The major purpose of a road is to act as a line of connection which fosters trade, communication, and development between people from different places. Roads are the first and most utilised type of transportation in the world.
Nigerian roads arc mostly utilised by three major groups of people – the drivers, the riders (who are commercial and private), and the pedestrians. The pedestrians are those who walk on the roads to and from their various destinations. In the social pyramid of road users, the drivers constitute the upper class. The riders make up the middle class, while the pedestrians fall into the lower or ‘walking’ class. The high level poverty, unemployment, and fuel scarcity in the country, increase the population of pedestrians such that they outnumber other road users.
A well designed and constructed road should comprise certain features that can ensure the safety of pedestrians while on the move. These features include footbridges, zebra/ pedestrian crossings, raised sidewalks, dual carriageways, bus stops and so on.
The Rivers State Government is already making major and commendable efforts towards the reconstruction and expansion of roads, especially in Port Harcourt – The Garden City. These efforts are geared towards improving the flow of transportation, as well as ensuring sustainable development in the state.
Pedestrians are at the lowest rung of the social ladder of road users and this puts them at a major disadvantage on Nigerian roads. Being among the less privileged members of the society, the pedestrians represent the masses. Every pedestrian or vehicle owner leaves his home with a purpose, and a prayer. That prayer is to arrive at their various destinations safely and in time. However, the average pedestrian has more prayers on his lips than any other road user. This is due to the recklessness of drivers and the deplorable condition of the roads. Granted, some pedestrians can be very careless. They ignore the traffic laws, and this carelessness endangers their lives. A driver’s recklessness puts more lives at risk, including his own. According to The Guardian January 5, 2008, statistics have shown that in the last decade, more people have died in road accidents in Nigeria than in any other form of transportation. While air transportation has taken about 1,600 lives in the last decade, road accidents have taken over100,000 lives.
The deplorable condition of Nigerian roads is one major reason for this carnage. We find major potholes that were formed over time by traffic and bad weather. They also form easily when sub-standard raw materials are used to construct the roads. Potholes, especially the deep ones are like death traps and have been known to cause accidents. Examples of roads with potholes here in Port Harcourt are Ada-George Junction by Ikwerre Road, East -West Road, Wimpey Junction to Elioparanwo Junction, Agudama Avenue in D-Line, and Ozuoba Road to mention a few. When it rains, these potholes are filled up with muddy water that sometimes trap vehicles.
Poor drainage is also a problem because it encourages flooding on the roads. Obi Wali Road, Ada-George Junction by Ikwerre Road, Ozuoba Road, and Ada-George Junction by Agip Road are a few of such roads affected by poor drainage systems. A lot of pedestrians are unfortunate to live on such roads.
Another problem is that most roads are cracked and broken at the edges. In the absence of sidewalks, some of these cracks eat into the roads, forcing pedestrians and vehicle owners to shift even deeper into the roads in an effort to avoid them. For instance, we have Mgbuoshimini Junction, Federal Junction, and Ada-George Junction by Ikwerre Road to mention a few. In addition, some roads are too narrow on either side for two vehicles to pass. In some cases, impatient truck drivers struggle to move simultaneously, causing a serious traffic jam. This leaves little or no space for pedestrians to pass and at the same time, endangers their lives.
As mentioned before, more roads are presently being expanded to ease the flow or transportation. As part of the construction process, laterite is usually poured on the surface of the road as a base. It is a well known fact that roads are best utilised during the dry season. The wet season causes the laterite to be muddy and slippery, rendering the road unusable. An example of this is Ozuoba Road. Moreover, as each passing vehicle gets stained by the wet laterite, so do the pedestrians.
In the case of reckless driving by vehicle owners, the worst fear of every pedestrian is apparent. The average pedestrian is afraid of being boxed into tight corner by motorists all in the name or parking or reversing. Crossing the road is also a major challenge because the impatient vehicle owners are not helping matters.
Many of the drivers also enjoy breaking the traffic laws by driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
It must be said however, that pedestrians have as much right to the road as the vehicle owners. In fact, they deserve more compassion. Each party should respect the laws of traffic in order to save their lives as well as those of others.
Umofia resides in Port Harcourt.