ON the morning of June 5, when 27-year-old Abba Ahmad Dahiru was keeping up with logistics of mutual acquaintances bound for the wedding ceremony of a childhood friend in Zaria, little did he know that the cold hands of death would come calling. Dahiru was a Computer Biology student of Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education, Kaduna State.
“When I got the news, I was devastated beyond measure, confused even, because I didn’t know if my son was among those who survived until the hospital in Zaria released the corpses and all of us whose wards were on that trip started sorting out the dead bodies and identifying our own,” said Ahmad Bele, an ex-employee of Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education and father of one of the deceased victims of a fatal motor accident along Zaria-Kano Highway.
The victims’ 18-seater Kano Line Bus collided with a Toyota RAV 4 at one of the numerous diversions on the road owing to the ongoing construction of the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano highway by Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd. An investigation published last December by The ICIR showed that the slow pace of work on the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway had contributed to the high rates of accidents along the corridor.
Nearly 5,000 road traffic accidents were recorded in the Kano-Kaduna zone of the road between 2017 and 2019, when the contract for the reconstruction of the road was approved, and 2020, months to its initial delivery date before it was again extended to 2023.
In 2017, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the award of N155.48 billion to Julius Berger Plc, for the construction of a hybrid two-lane-six-lane road network that starts from Abuja through Kaduna-Zaria to Kano.
The FEC, on February 12, 2020, again approved another N867 million for the engineering design to add an extra lane on both sides of the 375-kilometer road. With barely 30 per cent of the road project completed during the period of investigation under review, several attempts to get an official explanation were unsuccessful. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to the Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning for details of budgetary allocations and releases on the road project were not responded to.
A similar request sent to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) for details of the project completion and projected time of completion also got no response. Julius Berger, the contractor handling the project, has not been forthcoming on the status of the project. Despite several FOI requests, the company refused to give information on the road, particularly specifications, costing and reasons for the delay. Beset with no fewer than eight major diversions, dangerous potholes, loss of lives and disruption of economic activities, the road has aggravated the sufferings of commuters and residents along the Abuja-Kano corridor.
Exclusive medical records of road traffic accident victims along the route obtained during the investigation, which was done with support from MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), revealed that men between the ages of 21 and 62 years accounted for about 81 per cent of accident victims on the road during the period. Except for 2020, analysis showed that there had been a steady rise in the rate of road accidents since 2017 when the contractor for the road moved to site. The Kaduna zone recorded the highest number of accidents in 2018 and 2019, according to the annual report by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). The FRSC officials confirmed that the state of the road was largely responsible for the record of high casualties along the Kaduna zone.
Bandits have also taken advantage of the poor condition of the road to carry out their criminal and nefarious activities, including kidnapping people for ransom. But for most families and communities along the highway, the road has become a memorial of near misses, injuries and untimely deaths.
“When I informed my wife of the tragedy, she took it as a silent shock but when relatives and other family members started trooping in, the reality dawned on her, and they all began to scream. It took some level of comforting before I was able to calm her and the other family members down,” Bele said. He narrated how he watched his son preparing for the entire trip that morning before he left for Zaria.
“I watched him prepare for the trip. He even uploaded it on his Whatsapp status praying for journey mercies. They got to Zaria safely, conducted their business and while on their way back, some few kilometers away from Tashar Yari, they took one of those numerous diversions on the highway. Unfortunately, the Toyata RAV4, whose occupants were also traveling back from another wedding in Kano, was coming from the same lane so there was nowhere to swerve or divert and they collided head on into each other.”
Disputed number of Deaths
It was further gathered that of the 15, there were six survivors in critical condition with various degrees of fractures. Only two of the victims, who have since been discharged, had one fracture each.
Initial media reports (not The ICIR) claimed that 17 people involved in the auto crash died, but findings revealed that six persons out of that number had so far survived the accident, putting the total death toll 13.
“The Kano Line bus was an 18-seater, but they sat three in a row instead of four. In all, they were 15, including the driver. Seven of them died on the spot, one died the following day after we buried the initial seven, making it eight. If the driver from Tofa is added and has since been buried there, the number of deaths in the Kano Line bus equals nine and that of the other vehicle is four,” Mallam Ahmad, an eye witnessed disclosed.
It was further gathered that of the 15, six survivors were in critical condition with various degrees of fractures. Only two of the victims, who have since been discharged, had one fracture each.
One of the survivors Ibrahim Bashir Ibrahim, who spoke on the incident, said he could not recall what transpired as he had plugged in his earpiece and dozed off immediately after they had taken off from Zaria. “I just woke up and found myself surrounded by dead bodies and overhearing onlookers saying this one is not dead,” Ibrahim recounted.
Musa Abdullahi, one of the passengers who was part of the ill-fated trip and also boarded the bus from Zaria, said he disembarked minutes into the journey and returned to Zaria after he felt a strong urge to discontinue the trip. Ten minutes after disembarking, Abdullahi got the call that shook his life – his friends were involved in a ghastly motor accident, and some were dead.
“That prompting to disembark came from the fact that I had promised some family members in Zaria that I will visit them after the wedding. Somehow, I lost my SIM card as we were about leaving Kano, and I couldn’t reach them to tell them I was no longer coming. I just had to make it up,” Abdullahi explained. It was not the same fate for another victim identified as Abba.
Narrating how Abba made the trip, Musa said he had to join the bus because his transport fare was not sufficient. “He had only N1,000 with him, but I pleaded with our friends to support him to make the trip. When he came to board the bus, there was even no space, so one of us – also a deceased victim – offered to lap him. That was how he made the journey.”
A cry for help
Parents of thevictims have called on the Federal Government to concentrate on the speedy completion of the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway as it has taken too long and causing so much loss of lives. They called on concerned parties, including state governors and federal legislators, to play their part in ensuring that the Federal Government expedite action on the road. “Our sons are gone already, but with the speedy completion of the road, others don’t have to feel the pains we are now forced to go through,” Ahmad Bele, who spoke on behalf of the concerned parents, said.