The fatal ‘kiss’ – The Nation Nigeria

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By Dele Adeoluwa

Scene one: It was a sultry evening this day around Ikeja, Lagos axis of the rail tracks. The boisterous activities around the rail line suddenly came to a halt. The bevy of vehicles and pedestrians rushing to cross the rail line became motionless. The shrill, ear-shattering horn of an approaching train soon pierced the atmosphere.

Then, a female corps member appeared from nowhere and, as if she was under a spell, was walking towards the rail line, oblivious of the approach of the mass of steel. Everyone was petrified by what at first looked like an audacity. Shouts rang out in different directions to the young lady: ‘Hei, corper, stop! A train is coming! Stop!! Stop!! Stop!!!’ But the lady kept going. She did not hear the cacophony of voices. She was lost in the cocoon of her own world, deaf to the bedlam around her. A headphone was plugged into both ears! She kept going, busy working her phone.

When she was a few inches to the rail line, some desperate onlookers, in a last ditch attempt to save her from certain death, tried to physically drag her back, but probably thinking that those people harboured evil intentions towards her, she instead ran, to the chagrin of all, and in time, the passing train, which had at this time slowed down because it was going to make a stop at the Ikeja train station, hit her and flung her off the rail tracks.

Although she was still breathing when passers-by rushed to her, her right leg and left arm were already mangled and she sustained serious injuries on her blood-soaked face. She was rushed to a nearby hospital. But it was too, too late. She gave up the ghost!

Scene two: It was at the popular Public Works Department (PWD) Bus Stop on Agege Motor Road, Lagos, penultimate Tuesday. Two vehicles – a commuter bus, carrying six passengers, and a Toyota Highlander Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), with two people – in an attempt to outwit other vehicle owners trying to wriggle out of the gridlock that usually happens towards the rail tracks, made a dash off the line and veered into the rail line.

Behold, it was a dash of death! Their smart move to briskly cross the rail line before an approaching train arrived, was a morbid miscalculation. All the other motorists had by this time been stopped for the oncoming train. But the snaky mass of steel caught the two vehicles. Oh, it was a tragic sight to behold! The train dragged them from PWD, the scene of the crash, up till Bolade Bus Stop, where it stopped.

Emergency workers deployed in the scene were able to bring out all the eight occupants of the two vehicles. Reports said six of them were lucky to have sustained only minor injuries. So, they were treated on the spot by paramedics, while the rest two who had severe injuries were rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) for a comprehensive medical attention. However, one of them, a 20-year-old, could not make it. He breathed his last!

The Director-General of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, made a profound statement while speaking on the crash. He said: “The public, especially drivers of commuter buses, are reminded to obey traffic regulations to prevent loss of lives, injuries and transport delays. All vehicles are cautioned to stop at level crossing and refrain from the dangerous habit of thinking they can smartly cross, even when the train is already approaching”.

That is the point! Most of our road users have caught the bug of a deadly habit: They are always in haste whenever they are behind the wheels. Most of the drivers of commuter and private vehicles are in the bracket. Ditto, commercial tricycle and motorcycle operators. This habit that has developed into a bad driving culture appears to be peculiar to Lagos.

Most of the motorists you find on Lagos roads are always in a mad rush any time of the day, even outside the legendary rush hours – early mornings when workers are going to work and in the evenings when they are returning. This is not to say that there are no sane, law-abiding motorists. There are, but the exceptions are very few. The habit, of course, evolves from the general ‘mad rush’ for which Lagos is notorious.

The city is on a fast lane; the average Lagosian is always restless and in haste, rushing to nowhere in particular. It is said that if a Lagosian is alone in a queue for a bus, for example, he or she will still rush to catch the bus when it arrives!

This ‘mad rush’ culture has been extended to driving. So, even if the traffic is light, an average Lagos motorist will always pedal the wheels in a breath-taking speed, as if his or her life has a duplicate. The lawlessness and selfishness that go with this terrible culture of haste, which Lagos motorists exhibit, make the rush hours a nightmare for the very few sober and law-abiding road users. These lawless drivers are at their best at these hours in their attempt to out-wit others as they manoeuvre through the labyrinth of traffic congestion, which their lawlessness created in the first place.

This maddening scenario is worse off on a road that is not dualised. This set of people will break all traffic rules, veer off their normal lanes into the other lane, totally blocking the oncoming vehicles. What results is a total traffic jam from both ends of the road!

This attitude is also extended to crossing the rail line. In the spirit of this culture of haste, they will always rush to cross the rail line, even when trains are approaching. And in checkpoints not manned by eagle-eyed traffic officials or other law enforcement agents, they will most certainly disobey traffic lights. Avoidable accidents, some with fatal consequences, have resulted many times from this ‘kiss’ with death.

Another dangerous habit that is now the vogue among Nigerians is the use of headphones while walking. The habit is so dangerous that it has caused a lot of severe injuries, with many leading to death. Many headphone users have either been knocked down by fast moving vehicles and motorcycles or hit by trains, as in the case of the female corps member. This is because a phone user who wears a headphone can hardly hear a honking car or the hooting of an approaching train. This dangerous habit has gained traction among our youths. It is most common to sight these young boys and girls by the street corners, along walk ways and by the sides of even the busiest of roads, with headphones plugged into their ears, as they walk, while fast moving vehicles whistle past them.

But strangely enough, the unusual habit is not peculiar to Nigeria. It appears to be a global practice that evolves from the advancement of telephone technology. A study undertaken in the United States of America revealed that serious injuries to pedestrians wearing headphones have tripled in that country since 2004 and that three-quarter of those cases resulted in fatalities. According to the study, between 2004 and 2011, 116 injuries among pedestrians wearing headphones were reported in the U.S, including 81 deaths. The majority of the crashes were among young people in the urban centres.

Well, even though we share this bad habit of the use of headphones with the U.S. and other advanced nations of the world, one will still appeal to our youths for caution because while motorists in those advanced countries give careful consideration to pedestrians, ours back home care less. And to our reckless road users, I will borrow the admonition of the late doyen of the Nigerian film industry, Chief Herbert Ogunde: “Life has no duplicate; motorists, be careful!”

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