WUSE, a central district in Abuja that is home to various government offices and parastatals was quiet on a Tuesday morning. The commercial vehicle carrying The ICIR reporter sped past various landmarks in the city, and his pulse quickened immediately as the driver drove past a traffic red light.
Worried, the reporter looked inquiringly at the other passengers whom he thought would react to the driver’s disregard for the traffic rule, but they were silent. The only time of respite was when the car slowed down in traffic. But when the driver drove past a zebra crossing while pedestrians standing on the marked pavement were trying to cross the busy road, the reporter was again overtaken by worry.
Then he asked him, “Why don’t you obey the zebra crossing?” And the driver responded in pidgin, “If everybody dey obey zebra crossing, the kind holdup (traffic jam) for this Abuja go dey too much. No driver for this Abuja dey obey am, na waste of time.”
The driver’s response reflects the typical attitude of Abuja’s motorists, including pedestrians who have little regard for road traffic rule.
Francis Ikechukwu, a trader in Apo Fish market described a pedestrian walking slowly on the zebra crossing as someone with a death wish.
“If you want to be hit by an incoming car faster, then walk slowly on the Zebra crossing and say, you are covered by the traffic law. Nobody cares if you are standing there, you will be personally digging your grave,” he said.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Federal Road Safety Corps website shows that from 2010 to 2018 there were no records of violations of Zebra crossings in Abuja, despite the daily violation of the road rules. This means that for the past eight years the Federal Road Safety Corp had not penalized, apprehended or booked anyone for disregarding the markings on the Abuja highways, especially Zebra crossings.
Yet Abuja tops the list of states in Nigeria with the highest number of casualties in road accidents in the last ten years estimated at 7,773 according to the NBS. But the accidents are attributed to various traffic violations, except the zebra crossing violations. The ICIR reporter was at several locations within Abuja metropolis to observe whether motorists give right of way to pedestrians or not.
On a fact-finding mission
On a Friday, The ICIR’s reporter took a cab on a tour of Abuja city to observe how motorists and pedestrians behave on Zebra crossing. At the Zebra crossing around NNPC towers in Central Area district, pedestrians and motorists were observed passing the road markings with reckless abandon. One of the hired security guards told The ICIR that road users hardly obey the zebra crossing in the area. “No matter what you do they don’t care about it,” he said.
Though the traffic wardens are empowered to enforce traffic rule, they hardly exercise this power to enforce compliance on the road.
The situation is the same at zebra crossing in Bannex a popular connecting route in Wuse 2, along Ahmadu Bello Road. Pedestrians could be seen trying to negotiate their way in-between cars stuck in traffic on the Zebra crossing. This violation continued for about 30 minutes while the reporter was present.
At Julius Berger roundabout, a traffic warden was at the spot directing motorists but cared less that drivers did not give pedestrians the right of way.
What does the law say about traffic violation?
Sections 10(4), 28(2) of the FRSC Act 2007 stipulates a fine of N5, 000 for road markings violation by motorists and also a 5-point penalty for failure to yield right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing. A minimum of six meters is the recommended distance between a motorist and a pedestrian on the zebra crossing. This makes it inappropriate to park a vehicle on a zebra crossing, overtake a vehicle that stopped to allow pedestrians to cross or drive through a zebra crossing while pedestrians are on the marked pavement.
A driver’s license holder who flouts this rule may be issued a warning, his/her license could be suspended, or outrightly revoked upon conviction or by having cumulative penalty points allotted to traffic offences accumulated in his/her record.
Miss Okachi Ebute, a safety inspector with the United Kingdom Health, Safety and Environmental Management affiliate’s office in Abuja spoke to The ICIR in a telephone interview on the need to obey traffic rules.
“Violating a zebra crossing is dangerous to the lives of the road users, especially pedestrians because it is a basic highway code that is more helpful to children, disabled and the aged. Most Nigerians like to take shortcuts on our roads to get to their destinations even if it puts everyone at risk. But a simple refusal to obey a zebra crossing could lead to accidents,” she said.
She said Nigeria should have moved beyond the level of having to put markings on the road alone. “In developed countries, there are beacon traffic lights at Zebra crossings indicating when it is time for pedestrians to cross or motorists to move. At night there are amber coloured globes placed atop zebra striped poles to caution motorists and bikers,” she explained.
The FRSC speaks
The Sector Commander, Gobir Wobin who heads the Federal Road Safety Commission, Sector Command 7, Wuse Zone 7 Abuja in an interview with The ICIR stated that the FRSC is doing its best to ensure that roads are safe. “My officers are doing a lot to ensure that Nigerians obey traffic laws. Before you met me I’ve been to two motor parks today to sensitize drivers. As for the zebra crossing, it is not in all cases we make arrests or give tickets. I can tell you that about 90 per cent of offences committed we don’t give tickets, we caution the offenders by warning them unless otherwise,” he said.
“These are tickets I have to go through to see if any of these traffic offenders will be referred to a psychologist for psychological evaluation,” he said, brandishing a sheaf of papers. “To say we are not doing anything to ensure that zebra crossing is obeyed is not true,” he concluded.
However, statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Federal Road Safety Commission websites contradicts his assertion as there is no record that there have been arrests or tickets being issued for violations of traffic code on zebra crossings in Abuja from 2010 – 2018.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.