Every day, millions of Nigerians ply the country’s vast road networks. The belief by most, despite some doubters, is that they would get to their respective destinations, and would return to their homes at the end of the day, the state of the roads notwithstanding. For many, their wishes come true, but for some, their journey gives them what they never bargained for.
I have travelled a lot on the roads, witnessed many accidents, and seen numerous charred and disfigured vehicle carcasses on the road. I have met victims of road accidents, but I have never talked with a survivor of any fatal accident. The prior status quo changed recently when I met a lady who survived an accident that claimed over six bubbling lives.
I usually take pride in being a bit “unemotional”, but while this lady relived her ordeal, I could not help but feel some empathy. Watching her speak tore down my well-reinforced protective walls. Here’s her story paraphrased and summarized. Let’s call her Jane.
Jane boarded a bus heading to Bayelsa State from Port Harcourt. The bus driver, as is the culture of many drivers, drove at a speed that alarmed the passengers. Despite the complaints by passengers, he refused to reduce the speed. Maybe he thought he was a race driver in Formula 1 or a driver in a popular car racing game, Need For Speed. The passengers tenaciously clung to their seats while the driver overtook other vehicles one by one. The lives of 20 persons rested in the speedy hands of the driver.
Suddenly, about an hour into the journey, a large sound was heard. A rear tyre had burst. Passengers screamed, while one passenger quickly told the driver not to apply the brakes. As if on cue, the driver immediately stepped on the brakes. That was when the nightmare entered the next phase.
The next thing Jane remembered was that she was lying on the road, bleeding profusely. Around her, some other passengers also lay on the road, while others were struggling to move out of the wrecked bus. A little baby was also on the road. While she tried to move away from the bus, it erupted into flames. As the flames increased, trapped passengers struggled to move out of the bus. Several vehicles passed without bothering to stop, but some vehicles with sympathetic passengers stopped and the passengers helped to bring the trapped persons out of the burning bus. All passengers were removed from the bus, except for one young lady who died within the flames. The driver also died on the spot.
The next step was to get the injured passengers to a hospital. There was no police officer, no FRSC officer (Federal Road Safety Commission) and no ambulance. The injured passengers were carried in various private cars and buses to a nearby hospital.
There are hospitals, and there are some buildings not worthy of the first letter of the word—“H”. Jane’s skull was open, yet her plea for a nurse to help cover her skull fell on deaf ears. She and other passengers continued bleeding, while the nurse waited for the doctor to arrive. While they waited, some passengers died. Finally, the doctor arrived, and some form of medical care was given to the remaining passengers.
Jane’s family arrived and transferred their daughter to a better hospital. Quick surgery and blood transfusion saved her life. Some others were not that lucky, nor privileged.
Jane’s words gave her story a human face. In the face of death, passengers were worried about their families. A nursing mother said she had no issues with dying, as long as her baby lived. Another man worried about his wife’s reaction if she heard he had an accident. The bus conductor was the bizarre one. He called on the devil to kill him, saying it was the driver’s fault.
As Jane told her story, I thought of different factors that contributed to the accident. What if the driver had stayed within the speed limit? What if the driver was more experienced in emergency measures when faced with a burst tyre? What if government agencies actively enforced speed limits on the highways? What if there was a good emergency response system for road accidents? What if the government and the health organisations ensured a level of standard in all hospitals? What if health care professionals were better trained? What if road users were more sympathetic when they encounter road accident victims? The questions are numerous, endless “What if” scenarios.
Jane is alive to tell her story, giving gratitude for God’s grace that preserved her. For some others, their tale is different—serious injuries or death. Only the living can tell a story. For the others, it’s a tale of fast cars and death.
PS: “Need For Speed” is a trademark of Electronic Arts Inc.