•Smugglers, narrow lane make life miserable for motorists, others on popular international highway
By Job Osazuwa
Owode-Idiroko road in Ogun State is a very busy road. Twenty-four hours everyday, the route is a beehive of vehicular and human activities.
It is an international road, linking Nigeria and Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, and other West African countries. But this evidently easy access to Nigeria’s neighbouring countries has since been overwhelmed by the inherent dangers posed by the narrow road and other risks associated with it.
One day, one accident
Investigation by Daily Sun reveals that there is hardly a day that passes without an accident occurring on the road. Many lives have been lost and varying degrees of injury inflicted on commuters. In fact, those who are familiar with the axis dread plying the road for many reasons.
On August 5, the people of Alagbon and its environs along Owode-Idiroko axis in Ipokia Local Government Area of the state were roused by cries of agony. It was from an auto accident that left three dead and many others injured.
On countless occasions, heavy-duty trucks, while descending the hills at Love or Iju-Atan spots, would lose control and tumble over, thereby obstructing free flow of traffic. The river at both sides of the road at Iju Bus Stop has become the final address for many vehicles whose careless drivers veered off the road.
In December 2016, a trailer loaded with animal feed allegedly plunged into a river shortly after the President Paint Company, leaving a part of its body on the expressway. The accident occurred about 5am and it inflicted unquantifiable trauma on all users of the road.
A resident of the area, Mr. Abayomi Victor, said the vehicle caused a gridlock from Chelsea Bus Stop, stretching to Atan town. There were accusations that the driver slept off behind the wheel, while others said the vehicle developed a fault and the steering wheel became stiff. Other eyewitnesses said it was a brake failure, which was quickly followed by a deliberate but frantic effort by the driver, who avoided ramming into an oncoming commercial bus and headed for the river.
About three weeks ago, many residents of the area disembarked from their stuck vehicles to take a long walk to their various destinations. The traffic congestion was caused by an accident that occurred at Love Bus Stop. Though no life was lost, vehicles going and coming from Sango remained in the traffic for several hours.
The gridlock that started in the afternoon lasted till 1am that night, many hours after the affected vehicles had been evacuated from the road. Hungry motorists abandoned their vehicles on the road to eat at nearby restaurants.
Chukwudi Ofor, who works at Ojuore but lives in Atan said he trekked for more than two hours before he got home that night.
His words: “I couldn’t afford to pay the extra money the commercial drivers charged on that day. Usually, we pay N100 from Ojuore to Atan, but on that day, they charged N400 for the same journey. Initially, l wanted to wait till the gridlock was cleared but it appeared I would be waiting forever after watching the vehicles remain in the same position for more than two hours. I saw a multitude of people trekking several kilometres, then I had to join the walk. It was one bad experience that I cannot forget quickly.”
Smugglers on the loose
Day and night, reckless driving is a common sight. Vehicles used in smuggling goods are the common features on the route. In an attempt to beat roadblocks mounted by Customs and police officers, the drivers put the lives of other road users in danger.
The drivers maintain no particular lane. They throw caution to the winds and overtake one another at any slight opportunity. Despite the narrow road, speed seems to give some unfathomable pleasure to most of the drivers. Even though they are going to different destinations with different missions, the smugglers and commercial bus drivers engage in an unhealthy competition. But the former always display their mastery in the hazardous rivalry. They are carefree and are usually referred to as kings of the road.
Immediately after the Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel), the median from Sango ends, leaving further stretch of the winding international road to looming dangers.
It becomes more dangerous plying the road, as heavy-duty trucks, commercial buses/cars and motorcycles, at the same time, compete for the right of way. On the road, it is survival of the bravest between the drivers and the riders.
On the August 5 accident, it was gathered that the victims were travelling on motorcycles when the truck coming from the opposite direction rammed into them, killing the three of them instantly and injuring others. It was a black Saturday. It took the community several days to absorb the shock. The bodies of the victims were reportedly dismembered. The bike rider was said to have lost control, causing him to crash into the oncoming truck. Those who died were two males and one female.
Iyana-Iyesi, Winners, Love, Obere, AP, Oja Atan, Iju, Onibukun, Ajibawo and, Atan are all popular bus stops on the route. Residents in the areas have different unpleasant tales to tell, regarding the hardship the road daily unleashes on them.
A cry for road expansion
Meanwhile, following the frequent accidents on the road, resulting in loss of lives and property, the people of Atan and those in other communities living along the road, have appealed to both the Ogun State and the federal governments to expedite action on expanding the road.
The Baale of Araromi, Alhaji Gbenga Mustapha, called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to expand and make the busy road a dual carriageway. He said the economic importance of the road was one that shouldn’t be treated with levity.
Said he: “When you visit this route anytime of the day, even as late as 12 midnight, the road is still busy. It is sad that successive governments have left us here to be crying over the same issue on regular basis. Sango to Owode is about 40 kilometres. I can’t understand why government has neglected us even when it would not cost it much to do the needful.
“Accidents are happening here all the time and this might continue forever if nothing is done about the road. The road is so narrow that it is difficult for one truck to overtake another. I understand the government is constructing ten lanes on the Lagos Badagry Expressway, which is also an international road. What we are simply asking for in our own axis is a dual, four-lane road that will be better than this pitiable two-lane.”
A driver plying the Sango-Atan road, Bayo Adepoju, said he had on many occasions narrowly escaped head-on collisions with other drivers who lost control while recklessly overtaking other vehicles. He agreed with others that the call for the expansion of the road was long overdue.
A word of caution
Commenting on the accidents, one of the coordinators of Red Cross Society of Nigeria, Mr. Michael Oguntolu, decried the frequency of accidents on the Sango-Idiroko-Owode Road. He urged drivers plying the road to always exercise caution, reminding them that the roads were busier during the ember months.
Also, a member of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Ota informed the correspondent that most of the commercial drivers were responsible for the avoidable deaths on the road. He blamed the drivers for their impatience, urging them to apply caution whenever there were obstructions on the road.