29 February 2008

The Accident Incident

Thursday 7th February, on our way back to Lagos from a meeting with the rather impressive Titi Oseni, Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly, we happened on an accident on the Ibadan-Lagos motorway. Traffic had built up on that side of the road, about 15 vehicles had stopped by the site of the accident, and about 50 people were also in attendance, so we drove past. After another 150 metres, I decided we stopped to assist with the rescue work. So we walked back the 150 metres to what can only be expressed as carnage.

A light passenger bus carrying 18 people had collided with a Peugeot 504 Estate, it appeared that some were dead and others had varying degree of injuries - from those in shock to those who were seriously wounded and unconscious including two babies; a four-month and a 10-month old respectively.

In fairness to the people already at the scene, some of them had pulled the accident victims from the wreckage; however, the vast majority were spectating, genuinely sorry for the victim, genuinely helpless but hampering rescue work by their shouting and general rowdiness. I knew time was of the essence if more people were to be saved so with a few other people and Road Safety Officers who had now come to the scene, we started appealing to passing motorists (large trucks really) to stop and get the victims to hospital quickly. Eventually the driver of a gari-carrying truck stopped. About seven victims were quickly loaded to the back of the open truck on top of gari bags. The rest went on the back of the Road Safety pick-up van.

I asked the lead Road Safety Officer which hospital they were being taken, he replied Sagamu. Then he did a double take and said the doctors at the Sagamu hospital were on strike. I suggested we go to Lagos, he replied he didn't know any hospital in Lagos except I lead them. I agreed, though I didn’t know how to get to any hospital in Lagos too. So we ran to our car 150 metres ahead to form a convoy of three vehicles. In the car, my wife and I started to phone our friends to ask for directions to the nearest hospital in Lagos.

Driving at a fairly high speed, we were in Lagos within 20 minutes. We now had to confront the ‘small’ issue of Lagos traffic. We devised a means around this; at traffic lights or any hold-up, the Road Safety vehicle with siren blaring will come to the front and lead us out after which we take the lead again.

We eventually arrived at the Ikeja General Hospital at about 5pm. There was only one doctor on duty at the emergency ward. He was visibly tired too. By this time, we had lost one of the women in the back of the Road Safety vehicle. She was the mother of one of the babies and her husband who was also brought to hospital was slipping in and out of consciousness.

One of the babies was given an oxygen mask because he was not breathing on arrival. By the time we left, we were told he had yanked it off. So he's good. The Doctor suggested we take one lady who was really bad and foaming from her mouth to LUTH, a teaching hospital, I asked for an ambulance and was told to go the next building. There I learnt the lady in charge - a doctor had gone to the ground floor, when I saw her, she said their drivers were on training and that they close at 6pm. When my wife asked her why they close at 6pm, she replied "do you want to kill them". My wife asked her if she had ever heard of a rota system.

She pointed at five or so swanky new ambulances parked in front of the block explaining the great strides they had made, I pointed at the dead woman at the back of the truck saying she should tell her how good her department and the government were. It was getting heated, we made up and I suggested to her that as head of that unit, she has a God-given responsibility to devise a way of making it work.

At the scene, was a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly who must have come to see a patient. We spoke about having more ambulances on the roads particularly the Lagos-Ibadan motorway which is notorious for accidents.

Back to the doctor, he was busy treating those with minor injuries at the back of the truck and insisted we take the unconscious lady to LUTH. A nurse that was passing by said to him as a matter of fact, "why don't you stabilise her first, if not, she will die on the way". He responded angrily "don't teach me my job". I begged him, he relented, we were later told that the lady was stable, and we never had to go to LUTH. There was no way we could have gone anyhow.

The Road Safety Officers were becoming restless, they wanted to deposit the dead woman's body in the mortuary and go back to Abeokuta as it was getting dark. They needed the doctor's certification before they could do so. He was busy, they were restless; another drama ensued, and the doctor walked one of the Road Safety Officers out of the ward.

The Road Safety Officers asked me for money for fuel as they were low and had ventured out of their usual area of operation. I offered to give them 2000 Naira or more for fuel, they replied they only needed 500 Naira. I offered to buy water for them, they politely declined. Off they went on their way, two men and a woman into the night, back to Abeokuta. They were genuine men and woman, I truly respect their gallantry. They are the heroes of Nigeria. I am really proud to know and to work alongside them.

On Monday 18th February 2008 the news filtered in that the Director of Public Relations for the Nigerian Army, Brig. General Solomon Giwa-Amu had died in (you know what) a motor accident along the Abuja-Kaduna motorway. Yet another loss. He was a very fine Officer.

A few lessons
1. In Nigeria, never assume that people at a scene are actually doing anything. Many people are helpless and neither have the means or knowhow for things like this. Majority have simply given up hope.

2. We need people who have had some exposure in the outside world to come back home and help develop the country particularly those with organisational skills.

3. I was assured by the Road Safety Officers and a Police Officer present at the scene, that the widespread belief that you could be in trouble of the police if you stop to help accident victims is not entirely true. I can’t guarantee this assertion, but at the point at which we got involved with the accident victims, our thoughts were focused on helping the victims and not on whether the police will harass us. In the event, we did not have to complete a form or anything.

4. In the event of an accident on the Lagos-Ibadan motorway, the number for the Sagamu Road Safety Corps office as passed to us by one of their officers is 0803 438 8583.

5. There are many heroes in Nigeria - the Road Safety Officers led by Hakeem, the people who got the victims from the wreckage, the doctor who had to cope with 14 wounded victims, the nurses supporting him, the member of the Lagos State House of Assembly (Adekunle Ademoye) who bought diapers with his money for one of the babies. Not to forget the driver of the gari truck who showed a great act of kindness and saved lives.PostCardfromLagos