash.
Fatalities on our highways will also be significantly reduced if Nigeria can have a good emergency response system in place to intervene promptly and provide care to victims of road accidents. It is quite unfortunate that many lives that could have been saved when road accidents occur have been lost either because of the careless interventions of sympathisers and first line responders or because no help at all gets to the victims.
I watched as a young man trapped under a lorry on Ilorin-Ogbomosho road in 2014 cried for help for hours and eventually died without anybody, including the FRSC officials present, being able to help him. There was just no equipment to lift the lorry loaded with goods that pinned him down. But even as sad as that incident was, it was not enough to rouse the authorities to ensure such a pathetic situation does not occur again. Only God knows how many Nigerians that have died in such a pathetic way since then.
Really, this carnage on our roads must stop. We cannot continue to lose our citizens, including productive individuals like Mr Ocholi, to road crashes that are preventable and avoidable.