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INVESTIGATION: Abuja residents are dying in their hundreds — and faulty traffic lights are responsible

In the 18 months between January 2016 and June 2017, 430 persons have been killed in road accidents in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Investigations by the ICIR, however, reveal that at least 50 percent of the accidents were caused by non-functional traffic signals.

Abuja has 171 signalised intersections but only 67 were functioning after checks by the ICIR. Although 50 traffic signals in the city centre, nine in Kubwa and eight in Gwarimpa were working as of the last week of August, official records obtained by the ICIR indicate that 74 were still in service.

An official document obtained by ICIR shows that 98 strategic intersections are yet to be signalised, while those that have been signalised are not functioning.

For the first time since accident records started to be kept, Abuja had the highest rate of accidents in 2016, beating Lagos, Kano and other states with higher populations.

This year, Abuja has maintained this lead as the accident-prone city.  In the first three months of 2017, Abuja recorded 307 cases of road accident, representing 12 percent of the total accidents that occurred across the country within this period. From April to June this year, Abuja also had 346 cases of accident, representing 14 percent of the total accidents in the country during the period.

This rate of accidents is odd in an administrative city like Abuja, where the President, members of the National Assembly, top civil servants and diplomats live.

While examining the road accident data published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the ICIR discovered further oddity in the rate of accidents in the city.

In 2013, Abuja recorded 2,695 cases of road accident, the second highest in the country, representing 9 percent of the total accidents in the country that year. By 2014, Abuja had an improvement on the previous year, registering 1,478 accidents, representing 6 percent of the total road crashes. The city also gained positively, placing third in number of accidents after Lagos and Ogun states.

But something unusual happened in 2015: road accidents reduced drastically to 527 cases. Abuja accounted for only 2 percent of total accident cases in the country in 2015, and rose from the usual first three to 26th position among the 36 states of the federation.

However, in 2016, Abuja recorded very unusual figures. From 26th position in the country in 2015, it rose astronomically to the first position. There were 1,724 cases of accident in 2016, representing 15 percent of the total accidents in the country that year.

The city has since maintained this lead in the cases of accident till date.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2015?

The only plausible factor that led to the magical improvement in the rate of accidents in Abuja in 2015 was that traffic signals were effective.

A bilateral assistance from the Chinese government facilitated the installation of 76 new solar-powered traffic signals in 2015 at the cost of about N830 million.

In March 2015, Poly Solar Technologies Beijing Limited began to install the new traffic lights in parts of the city. The other moribund traffic lights were also revived.

By the end of May 2015 when there was a change of government, about 168 signalised intersections in Abuja were functioning.

The rate of accidents nosedived as all the signalised intersections were working.

About 10 months later when most of the traffic signals stopped indicating any light, accidents returned at the extremely high rate.

DEADLY INTERSECTIONS

Junction by the Church Gate, along Olusegun Obasanjo Way

The Herbert Macaulay Way has 14 signalised intersections but none of them is working. The road runs from the Julius Berger Roundabout through Wuse Market, NNPC Towers to end at the International Conference Centre and Radio House where it intercepts with Tafawa Balewa Way.

Similarly, only two out of nine traffic signals along the Tafawa Balewa Way are working. The two signals are situated by the Nicon Luxury Hotel. The road begins from Area 3 junction through the Defence Headquarters, Central Bank of Nigeria, and Ceddi Plaza to the Central Mosque area.

The Ahmadu Bello Way has the most signalised intersections in the city, with 22 traffic signals, but only three are working. Starting from the Bannex Junction in Wuse 2 through the Federal Secretariat, Area 11 to Apo, the only functional traffic signals are the interception with Capital Street by the Federal Capital Territory Administration headquarters and the two at Apo by the Legislative Quarters.

All around the city, traffic signals in the busiest crossroads in Abuja do not function. Coming to the Central Business District from the airport, the first signalised interception is the junction at Olusegun Obasanjo Way by the Church Gate and the World Trade Centre that is still under construction. The traffic signal is not working.

Only one signalised intersection out of the seven in Olusegun Obasanjo Way is working. The functional one is situated at the Bolingo Hotel Junction close to the Ministry of Defence.

Also coming from Keffi-Nyanya axis towards the central area after the AYA junction, the first signalised intersection is moribund at the very busy junction between Nnamdi Azikiwe Way and Yakubu Gowon Crescent. Moreover, coming from this axis into the central area, the first functional traffic signal is situated after the police headquarters, towards the Federal Secretariat.

Driving through other busy roads, such as Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Ribadu and Obafemi Awolowo, show moribund traffic signals that contribute to the high level of accidents in the capital city.

WHEN HUMANS BECOME TRAFFIC SIGNALS

Junction by the Central Bank of Nigeria

A man in a yellow shirt and black trousers stands in the middle of the junction by the CBN edifice. He puts up a high five with his left hand to cars coming from the Defence College, while waving on a stream of heavy traffic from the Nicon Luxury Hotel axis. When the traffic from this axis empties, he waves to the traffic coming from the Ceddi Plaza to pass.

This man, who is directing traffic in the middle of this strategic junction, is one of the traffic wardens to have replaced the dead traffic signals.

A police post is erected in the middle of the junction to provide him with a little shade from sun and rain but he is standing outside the shade, under the blazing sun. While the electronic signals indicate red, yellow and green light to control traffic, the warden uses his two bare hands to wave at traffic for stop and pass.

As most of the traffic signals are not working, traffic wardens are posted to the busiest junctions to control traffic. But unlike the traffic signals, the wardens do not work for 24 hours a day or seven days a week. They resume in the morning and close in the evening. And on weekends, a very few of them are at their duty post.

The ICIR observed that when the wardens desert their posts at the junctions, accident picks up in the evening and on weekends.

YOUR ASSUMPTIONS MAY NOT BE AUTHENTIC– FRSC

In a chat with the ICIR, Gora Wobin, FCT Sector Commander of Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), admits that accidents in Abuja happen more on weekends and evenings, but says it may not be authentic to conclude that most of the accidents are caused by non-functional traffic signals.

“The main causes of the accident in Abuja are impatience and lack of concentration,” Wobin says. “Even where the traffic lights are working, you see drivers beating traffic lights.”

He adds that over-speeding because of the good network of roads in the city is also a major factor why Abuja has a high level of road accidents.

Wobin points out that the location of Abuja also makes it prone to accident.

“Abuja is a thoroughfare between the north and south. By the time they get to Abuja, they are tired.  Fatigue is one of the major causes of the accidents in Abuja.”

He also suggests that using the rate of the accidents to compare Abuja with other states may not be a good measure, adding that the comparison should rather look at the fatality figures.

He says FRSC has put in place adequate measures to collect accident data, including minor contacts that contribute to making Abuja’s accident rate appear so high above that of other states.

But contrary to Wobin’s claim that the fatality figure of road accidents in Abuja may not be as high as other states, examination of the data shows that Abuja is second to Kaduna State in the number of people that have been killed in road accidents since last year.

WHERE DO ACCIDENTS OCCUR MOSTLY?

In a Twitter poll conducted by the ICIR, 64 percent of the respondents said accidents occur mostly at the junctions in Abuja while 36 percent said accidents happen more on the straight roads.

When motorists were asked where they had witnessed accident mostly in Abuja – junctions or straight roads – most of them agreed that most accidents in the city occur at the intersections. Some drivers, however, said that accidents also occur frequently at the U-turns along the expressways, especially the Murtala Mohammed Way.

Ibrahim Mohammed, a taxi driver, told the ICIR that accidents usually happen at the intersections where the traffic signals are not functioning or do not exist.

“You see, when you get to junctions, some drivers don’t look. They are kings of the road. They don’t stop. They will just hit you when you put head,” Mohammed says.

“If the traffic light is working, the kings of the road will be forced to stop.  The lights are not working. They keep hitting at the junctions. People wound themselves and die like that”.

Simon Odey (popularly known as ‘Ogoja Pikin’), presenter of a 30-minute daily programme, ‘Oga Driver’, on Aso Radio, says accidents happen mostly at the junctions.

“Some motorists forget that there is a junction, especially where the traffic light is not working or there is no traffic light,” Odey says.

“The problem is that a driver will be thinking another driver will give way but the other is also thinking the other will give way and this often results in collision that is very fatal”

Odey recalls that back in 2007, there used to be speed bumps at the junctions to make motorists slow down but these bumps were eventually removed.

He suggests that if the traffic light cannot work, the speed bumps should be reconstructed to reduce the level of accidents in the city.

IT IS VANDALISM – FCDA

Vandalised traffic light by Church Gate, along Olusegun Obasanjo Way

Vincent Igberase, Director, Department of Traffic Management in the Transportation Secretariat of Federal Capital Territory Administration, told the ICIR that all the non-functional traffic signals were vandalised by hoodlums.

He said the vandals removed the vital components of the traffic signals, leaving only the carcass.

He listed the removed parts to include the batteries, slim controllers and the solar panels.

“We have done all that is humanly possible,” Igberase said, referring to the effort to stop the vandalism. “We have written to the Police. We have contacted the Civil Defence, even to the SSS. They have been on it, trying to apprehend those behind it. But no serious arrest has been made.”

He said the traffic signals that are still functioning were part of the 76 installed by the Chinese firm in 2015, adding that the older ones have all been vandalised.

The older traffic signals have the lock and the batteries close to the ground but the new ones donated by the Chinese government have the vital components fixed above on the poles, beyond the reach of anyone without a lift.

Despite this improvement to prevent vandalism, Igberase said the new ones are now being vandalised by still-unidentified hoodlums.

“We are surprised that recently after they have vandalised all the old ones, they are attacking the new ones. We don’t know how they do it,” he laments.

The ICIR observed that the signalised intersection at Olusegun Obasanjo Way by the Church Gate is actually vandalised. The traffic light is among the ones brought by the Chinese but the lock, which is suspended above, is open with nothing inside. The battery and the controller device have been removed.

Despite the moribund traffic signals, Igberase believes that the accidents in Abuja are caused by impatience of the motorists.

“We are not patient,” Igberase says. “Even when the traffic light is working, people still beat the traffic light.

“I have gone to places even where there are no traffic lights in the four-way junction. You know what they do. First come first serve. You must give way to the person that comes first. If we follow this, where will the accident occur? The problem is impatience.”

IMPATIENCE OR NON-FUNCTIONAL TRAFFIC SIGNALS

One of the junctions along Tafawa Balewa Way without a warden to control traffic

The dominant narrative is that the high rate of accidents in Abuja is caused by impatience. FRSC officials, traffic light managers and most of the motorists interviewed say the accidents occur because the drivers are impatient when they get to junctions.

However, findings by the ICIR show that the accidents are caused mainly by non-functional traffic signals. In 2015 when the traffic lights were all working, the rate of accident reduced drastically by 64 percent. But in 2016 when most of the traffic signals stopped working, the rate rose by 69 percent.

Again in the evening when the traffic wardens are no longer at the junctions to control traffic, accident increases. Likewise on weekends when most of the traffic wardens do not work at the junctions, accident rate rises.

Contrary to the belief that accidents occur mostly in the evenings and weekends, because that is when the drivers get drunk, the reason major is that the traffic wardens do not work at night and most of them do not work on weekends.

By the ICIR’s checks, only two out of the 76 fixed by the Chinese in 2015 have been vandalised. This means that the new technology can withstand vandalism.

Therefore, if the old technology of the traffic signals is replaced by the new technology where the vital components are suspended at the uppermost part of the poles, beyond the reach of the vandals, the problem of vandalism will be solved to a reasonable extent.

When the signalised intersections start blinking green, yellow, and red again, the rate of accidents will be reduced drastically just as it happened in 2015.  The people will no longer be killed just because the government is unable to maintain traffic signals.

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