Checking the Menace of Drunk Driving

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Chidoka

Lagos State government introduces Motor Parks Health and Safety Awareness Campaign to sensitize motorists on the dangers of drinking and driving

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |  Oct. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AS usual, the ritual of collecting fares by touts known as ‘garage boys’ was completed and the passengers took their seats in a bus at new garage, Ojota, Lagos State. They waited anxiously for the driver to start the journey to Osun State.  All of a sudden, the driver surfaced from nowhere, hurriedly entered the bus. But an observant passenger couldn’t contain her concern for his state of drunkenness as she screamed: “Is this the driver of the bus? Look at his eyes, see how red they are!” She immediately came down from the bus and asked for a refund of her money. She was joined by other passengers who also demanded the refund of their fares. They knew for sure that the driver was under the influence of some illicit substance.

Fashola
Fashola

Another scenario also played out in a drinking joint at the commercial motor and tricycle park at Cele, Ijesha. A driver whose commercial tricycle was waiting in a queue quickly took a seat at a paraga joint being operated by a woman. He said, “Madam, mix opa eyin and ogun iba, malaria brew for me.” The woman understood quickly what he wanted and then, from a big bowl containing about 10 different plastic bottles, she measured the contents from two different bottles and handed it over to him. In one gulp, the driver emptied the content and paid her N100.  As he took his leave, he bought a sachet of another alcoholic drink, obviously for the road.

This is what obtains in most Nigerian motor parks where dealers on drugs many illicit drugs, alcoholic beverages and herbal preparations enjoy massive patronage from drivers and travelers alike before hitting the road. At most of these motor-parks and major bus stops, operators of the drinking spots are usually women and young girls. All sorts of foreign and local alcoholic and soft drinks are sold, ranging from soft drinks to beer, stout, wines, brandy, gin and local gin known as ogogoro. Cigarettes of different brands including Indian hemp, cocaine and heroin are also not left out. Majority of the customers are bus and taxi drivers, tricycle operators, conductors, motor-cycle riders and agberos.

The worrisome thing here is that each of the ‘drugs’ is soaked in locally brewed gin, and each time the seller opens any of the numerous one-liter plastic bottles containing the various brews, the aroma fills the air, leaving no one in doubt as to the high level of their alcoholic contents. There are others who sell imported gin in affordable packs of a quarter litre and also in small sachets. The stuffs come in different colours and brands, but they seem to have something in common. All of them are aphrodisiacs which include Eja, Obe meje, Paraga, Alomo, Opa eyin, Sharp-sharp, Washing & setting, Sun gbalaja, Fonna firi, among others.

Lagos motor park filled with sellers of different wares
Lagos motor park filled with sellers of different wares

Reports have shown that thousands of Nigerians die annually on road accidents due to reckless driving resulting from drunkenness. Many people are against unrestricted sale and use of alcohol by commercial transport operators. Anuli Okeke, a corps member, said a lot of accidents are caused by reckless drunken drivers. “The police should crack down on sales and consumption of alcohol at motor parks. There is no restrictive time for sale of drinks and it’s particularly wrong for drivers to be under the influence of alcohol while driving. By this, they are putting the lives of passengers in grave danger.”

At Oshodi, the railway line is usually awash with such discreet activities, and some youngsters who drive commercial buses or work as bus conductors see it as a haven for their insatiable taste for intoxicants. At the Mile 2 bus terminus, for example, the sale of alcohol thrives there and it’s not difficult spotting the sellers in a crowd with the usual bowls of mixed offerings of beer, spirits and herbal brews. At the Ebute-Ero bus terminus and under the Ipodo Bridge in Ikeja, paraga vendors sell their wares all day long. This is a clear indication that despite the stipulations of Section 21 (1) of the Lagos Traffic Law, many motorists daily flout the rule on drinking and driving.

The law states, ‘Any person who, when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway is under the influence of alcoholic drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of such vehicle, shall be liable on conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand naira (N100,000.00) or to imprisonment for two (2) years or both.’ Realnews investigations revealed that the relevant security agencies concerned with enforcing the traffic law have been given breathalyzers – a device used to determine the percentage of alcohol in the blood and there are also equipment to test for abuse of the substance by drivers.

Peter Oluade, a commercial bus driver at new garage bus terminus in Ikeja, said he has a copy of the Lagos Traffic Law and that he’s aware of what it says concerning those who drink and drive. “The state government has continued making efforts to sensitize drivers in all motor parks across the state. Although I drink, I don’t do so at the park. I do all my drinking at home after a hard day’s job. But I know of some colleagues who drink at the bus terminus and still go ahead to drive their vehicles. I think it depends on the individual and his orientation. Some of my colleagues say that they are unable to drive if they don’t drink.

Paraga sellers at the Oshodi railway crossing
Paraga sellers at the Oshodi railway crossing

“Others say alcohol gives them self confidence. I don’t drink and drive. It is easier for your passengers to forgive any mistake you make while driving when you are sober. If alcohol is perceived from your breath and you make a mistake, they will attribute it to alcohol. So, I feel it’s better not to drink and drive. I don’t think the traffic law will be effective as long as alcohol and spirits are sold in all motor parks. Even our union executives at the parks are sometimes part of the problem.” Felix Osina, another commercial bus driver, who plies Oshodi-Ikeja route, said that some drivers take alcohol under several names such as Sharp- sharp, paraga, ogogoro, among others. He said the state government needed to go beyond paying lip service to ejecting sellers of illicit drinks from motor parks.

“However, the law can be successfully enforced if the state government liaises with the executives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. They are the only ones who can stop the sale of alcohol in motor parks. After all, when this law was being formulated, the state government had several meetings with union executives. So, if they truly intend implementing the law, they should liaise with the union. Restricting the sale of alcohol in motor parks will go a long way in reducing incidents of drinking and driving.”

Meanwhile, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Lagos State Governor, is worried about increased cases of road accidents, most especially involving commercial bus drivers and has reiterated the need for commercial drivers to desist from taking alcohol, drugs or other related substances before getting behind the wheels. Accordingly, the governor has introduced in motor parks across the state an initiative tagged: ‘Motor Parks Health and Safety Initiative’ which involves creating awareness about the negative effects of alcohol and drugs on safe driving.

Fashola said: “Evidence abounds that road traffic accidents are influenced and precipitated by substance abuse, which impairs a driver’s ability to manage and manipulate a vehicle. The Motor Park Health and Safety Awareness Campaign is an initiative of this administration to raise awareness about responsible consumption of alcohol and initiate change in attitude amongst motor park drivers. The initiative seeks to reduce road crashes and ensure safety of passengers and other road users.”

A bowl of Paraga sold in a motor park
A bowl of Paraga sold in a motor park

Osita Chidoka, Corps Marshal and chief executive, Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, said the Commission had stepped up campaigns against drunk driving. He said that despite partnerships with multinational breweries in the country denouncing drunk driving, cases of road accidents have continued to thrive. “In the first half of 2013, about 1,397 persons were killed in road accidents in different parts of Nigeria. The frequency of these accidents were due to non-compliance with traffic laws, especially over-speeding by motorists, adding that the current situation calls for urgent steps to deal with the menace of road accidents.”

Ngozi Braide, Lagos State police public relations officer, said the traffic section of the police command works in conjunction with the FRSC and other relevant agencies to enforce the law on drunk-driving. “We don’t just stop drivers randomly. Any driver that is stopped by the police must have shown some signs of reckless driving. If the person is found to be under the influence of alcohol after a breathalyzer, has been used on him, then the person would face the consequences.”

Nevertheless, some motorists have queried the yardstick used by the state government to determine drunk-driving. They insist that it is  not just motorists who drink and drive in Lagos. Motorcyclists, especially those from Northern Nigeria, usually get high on benyline and codeine before they start work. Said a motorist: “I don’t even know how the state government intends to implement the law because I don’t see policemen moving around with breathalyzers. Apart from breathalyzers, there are other routine tests that motorists undergo in foreign countries in order to determine their sobriety, such as walking a few steps and so on.”

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