By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 7th of July 2002, as a spur-of-the-moment reaction to the rampant highway road accidents that claimed lives and damaged property in the country. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
It is a gruesome and macabre picture, in fact a catalogue of horrors. A minibus and a truck ran into each other on the highway near Nkongsamba. The result was six dead on the spot and more injured and rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. A similar tragedy occurred on the Bafia-Yaounde road. Again, some died and more were ferried to hospital as their lives hung on a thread. Still not so long ago, a lorry carrying a corpse for burial crashed in Dzeng (Nyong and So`0 Division). Once more, deaths were registered and the wounded rushed to hospital.
The strange thing about us Cameroonians is that when we learn of such tragedies, we are immediately filled with sympathy. Then it all ends there. It’s like we heave a deep sigh of relief and say: “Thank God it’s not me or someone close to me.” Even so, the truth is that it could have been any of us. And in fact, tomorrow it could still be one of us.
One thing is certain: the person who loses a close relative or friend so suddenly and unexpectedly is maimed for life. What is even more painful is that all these pointless fatalities could have been prevented if only we cared a little more for the jobs we are paid to do or what kind of country we would like our children to live in tomorrow. We could have therefore saved ourselves all the grief and wasteful loss of human life as well as the attendant grief in which survivors of the deceased are usually embroiled.
The key questions are: why do these accidents occur at all and what can we do to prevent them? Obviously there are some observers who would say an accident is like a thief who creeps in at midnight unnoticed, at a time when everyone is sound asleep. But at least, we could take precautionary steps against the unforeseen. Such a move is indispensable because a frequent spate of road accidents could create a state of uncertainty and fear in the minds of Cameroonians and sow the seeds of confusion in the minds of foreign investors. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the country, especially at such a time when it badly needs foreign investment to shore up the economy.
The problem is not so much that drivers blatantly flout traffic rules, thus turning road use into something of a jungle game. It is rather that enforcement of road safety regulations leaves a lot to be desired. Many of our roads that are supposed to be marked remain unmarked. Some major road junctions are not provided with a lighting system and even when they are, drivers do not respect them. Furthermore, a good number of the vehicles that ply the roads are not road worthy. As such, they are nothing but death traps prowling the roads searching for preys. The catalogue of failings could be longer.
Government must really take a fresh look at its road transport policy, otherwise, whatever rescue package is put in place will be nothing more than papering over the cracks, in other words, a recipe for more disasters. It is necessary, for instance, for government to set up a National Road Safety Commission which would have some autonomy and oversee all of these areas of concern.
However, ideas are one thing and implementation, another. Perhaps while we spend time thinking, another disaster…and then another, will loom ominously and then strike. Let’s make hay while the sun shines and remember that a stitch in time saves nine.