By Seye Olumide
The flagrant disregard to traffic rules, unavoidable accidents and increasing incidents of road rage by commercial bus drivers and a few vehicle owners in Lagos State were reasons adduced by government for some policy overhaul in the transport sector.
Notable among such policy drive were the enactment into law of the state’s traffic rules and regulation, establishment of the Lagos State Driver’s Institute (LASDRI) and restriction on the activities of road irritants like Okadas and Molues from some routes.
However, one of the causes of ugly incidents on Lagos roads is driving under the influence of alcohol. This is not given the same level of attention by government, though in recent times, there have been attempts at intensifying campaign against drinking and driving on the highways.
To what extent such campaigns have gone in changing the attitude of Lagos drivers, particularly commercial bus drivers remain in doubt.
For most conscious commuters, they have grown accustom to doing three things before boarding a commercial bus: observe the state of the vehicle, make a quick glance at the registration number and most importantly check to see that the driver is not operating under the influence of alcohol.
Recounting his experience in one of the commercial buses at Maryland bus stop, Ikeja recently, an undergraduate in one of the tertiary institutions in the state, Kayode Abodurin, said he was scared stiff when he discovered that the driver of the commercial bus he boarded had slept off on the wheel.
“The traffic light stopped our vehicle at Maryland for about two minutes. I was reading a novel when I suddenly discovered that the light had passed us and other vehicles were moving. The vehicles behind us were honking at the driver to move. That was when we noticed he had slept off on the steering. It was when we shouted at him and he tried to respond that we discovered he was completely drunk. I had to alight at the next bus-stop to save my life,” he said.
Despite the campaign against drinking and driving, The Guardian observed that the leaderships at the motor-parks are not bordered about keeping a tight rein on drivers operating in their parks.
As Tunji Komolafe puts it: “I have noticed with dismay commercial bus drivers operating from Ikorodu, Mile 12 through Ikorodu Road, Ojuelegba to Lagos Island most often operating under the influence of alcohol. Most commercial drivers plying the above route behave like touts and their pattern of dressing portray them as drug addicts.”
Investigations after visit to some the motor-parks reveal that the parks remain a haven for sellers of local gin, known in local parlance as ogogoro and various kinds of concoctions mixed with hot drinks, which drivers take with relish before getting behind the wheel.
The aphrodisiac drinks are also known by different names like paraga, opa ehin, alomo, and kai-kai. For special effects, some of these drinks are often mixed and consumed together or added with cigarettes or Indian hemp.
One of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) officials at Berger International Taxi Park, Ojodu, Taiwo Oduba, explained that any driver found driving under the influence of alcohol at the park is seriously reprimanded and sanctioned.
He conducted The Guardian round the park to prove the fact that they don’t allow the sale of alcohol within the park. “We conduct seminars for our drivers every fortnight to educate them on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and any driver caught doing that is dismissed from the park immediately,” he added.
Meanwhile, Governor Babatunde Fashola has reiterated the need for commercial drivers to desist from taking alcohol, drugs or other related substances before getting behind the wheel. He made this known during a sensitization campaign held recently at New Garage motor park, Bariga, which was organized by the state’s Ministries of Health and Transportation, in partnership with Guinness Nigeria Plc.
The governor said evidence abounds that road traffic accidents are influenced and precipitated by substance abuse, which impair driver’s ability to manage and manipulate a vehicle. “The Motor Park Health and Safety Awareness Campaign is an initiative of this administration to raise awareness about responsible consumption of alcohol and initiate change in attitude amongst motor park drivers.”
Represented by the deputy governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, he said the initiative seeks to reduce road crashes and ensure safety of passengers and other road users.
Reeling out data of what the campaign has achieved since 2011, Fashola said over 2,500 commercial drivers have been screened for blood alcohol content, substance abuse, hypertension and diabetes. “The campaign has been taken to Ojota, Iyana Ipaja and Oyingbo motor parks.”
He explained that of the 884 drivers screened at Ojota Motor Park, 239 of them, representing 27 percent of those screened, had hypertension, while 86 people, representing 10 percent, were found to be diabetic. Sixty drivers, representing seven percent, tested positive to substance abuse, and 287 people, representing 32 per cent of those screened, had excessive blood alcohol level.
At Oyingbo Motor Park, 988 drivers were screened drivers, 363 were hypertensive, 156 had diabetes, 59 tested positive to cocaine or marijuana, and 494 tested positive to the breathalyzer. At Iyana Ipaja Motor Park, 1,025 people were screened, 162 had hypertension, 71 had diabetes, 103 tested positive to cocaine or marijuana and 215 had excessive alcohol in their blood system.
The governor urged drivers to stop gambling with people’s lives. “Every time you drink Alomo or Paraga and get behind the steering wheel with drugs in your system, it is like putting a loaded gun to one’s head and wondering if it can kill or not. It is a huge risk to take and we should stop taking that risk.”
Corroborating the need to reduce road accidents caused by human errors, Managing Director, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Mr. Seni Adetu, noted that the beverage firm is interested in the campaign because it seeks to inculcate the habit of responsible drinking into commercial drivers, which brings with it attendant benefits to the larger society.