The Lagos train crash! By Wale Bakare

Sharing is caring!

As the Lagos State Government Staff bus wound its way through Ilupeju towards the Agege  Motor Road intersection, Roland barely noticed the buzz of humanity around him. The chatter of his colleagues in the bus was like background music to the drama that was playing out in his head. He couldn’t wait to see Esther, his beloved, freshly minted wife to break the news to her. She had been on a 3-day dry fast as the date for the news from the Embassy had drawn closer. Today was the third day of the fast and she had woken him up in the morning as usual with her fire-spitting prayers. Because he loved her, he went along with it, even though he had absolutely no belief in any spiritual intervention in a matter in which the decision was going to be taken by someone who didn’t believe in the “God of Adeboye”. Anyway, whether it was the prayer and fasting or just the fact that they had been truthful in filling out the application, he had been approved for the scholarship applied for and he amd Esther had been granted visas to Canada. They would be leaving for Edmonton in 2 months’ time.

The cries of “Jesus! Jesus!” were the last thing he heard as he looked up to see the word AGEGE on the front plate atop the approaching train. He looked up and saw the train, just before it slammed directly into the middle of the bus where, ironically, he always sat because he had read somewhere that it was the safest part of the vehicle. He almost didn’t feel any pain as life seeped out of him. It all happened so fast. One minute he was thinking of Esther and imagining what life with her would be like in Edmonton, and the next minute: AGEGE! Followed by  growing silence. Surrounded by a cacophony of anguished screams, the sound of ear-splitting grating of metal upon metal as the 64-seater bus was dragged  hundreds of meters along the track as the train lost speed, the silence grew louder and louder. All sounds faded and soon, the only thing he could hear was the unending cries of Jesus! Jesus. The silence soon swallowed up even that and then there was nothing. The rescue services pronounced Roland dead at the scene.

By the following afternoon, the death toll had risen to 8. The wounded were in the dozens. The carnage  was such that a Triage had to be set up at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital where the dead and injured were evacuated to. Calls were made for donations of blood. And the Governor, the Incident Commander for Lagos showed up and took charge. He made the appropriate pronouncements and promised succour for the grieving. I wondered what succour he would be able to provide for Esther? I didn’t envy him. He didn’t need this, right in the middle of a campaign he had not imagined he would run too. He said the right things and promised that such would not happen again. Of course it would happen again. It was only a matter of when unless serious action was taken. In December 2022, Selimat got run over by a train in Kubwa while on her way to work. So it is not a matter of ‘if’ it would happen again but ‘when’. We seem inured to tragedies like this. Its almost like we expect needless accidents and pointless deaths to be part of our national existence. It really needn’t be so.

While information in the public space suggests that the driver of the Lagos State Government Staff Bus had been particularly careless as he tried to outrun the approaching train, the blame for this loss lies squarely at the foot of the Nigeria Railway Corporation. There is no escape from taking responsibility and if this were America, Accident Injury Lawyers popularly known as ‘Ambulance chasers’ would be rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation. These lawyers are called Ambulance Chasers because when they come upon an accident, they immediately go after the ambulance conveying the injured casualty to the hospital  where they identify themselves  as their Lawyer. They then represent the injured person by making any and every possible claim on their behalf for which they get a healthy percentage. Sometimes, this could be as high as 50% of whatever is awarded. Anyway, this is Nigeria and the various Governments and their Agencies hardly ever pay even when cases are brought against them successfully. I hope for more Ambulance chasers in Nigeria.

The Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) is responsible for the safe operations of its train. All hazards along the lines of operations are supposed to be risk-assessed by the NRC and the risks from these hazards mitigated by appropriate controls. The standard in Safety is to bring risks down to as low as reasonably practicable. Where the consequence of a control failure is probably a fatality, the burden is even higher and in most cases, the operation will have to be discontinued if an effective mitigation cannot be found to reduce the risks. I hear from the NRC that the challenge they have had with putting barriers at rail crossings has been vandalization by the public. I feel for the NRC. I’m not sure there is any other country in the world where the citizens consider public infrastructure as loot to plunder as Nigeria. While those in high office loot the commonwealth, their kinsmen in the villages rip up train tracks. The Governor awards contracts to his wife and lovers to supply items that are never delivered at already grossly inflated prices while the man on the street cuts up the side railings on the highways and the bridges to be sold to unscrupulous middlemen. So the NRC installs barriers and the people that the barriers are meant to protect and save from getting run over by trains rip them up to sell. Who buys Rail intersection barriers for God’s sake? We are not talking stolen mobile phones here.

Now the NRC, working in conjunction with the Lagos State Government is forced to adopt an approach to Public Safety that is costly in terms of money, time and effort and which I am not sure is being practiced anywhere else in the world. This involves a complete separation of vehicles and trains by building mini-flyovers on every intersection. One can only imagine how costly, disruptive, and time-consuming this will be. But they must be commended for their willingness to do whatever is necessary to keep the people safe. This must however be done quicker. Whatever bureaucratic bottlenecks arise because of the involvement of different Federal and State Agencies must be quickly resolved to ensure that this does not happen again while a solution is being found. While the bridges are being built, Flagmen and temporary barriers should be deployed to all intersections across the cities. This is not too much to be done and the State governments where rail tracks run through the major cities can collaborate by providing personnel to be trained by the NRC to serve as Flag men in the interim.

 I hear the driver of the driver of the ill-fated bus has been arrested. I hope he will be brought to trial after investigations have been concluded and he gets the maximum sentence to serve as a deterrent to others. The employers too should be called to account. I expect the Lagos Safety Commission to be fully involved in the investigations. What was the level of training that the Driver had to qualify him to operate the bus? When was the last time he had any refresher training in advanced driving techniques. What was his mental state? Was he tested for alcohol and drugs? What about his work schedule? Why was he in such a hurry that he couldn’t be patient for five minutes to allow a train to go past. Answers to these questions will help to determine what actions the Government will have to take to prevent others like him from taking what ordinarily would seem like insane decisions when behind the wheel.

One other thing

I read about the condemnation of the treatment given to casualties of the accident by some ‘celebrities’. Their angst was with the fact that the casualties appeared to be receiving treatment in the car park. If altruistic, their anger is understandable, even if informed by ignorance. The casualties were not being ‘treated’ on the floor in the open. In a multiple-casualty situation like we had with the train accident, it is not uncommon for a Triage to be set up in the immediate aftermath so as to determine the urgency of treatment required by the patients. It is something like a ‘sorting center’. It makes no sense to take a patient who just needs to rest and be counselled into the emergency ward, taking up critical space, just to give him a glass of water and a paracetamol. As a Safety Professional and interested Stakeholder, I can vouch that the Lagos State Emergency response capabilities are second to none in Nigeria.

Related Articles

Back to top button