On the first Friday of August 2013, three officials of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) went the way of all flesh from a fatal auto crash.
The road mishap that claimed the lives of the three journalists and left ten others injured, occurred along Ilesha-Ibadan expressway, where one of the rear tyres of the bus conveying them to Ibadan and Lagos burst, causing it to veer off the road and somersaulted several times before crashing into the bush.
The sad incident came as a great shock to Nigerians, as the media practitioners were returning home from Abuja to reunite with their different families, after attending a meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NUJ, where issues bordering on the welfare of journalists formed the main fulcrum of their discussions.
For the three newsmen that unfortunately met their untimely death from the crash, it was clearly a case of dying in active service to humanity. They died while fighting the cause of their colleagues in the pen profession. As a matter of fact, they wanted an improved working condition for Nigerian journalists. But alas! In the process of the struggle, they died! This is why the three of them (Adolphus Okonkwo, Olatunde Oluwanike and Kafayat Odunsi) must never be forgotten and the cause for which they died must continually be pursued with every vigour and vehemence.
The torrents of reactions and condolence messages from prominent Nigerians and various groups in the country evidently showed how painful the incident was to all and sundry.
Senate President, Senator David Mark, for instance, in a condolence message to the President of NUJ, Mallam Mohammed Garba, signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Paul Mumeh, lamented that the affected journalists were cut down in their prime.
Noting that the deceased journalists departed in a very painful way when their services were most needed to help propagate and strengthen the country’s democracy, the number-one lawmaker in the country said:
“I received with shock and sadness the death of your colleagues through a ghastly motor accident in Ilesa, Osun State. This is unfortunate. I share in this pain and earnestly identify with you in this moment of grief. Please accept my condolence on behalf the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The best way to immortalize your late colleagues is to constantly uphold the sanctity of truth, fairness and objectivity in your trade and contribute towards promoting good governance, rule of law and human rights.”
He told press men and women not to be deterred by the twist of events but to be strengthened and uphold the virtue of patriotism and commitment to the ideals of nationhood, which their late colleagues stood for. The Senate President also urged the bereaved families to take solace in the fact that the departed media practitioners died in active service and left positive footprints on the sand of time.
On his part, Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, while commending the national leadership of the NUJ for deeming it fit to declare a seven-day period of mourning for the deceased, stated that the vacuum created by the demise of the three media experts will be difficult to fill. The Senator, who was in Saudi Arabia for Lesser Hajj when the terrible incident happened, said he received the news with great astonishment.
All Progressives Congress (APC) in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, said one of the best ways to ensure that the committed Journalists did not die in vain is for their colleagues to mount a sustained campaign for measures that can help reduce the rate of road accidents in the country.
The party noted that, “Road accidents are among the top 10 leading causes of death in the world, claiming nearly 3,500 lives per day in 2011, according to the latest figures by the World Health Organization (WHO). No country is free from these untimely deaths. Journalists are among those who face the highest risk of deaths and injuries from road accidents, because their job require them to be on the move constantly. This is why they must be at the vanguard of efforts to curtail road accidents. We also urge the authorities to ensure that the nation’s roads are in good condition, and road safety officials to ensure strict compliance with measures that will enhance safety on the roads.”
In his reaction to the ugly incident posted on the facebook, Hon.
Onadeko Onamusi said: “May their souls rest in perfect peace. My greatest concern is that these are deaths that can be avoidable if we do the right thing. Accidents are human error and if we take the right approach we would reduce such accident and death of our loved ones.
Only recently a good friend and hard-working Chief of Abeokuta died in an accident. I feel very bad to hear this sort of news that our collective action would have avoided. This type of accident will hardly occur in UK where standard are set. Since 2010, I have held conferences and visited the 36 states of the Federation to introduce SKILL, ATTITUDE AND KNOWLEDGE into driving with the view to reducing accident rate. The shocking revelation is the fact that those concerned FRSC and VIO do not know how to go about it and would not allow private individuals with the initiative to help them for fear that they may hijack their job while Nigerians are dying. Some journalists lamenting the death of their comrades today are aware of the project but were expecting me to give them money before they could do this public enlightenment.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerian roads are death traps.
Out of 193 countries ranked by World Health Organisation (WHO) in its research, Nigeria came 192, making it the second worst country globally in terms of number of deaths triggered off by road accidents.
This was as quoted by the Chief Executive of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Mr. Osita Chidoka from a report of the WHO. Official statistics from the FRSC equally showed that an average of 11 people were killed daily in road accidents across Nigeria in 2012, and this translates to over 4,000 deaths. A total of 20, 752 people also sustained different degrees of injuries, an indication that an average of 56 people, were being injured in road accidents on daily basis last year.
Having directly felt the bite of road accidents, I think something quite radical has to be done to reduce the rate at which precious lives are being lost via avoidable auto crash. Motorists must equally learn to be very cautious and mindful of others road users while driving. About Twenty-four years ago at a tender age and in 2011, I lost my beloved father and uncle respectively to motor mishap. Less than a week before the accident that took the lives of these three fellow journalists, God had saved my life from a similar incident around the same Ilesha-Ibadan highway, where one of the back tyres of the car I was driving with my neighbour inside blew out and it almost somersaulted.
Michael Jegede, writes from Lagos, He can be reached on: 07065574368