When I was small and sitting at the back of my father’s 504 Peugeot which ran like an old pregnant lady, I would sigh and hiss at the way other vehicles zoomed past us like they had more licenses to the road than us. More painful was how my schoolmates would taunt me even after enjoying a free ride with us: that my father’s vehicle could not run; that some quick strides from a pedestrian would overtake my father on the road.
I had joined them in voicing my disappointment, though I was quick to remind them that it was my father’s fault and not the car. I would go on to tell them about my uncle Tony who flew with that same vehicle even with one hand on the starring.
Growing up I realized how wrong and naïve I was in my perspectives on road usage. My father’s decision to ply roads in the smoothest and cautious method ever possible occurred to me as not only wise but obligatory. However, that was not what informed and increased my road safety awareness or consciousness.
It was what happened on that fated dryly cold Christmas morning of 2016 when a call from a police station wrecked our festive mood and plunged us into anguish and sorrow. My beloved Uncle George had died on the spot. People who told the story said he was speeding—too speeding—down Ugwu Onyeama—a steeply dangerous part of the road connecting Enugu, Udi, and Ngwo. It was a road that gave me chills whenever I read a signpost that had largely become its symbol. A sign that read: Be careful many have Gone! You could even see this post boldly written on trucks, tankers and loaded vehicles.
Over speeding took away my loving uncle from his lovely wife and kids. The car he rode to his death on that day remained in our village for some time and its mangled body would always pierce my heart with painful reminders of dreams my uncle left unaccomplished.
Today, I wonder if things would have turned out differently if someone had educated my uncle on the implication of the popular road safety slogan ‘Alert today, alive tomorrow.’ If only he had been a beneficiary of a serious sensitization process, maybe he would have been more cautious on the wheels knowing the validity of what we tell ourselves all the time, ‘Life no get duplicate.’
Millions of Nigerians are still unaware. Millions of Nigerians are still uninformed. Millions of Nigerians are still relying on that nearly mythical assumption that it is only God that ensures safety on the road and therefore human efforts at caution and carefulness are futile. It is this group of endangered people that urgently need road safety education. Somebody must say something today that will save a life tomorrow. Somebody has to speak up against any driving culture that encourages dangerous overtaking, drunk driving, driving and phoning, lack of vehicle maintenance; overloading, lack of wearing seatbelts, underage driving etc.
Needless to say that it is on this premise that we recognize the indispensability of our teeming youths. Educating the public on road safety is not an exclusive responsibility of any particular group of persons but it is pertinent to note that the man with the larger itching spot scratches more vigorously.
In an age where a greater number of youths are having, unrestrained access to automobiles and youths are displaying exuberance in driving, there is no doubt that we are faced with the grave challenges of youth involvement in road crashes more than any other age ranges. According to World Health Organization (WHO) report, road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds and nearly 400,000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year, while millions more are injured or disabled. The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low and middle-income countries, with the highest rates being found in Africa and the Middle East.
Bearing these in mind, the youths who are the most energetic, productive and idealistic segment of every national population are the most vulnerable to automobile accidents. Therefore any idea, program, an event aimed at educating the general public on road safety concerns, should have the youths at the forefront. For it is valid to say that a man must do what he preaches.
The United Nations in response to the challenge of youth involvement in road crashes organized the first United Nation’s Global road safety week on 23-29 April 2007. This was observed across the globe with delegates from over 100 countries including Nigeria, gathering on 23-24 April 2007 in Geneva to share their experiences. The outcome of this event was the World Health Organization (WHO)’s report which was launched to draw attention to the high global rates of death, injury and disability among young people caused by road traffic crashes.
The report, ‘Youth and Road Safety’ highlighted measures which some countries have taken to improve the situation. These include: massive public orientation campaigns, cracking down on drink driving, promoting and enforcing the use of seatbelts; campaign on child restraints and motorcycle helmets; constructing better road infrastructure and creating safe areas for children to play.
According to the Director-General of World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, ‘The lack of safety on our roads has become an important obstacle to health and development. Our children and young adults are the most vulnerable. Road traffic crashes are not ‘accident’. We need to challenge the notion that they are unavoidable and make room for a proactive, preventive approach.’
For this campaign to be a reality in Nigeria, we need to put our abundance of young, energetic and highly enterprising youths in the driving seat of the public education campaign. The average Nigerian youth who can be found in all facets of human endeavor is a ready-made baggage of information and when he or she is well informed about the essence of road safety; he or she will, in turn, spread the all-important gospel that, ‘A little more care will make accidents rare’
Against this backdrop, the recent collaboration between the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the Nigerian Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is not only timely but exigent. The NYSC scheme provides the most readily available platform for the much-needed harvest of graduate youths who possess the wherewithal to spearhead the public education campaign for safer roads.
A more fruitful action is the incorporation of Federal Road Safety Club into the NYSC Community Development Service (CDS) structures which allows corps members to be trained as cadet marshals and drafted into the campaign to save lives. These corps members automatically become the ambassadors of road safety; driving the brigade of road safety awareness to their varying Places of Primary Assignment (PPA).
The emergence of this Youth Vanguard is already rife in Kaura Namoda, Zamfara state, just as hoped for in other states across the federation. Corps member cadets serving in Kaura will certainly look back to the Eid celebration with a sense of pride and satisfaction for a job well done. For it was on that event that vibrant and motivated young men and women under the aegis of Road Safety CDS group, marched up to the roads to enforce road safety measures and sensitize the people on the need to drive safely and use the roads wisely, if only they wished to witness another Salah festivity.
Inspired and enamored, these patriotic ladies and gentlemen perused every nook and cranny of the local government, directing and controlling traffic; and chanting with delight,
‘Under the sun or in the rain, we must protect our lane’‘If you are over speeding, you are wrong!’
The world day of remembrance for road traffic victims takes place on the third Sunday in November annually as the appropriate acknowledgment of victims of road traffic crashes and their families. But remembrance is actually not enough. It is time for nations of the world to mine its ‘youth resources’ and channel it properly towards advancing the essential creed of educating the public on road safety awareness.
This call is necessary because the youths are the future of any nation that values posterity. Now let us assume that these young men and women who are the future leaders of our country Nigeria are on the road to meeting their promise. We must put together our strengths to ensure that their dreams do not die with them on the highways.
The global challenge of safeguarding our roads against loss of lives should have the youths championing it. This challenge can be best tackled by involving our youths in public education campaign in homes, schools, churches, mosques, offices and every other public domain; through seminars, workshops, summits, and other effective mass media outlets. Nigeria as a case study has a sizeable number of its youth population on social networks. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp etc are efficient platforms where our youths will promote the public education on road safety cause.
This will go a long way in safeguarding our society, nation, and the country as a whole.