I don’t have the statistics of road accidents caused by drunk driving in Nigeria. I also doubt if the authorities (Federal Road Safety Commission, Nigerian Police Force, Ministry of Health etc,) have such records. Am sure, some road accidents in Nigeria might have been caused by drunk driving. But since these statistics are not available, it becomes difficult to actually ascertain the number of road accidents that are as results of drunk driving. Many other reasons can be adduced as factors causing road accidents in Nigeria. Some of these are bad roads, narrow roads, heavy dependence on road transport, government neglect, poor state of vehicles on Nigerian roads, careless driving/careless drivers, excessive speeding, drugs and alcoholism effects etc.
While most of the factors mentioned above, are partly as a result of systemic failure in Nigeria. It will be pertinent to examine in great details, the aspect of drunk driving. Nigerians are also aware that, other factors causing road accidents in Nigeria can be as serious as drunk driving. But most of these factors like bad roads etc cannot be fixed in the short run. But enforcing the laws on drunk driving and careless driving will be easier to achieve, than repairing all the bad roads in Nigeria. Effective and enforced regulation on drunk driving could reduce the rates of road accidents, and thus save lives. Many lives have been lost due mainly to road accidents.
Drunk driving is a serious offence in most developed countries including South Africa. This is because western governments attach more importance to issues which affects people’s lives. Road transportation is one of such issues. In the western countries, very low percentage of alcohol is permissible. In the United Kingdom, the alcohol legal limit for any driver is 80mg per 100 milliliters of blood. Any thing above this limit carries a serious penalty. An offence of careless driving in the UK carries a maximum penalty of two thousand five hundred pounds sterling. Causing death by dangerous driving has a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail. Whereas causing death by careless driving carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison, but where aggravated factors such as drink is involved, then the penalty rises to a maximum of 14 years in prison. The penalty acts as a deterrent from committing such road traffic offences.
The Nigerian government has at one time shown interest in saving the lives of her people. An example was during the fight waged by Dora Akunyili against fake drugs. NAFDAC made positive impacts on checking the menace of fake drugs. In the same manner, Nigerian government could also save her people by making drunk and careless driving an offence with stiff penalties. Nigerians travel a lot, and road transportation remains the popular means of transportation in Nigeria. In addition we are entering the ember months (September, October, November and December), when too many people travel for Christmas holidays. Much of our goods are hauled to their various destinations using the road transport system. Therefore it makes much sense for the issue of drunk driving to be taken seriously.
Most drivers (commercial and private) drink alcohol before driving. Even “okada riders” take alcohol. Many people have lost their limbs, legs etc due to okada accidents. Alcohol could make drivers feel high behind the wheels. It could cause drivers to have less concentration while driving. Above all, alcohol could cause drivers to take risks not minding the lives of the passengers they are carrying.
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and other law enforcement agencies should enforce all laws on drunk driving. Where none exists, the Federal Road Safety Commission should work with relevant authorities and stake holders, to introduce a bill to the National Assembly to make careless and drunk driving an offence punishable with stiff penalties. As a means of enforcing any legislation on drunk driving, the Federal Road Safety Commission, the police and other state law enforcements agencies should introduce the use of a breathalyzer test.
Breathalyzer is a simply machine or devise used to measure the amount of alcohol in the breath of a driver. Where a driver declines a breathalyzer test, a blood sample might be taken and analyzed in a laboratory. This is a very simple technology which Nigeria can deploy. Nigeria and Nigerians have deployed more superior technology which is at par with international standards. An example is the new system of international passport issuance adopted by the Nigerian Immigration Services. Before this time, Nigerian International passport could be obtained by proxy or in absentia. Now the system has changed. In the private sector for instance, Nigerian banks have almost the latest information technology. Therefore, introducing a breathalyzer to check alcohol level will not be a big deal.
Various state governments with transport companies, example Imo Transport Company (ITC) etc can enact a law to make drunk driving by their employees (drivers) an offence. They can regularly check their drivers by administering a regular breathalyzer test. Private transport companies like ABC Transport, Ekene Dili Chukwu, The Young Shall Grow, Chisco Transport etc can subject their drivers to breathalyzer test before allowing them to drive passengers. On the other hand, compelling drivers to breathalyzer test could act as a marketing strategy to some private transport companies. Passengers’ patronage can be won when they see that drivers are subjected to alcohol test.
Passengers on their own should always raise this issue with drivers or managers of various transport companies. The last time (January 2009) that I traveled with ABC Transport to Lagos, all the passengers including myself were scanned and photographed before we were allowed to board our bus to Lagos. I understood this was a security measure. Therefore to achieve a balance, passengers should also demand to know whether their driver is drunk or not. This is also for their own safety and safety of the nation.
Unless somebody can find a way to change the nature of careless and drunk driving in Nigeria, we will have more crises. Careless and drunk driving can cause accidents. Accidents devastate lives and can cause deaths. Deaths are losses to the nation and our various families. Therefore a stitch in time save nine and prevention is better than cure. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK