An epidemic of accidents in Nigeria

Sadly, we are faced with another tragedy. Award-winning novelist and popular academic unionist, Festus Iyayi, was killed in Lokoja when a vehicle in the convoy of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State rammed into the bus conveying him, and his colleagues to Kano. The group were on their way to attend a meeting of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), which has been on a nation-wide strike for four months. A commander of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Olakunle Motajo, is reported to have said that a preliminary report on the accident revealed wrongful overtaking on the part of the government vehicle.

I first met Festus Iyayi during “The Eagle on Iroko” conference that brought the cream of the Nigerian literary community to the University town of Nsukka in 1990. Shortly after that conference, the convener; Professor Edith Ihekweazu lost her life in a car accident, and the celebrant Professor Chinua Achebe just survived a similar one. Since then, our country has continued to lose thousands of people every year on our roads. We mourn, but then we throw our hands up in the air, as we lose the very people that we need to shape our country to that which we aspire.
Iyayi should need little introduction in Nigeria. I was introduced to Iyayi’s literary work at a relatively young age, when I was trying to come to terms with the Biafran War (or the Nigerian Civil War). I had read several accounts of the war from books lying on my parent’s shelves, from Obasanjo’s “My Command” to Madiebo’s “the Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War” …and everything in between. Despite these, I felt most informed and engaged by Iyayi’s two books; “Heroes” and “Violence”. Through his books, Iyayi tried to redefine the heroes and victims of this war (and any war) from the bottom, up. The dominant narrative of every war is written through the eyes of its architects – while on either side, there are often true heroes and victims that have borne the brunt of the killing fields.
And while we dither – these are the headlines in other parts of the world: BBC – Car deaths in England and Wales ‘down 40% in 50 years’, based on research published in the Emergency Medicine Journal. This happened over the same period that car ownership across the UK had been increasing by about 3% annually. The factors that led to this reduction in deaths were 1.)  introduction of compulsory seat belts, 2.) drink driving curbs, 3.) child safety seats, and 4.) speed cameras, as well as the 5.) development of specialist trauma centres. Of all these, only the first one is sometimes applied in our country. And there are many more! I will be surprised if more than 1% of all drivers in Nigeria have done a driving test!

Much more can be done to make our roads safer than they are at the moment, the question is really – how many more have to die before we do it? 

If there is any cause that should bring us together right now – it is to reduce the number of deaths on Nigerian roads. There are a number of low hanging fruit – one being a reduction of the number of cars on government convoys to a maximum of three; why would anyone need more?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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