Written by Ere-ebi AGEDAH

Abuja’s unending nightmare of overloaded vehicles

Upon my first trip to Abuja to pay my elder sister a visit who was at the time residing in Kubwa, she directed me to alight at the popular Berger bus stop. She emphatically instructed me to take a taxi to Kubwa, and not a bus, owing to my Lagos upbringing.

Getting to Berger under bridge, I was so excited when I heard one of the touts scream Kubwa! Kubwa!!! seeing two passengers already seated at the back seat, I hurriedly took the third seat and closed the door. The tout and driver will have none of that as they gave me the look that told me how ‘wrong’ I was.

Before I could react to their condemning gaze, a middle age plump woman and her son approached the taxi and the driver said,“Aunty abeg adjust.  Na four we dey carry for back and two for front.”  It was either I adjusted or got down from the taxi, I was tired after a long 10 hours’ drive from Lagos also anxious to get home. So I took my chances, adjusted for the woman while her son joined the passenger in front.

After the several adjustments and complains I finally got to my bus stop with cramps and back pain into the waiting arms of my sister, who confirmed that this was how public taxis squeeze passengers in Abuja.

Most commuters in the FCT have come to accept overloading as a norm so that when you complain of squeezing or overloading, you are easily identified as a new comer to the FCT and told to go charter a private taxi if you want to be comfortable.

The Berger-Zuba axis and AYA- Nyanya axis are two major routes where passengers are forcefully cramped in commercial vehicles. Unfortunately, it appears like the road safety officials turn a blind eye to this happening either out of compliancy or exhaustion.

In 2017, the Federal Road Safety Corps, made moves to check this trend. The FRSC Boss Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi, had at the time issued new guidelines for motorist directing them to stick to the carrying capacity of their vehicles as recommended by their manufacturers.

Oyeyemi had at the time threatened to subject commercial drivers found culpable to psychiatric evaluations. “Now if you overload… you go for psychiatric tests.”

The Federal Road Safety Corps in July 2017, released guidelines for the proposed psychiatric examination of motorists who break traffic laws in the country.

According to the guidelines issued by the Corps’ Public Education Officer, Mr. Bizi Kazeem, the exercise will cover life threatening traffic offences which are rampant in the country.

The identified offences are use of phone while driving, route violation, traffic light violation, dangerous driving and particularly overloading.

Kazeem said that offenders would have their driver’s licenses withdrawn pending confirmation of their sanity or otherwise.

He explained that the violators would bear the full cost of the examination, which would be conducted at recognised public medical facilities.

“The move arose from observed aggravating crashes and disobedience to road traffic laws and regulation.

“This nation can no longer watch the lives and property of its citizens wasted by a few non-conformists on the highways,” he explained.

Back to 2019, the story has changed as the sight of overloading of vehicle is now the usual sight on Abuja roads.

From Berger- AYA route commercial vehicles are regularly seen overloaded with passengers and goods. The regular gulf taxis now compete with cargo trucks in moving plantain, water melon and other farm produce to and from Zuba and Maraba fruit markets. The barefaced drivers not only dare to drive through the city centre with their goods, but also drive through public offices with more than the permissible number of passengers.

One then wonders where the FRSC officers are when such brazen acts are being carried out. Are the officers still enforcing the law, or has the law gone obsolete? Can it be due to fatigue on the job or low remuneration?

Also we are aware that in 2019, The Corps Marshal, FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, again stated that the commission will not rest on its oars until the campaign against vehicle overloading is achieved.

The corps marshal said this at a strategy session with commanding officers in Abuja sometime in March this year.

Oyeyemi described overloading of vehicles as a monster, adding that it was his greatest headache. He explained that such goods were usually transported with buses whereas they were to be taken by trucks.

He said: “I don’t know why buses are being excessively loaded like that.”

He said that the trend must be tamed to ensure safety of lives and property.

Some Abuja residents want the FRSC to revisit the law, as it seems motorist have return to the days of reckless overloading of passengers and goods without bothering of the effect on passengers or other road users.

Miss Ngozi Okafor, a civil servant, said the behaviour of motorists on the road especially in Abuja called for a check on their mental state.

“Despite being the capital of the country, government agencies still allow all sorts of unacceptable practices on Abuja roads. If not why would a vehicle meant for five persons now take seven or even more? Its madness and I hope the road safety will have the courage to subject them to psychiatric test,” she said.

Giving reasons for the practise, a taxi driver who runs the Zuba-AYA route said that is the only way they can make decent money off the business. The driver who gave his name as Samaila Haruna, said the increase in fuel price in 2016 made most commercial drivers resort to overloading.

“That is the only way we can make money without putting much burden on passengers. Before the fuel increase, we used to charge N200 from Zuba to AYA when we were buying fuel at N85 per liter. Now that the price has almost doubled, it will be expected that we charge double on that route, but we only charge N300. It is with over loading that we are able to recoup the money we spend in fuelling our cars and make small something to maintain the car and stay in the business.”

While all the commercial drivers may want to justify their reasons for over loading, they must be made to see the dangers involved in such act. It is time the FRSC enforces its laws against overloading and safe passengers of the imminent dangers associated with such acts and also restore sanity on Nigerian roads.

 

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