Editorial: Time for gov’t to instill discipline in transport sector.

"Transportation is the centre of the world. It is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don't see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colours our day, makes us feel angry and curtails our possibility”. 

That is how Robin Chase, an American transportation entrepreneur, aptly describes the role of transportation; be it in a developed country or in a country like Cameroon struggling to emerge in 2035.



With road transportation being the predominant mode of mobility in Cameroon, it is unfortunately the frequent source of misery, avoidable accidents and extortion of passengers.

Yet, Cameroon’s roads are often inundated by security checkpoints, purportedly to ensure road safety. Take the case of Tiko Subdivision in Fako of the South West Region, for example. 

In the junction town of Mutengene, there are three checkpoints; one by the police, facing that of a mixed control and that of Gendarmerie road safety unit (popularly known by its French appellation, Routier) in front of the Presbyterian Church, less than 100 metres apart.

Yet, vehicles are seen passing through them without imatriculation numbers. Some of the vehicles, which do not have breaks and with worn out tyres, occasionally cause accidents at the Mutengene Police College hill. 

If these three controls had carried out checks on the vehicles, would such accidents not have been avoided?

The case of Tiko is not an exemption. It is a phenomenon dripping with blood on all major roads in the country. 

Hardly does a day pass without fatal accidents occurring in the country, some generating media headlines as "At least 40 persons dead from three accidents in two days".

The vehicles involved in such bloody accidents are supposed to be insured and those injured catered for in hospital by the insurance company involved. But most often, only the patients pay their bills and if lucky to survive, go through lengthy legal processes to get a refund.

But are the insurers not supposed to pay the bills while the patients are in the hospital? Are they not legally bound to pay compensation to the family of the deceased in a road accident?

If the vehicles are not insured, should the owners and even the security operatives that allow such vehicles to ply the road, not be made to carry the cross?

It is not only when accidents occur that passengers are left to fend for themselves. 

This week, one of the inter-urban bus services travelling from Yaounde to Bamenda by night, developed a mechanical fault in Bafoussam.

Both the driver and his bus conductor vamoosed, leaving the 70 passengers stranded. 

Normally, in such a situation, the driver would have hired another bus from Bafoussam or reimbursed each passenger's money to get other vehicles to their destination. Such incidents occur on all roads in Cameroon. 

But what the agencies do, if they have many buses, is to ask the passengers to wait for hours for the bus to be repaired or another bus called to transport the passengers, which may take some six hours of waiting.

Passengers should, as of right, demand partial reimbursement to continue their journey, rather than spend hours waiting for a bus to be repaired or another brought in.

There is a lot of disorder on the country's highways, ranging from bad roads, not enough traffic signs, excessive speeding, defective vehicles and even controls by municipal police, who even stand on highways with iron spikes ready to puncture the tyres of any stubborn driver attempting to beat their control.

Cameroon records an average of 16,583 road accidents each year, killing more than 1,000 people, according to official figures, and over 6,000, according to World Health Organisation estimates. 

By African standards, the figures of Cameroon are far too high.

That may explain why Jean Todt, United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Road Safety, came to Yaounde in August 2018, to launch the Road Safety Performance Review. It provided an analysis of progress and challenges in the country’s road safety.

Among the priority actions identified, the review recommended "the effective establishment of the National Road Safety Committee to strengthen road safety management and coordination. It also recommended the establishment of independent bodies under the Ministry of Transport, including an inter-ministerial coordination committee (political body), a steering committee (expert committee) and a road safety office (implementation agency)". 

The review also stressed the importance of ratifying and implementing the UN legal instruments on road safety, which "can lead to concrete results in a range of different areas, whether in terms of traffic, road signs and signals, driver behaviour, or regulations to improve the safety of vehicles and their occupants". 

The UN selected only Cameroon and Uganda for that review, given the astronomical rate of accidents in the two countries.

Almost six years after, the recommendations have been a dead letter and the country's roads continue to spill blood. 

This should gnaw on the conscience of the government to implement all the UN recommendations to curb the rate of accidents, mourning and passengers stranded at unholy hours.

 

The story was first published in The Guardian Post issue No:3157 of Wednesday July 3, 2024

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