I was with Engr. Beki of the Federal Road Department for another road monitoring exercise along Kaduna-Abuja Road on a serene summer day. She and her driver were in the front seats while I and her younger brother, Rango, needing a ride to Abuja were at the back seats. Every engineer in the department who has been assigned a road is expected to report on its condition biweekly (fortnightly) in case repairs are needed, an experience I had while working as an intern for six months under the supervision of Beki.
Most of the abnormalities observed during the outing involved traffic signs which were either uprooted or defaced with posters (of politicians). This has been the department’s challenge for a long time and begs the question why people don’t respect things which are public. I was told the poles are removed because they are made of aluminum which blacksmiths use to make utensils. I believe a stake would be sold by the miscreants at a price probably less than tenth of what it costs the department to install which resulted in the management resorting to using steel stakes despite its relatively higher cost. Ninety percent of the traffic signs are rendered useless by placed posters making the effort to safeguard the road almost futile and further putting peoples’ lives at risk. I wish the government would start prosecuting the politicians whose posters are found on such places then they would surely find a way of calling their supporters to order.
Halfway into our journey to Abuja and having not observed prominent potholes, I commended Beki on the good work she has been doing and also told her that the road is amongst the safest in the zone despite its high traffic volume but she surprisingly had a different view.
“What do you mean by becoming the safest? Being free from potholes? I think you know little about what is going-on on this road. People were complaining that accidents rate was high because of poor road condition but now that we have restored it to good condition, the rate of accidents has paradoxically only proliferated,” she said, with sheer disappointment in her face.
“Because they have got a smoother road surface now, drivers turn the road into a racetrack,” she added.
Right she was because I could remember witnessing some accidents a few months ago while I was still an intern working on the road. The accidents were mainly due to reckless speeding and we often happen to be the first people at the accident scenes to offer first aid to survivors if any, pending the arrival of road safety personnel or police. In most cases, the survivors tell us that they were travelling at a ridiculously high speed before the accident.
Not long after we finished talking about the accident rates, we encountered a fatal one and the driver died before we arrived at the scene. There were a few people who had stopped before us trying to offer help in one way or the other. The victims were two, the dead driver and another person who was still unconscious and all efforts to revive him being carried out. Our driver recognized the car as the rear part was not severely damaged. The front, which hit a massive tree off the road, was smashed beyond recognition. He said the car overtook ours us about 15 minutes back at an extreme speed. Another speed racer!
We were told police were on their way to the scene. Engineer Beki saw the ID of the driver with someone and she was surprised to find out the driver was a civil engineer working with a private company. Although she was apparently touched by the accident, she was infuriated by the fact that an engineer who knows very well the reasons for setting speed limits would drive recklessly.
“If someone who sets the rules don’t abide by them, then what do we expect of the common people?” She lamented.
We went back to our car almost immediately as there was nothing much we could do and drove off.
I figured Rango didn’t understand the linkage between a civil engineer and traffic rules as he thought they are only responsible for designing buildings. In addition, he did not know the reasons behind fixing speed limits and asked me to expatiate.
“Those who design buildings, and by design here I mean structural specifications, are called structural engineers. There are also civil engineers who are trained to design roads and traffic and they are called highway and traffic engineers. In Nigerian universities however, civil engineers are trained to do all these tasks at undergraduate level. Basically, you would expect every civil engineer to know the significance of traffic rules.
“There are various factors which govern the choice of speed limit. Engineers consider things like the location of a road section, the road, vehicle, driver, and weather conditions for example to determine the safe speed at which a car would remain under driver’s control under any emergency. If they say drivers should not exceed a speed of 100 kilometers per hour along a particular section, it means that from the time a driver would spot a potential obstacle on the road, he could be able to bring the car to stand-still without hitting the object provided he’s not exceeded that speed. It may also be because of the shape of the road at that section. A car may spin out of control at a bend if it exceeds the design speed.” I explained, with that feeling of authority speaking about my profession.
It is really sad that our law enforcement agents are not able to strictly impose traffic rules on our roads. The irony of it is that people feel harassed when forced to obey rules while abiding by them is for their own safety. When it comes to obeying rules, I devised my own maxim, “go by the book and the world will be your oyster.”
Written by Sadah