Killing the proverbial Elephant

Every now and then, a journalist has a story dumped in his lap when he least expects it. For me, the official compulsion of a rider to use helmet is such a story.

Taking a critical look at the whole thing, the bye-law can be critiqued in two ways; either as another act of official hysteria that would soon pass away or a pursuit of permanent solution to the incessant head injury related deaths on motorbikes popularly called Okada.

Putting all these aside, and being happy for the time being, even if the bye-law will soon be thrown aside, I guess it is only proper to applaud the introduction of the compulsory usage of helmet for users of motorbikes for reasons I want to review here.

Comparison to a car, motorcycle is a very dangerous form of transportation, whether the rider thinks otherwise or not. In fact, it is believed in some quarters that it should be banned as a means of carriage, although some others think such action might be too extreme. Generally, those I spoke with canvassed the fact that government could make legislation to limit the excessiveness of Okada riders.

A particular study estimated that the number of deaths per mile arising from motorcycle accidents in 2006 was about 35 times the number involving cars. It’s quite alarming, those motorcycles deaths have been on the increase. The figure in 2007 actually doubled deaths recorded in 2006. Incidentally, as the death toll increases, so also the number of Okada purchased everyday. Now, this is beside the injuries consequent on Okada accidents like broken limbs, fractured skulls and spinal cords, to mention just a few.

Although, when the recent call for the compulsory use of helmets is considered, it is believed that the policy is justified, because commercial motorcyclists, with what have become their belligerent characteristics on roads, even as they find much pleasure in over-speeding and riding on the wrong side of the road anytime they feel the convenience of such law breaking act. All make them to be more prone to life threatening injuries or deaths from accident in their un-cased machine when compared to the relative security provided by a cased car.

Motorcycles are unenclosed, exposing riders to contact with hard road surfaces. And since deaths due to motorcycle accidents are associated with head injuries, the policy that enforces the use of helmet is then justified. It serves as principal counter-measure for reducing crash-related head injuries.

Several states government have made it the responsibility of government to foot medical bills of accident victims, it can be reasoned that by using helmet, which is designed to cushion and protect the head of a rider on impact with ground, the money expended on taking care of Okada accident victims can now be used in other meaningful ways.

Although, a 100 per cent protection from head injuries cannot be guaranteed with the use of the helmet just as safety belt doesn’t ensure the safety of a vehicle’s occupant in the event of an accident, it does reduce the incidences of injury. It is quite effective in preventing brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in life-long disability. According to a scientific finding, unhelmeted motorcyclists are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain damages.

However, despite all talks about helmets’ ability to protect your brain from scattering out of your skull, they still require certification of a federal body to okay the use of some particular ones. That is, even when the right motorcycle helmets are used, head injuries are much more likely with some helmets than with some. And this calls for urgent intervention by the Road Safety Commission.

The Okada riders in Kaduna recently protested the use of the helmets, either out of ignorance or they saw it as an opportunity to be recognized. Some, among other litanies of complaints across the nation, widely claimed that helmet obstructs rider’s vision, but studies show full-coverage helmets provide only minor restrictions in horizontal peripheral vision. It also found that wearing helmets restricts neither the ability to hear horn signals nor the likelihood of seeing a vehicle in an adjacent lane prior to initiating a lane change. To compensate for any restrictions in lateral vision, riders should increase their head rotation prior to a lane change. There are no differences in hearing thresholds under three helmet conditions: no helmet, partial coverage, and full coverage. The noise generated by a motorcycle is so loud that any reduction in hearing capability that may result from wearing a helmet, is inconsequential. Sound loud enough to be heard above the engine can be heard when wearing a helmet.

Another good thing about the use of helmet is the decline in motorcycle thefts, mainly because some potential thieves would not have helmets, and not wearing helmet would attract police notice. One thing is sure, with the introduction of the law, the rate of thefts would reduce drastically.

All said and done, one Yoruba (an ethnic tribe in southwestern Nigeria) maxim says that different knives are expected at the death of an elephant, this could be said of the different kinds of helmets now being exhibited on the roads. I think the riders should really be warned, because you would not imagine the kinds of eyesore of objects masquerading as helmets being displayed and forced on people to wear by Okada riders. These objects range from calabash type helmet, rugby football type helmet, military type helmet, space type helmet, knight-type helmet, and construction type safety helmet.

The standard should be either full-face motorcycle helmets like the X-11 and TZ-R, and open-faced motorcycle helmets, like the RJ Platinum R, St. Cruz, and J-Wing. Although any of these might set your pockets back at ten thousand naira (N10, 000.00).

There is no gain-saying that with the new law, high reduction in death rate by motorcyclist crash will be recorded, but then the different knives that are appearing at the death of this proverbial elephant should be regulated.

Written by ol’Victor Ojelabi

IN THE SQUALOR OF THE RULE OF SILENCE

Last week, I confirmed an appointment to meet with a United States of America based journalist and researcher. He told me on phone that he was in Nigeria to research and evaluate the country’s financial sector with a view to submitting a report that will form the basis of Nigeria’s financial sector country report to his principal, a respected magazine in the US.

My talking date was scheduled with the foreign journalist on account of the content of FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly. He had excitedly talked about the magazine serving most of his information needs on the subject of his research and investigation in Nigeria, contents he could not get to see in other media class. Of course, I was humbled and though, I was in quandary on what exactly I was going to tell a foreign journalist on a mission to unearth hidden facts in the remote crevices of the nation’s banking halls and regulatory agencies.

I was caught between my intense patriotism for everything that can be possibly good about this country and knowing that an interview session with a journalist also means that I may fall into those emotive moments that a subject of an interview unconsciously fall into with the consequence of, perhaps, revealing some of those facts that won’t do the sector at issue good in international circles. Of course, I am a journalist, so I know how these things work, before you corrected yourself you would have crossed the boundary with some blabbing, remarkable to the journalist but embarrassing for me.

I may have to apologise on behalf of the media in Nigeria, it is a culture, you know; media practitioners, even around the world censor information, often, because of the practical standard of minimizing the extent of perception damage to an institution or sector.

The talking date didn’t happen after all, though we shifted the appointment twice, we could not get to meet. It suddenly turned out that the journalist’s temporary residence on Victoria Island, Lagos, was a travelling distance to my office in Ikeja, Lagos. The poor journalist made frantic efforts to get to Ikeja two times but he was not quite knowledgeable about the hours of convenient movement in the state. He always ended up in a traffic gridlock, and the two times he was compelled to ask his cab driver to turn back at the next access road; incidentally, such an access road won’t be available until he gets to the Gbagada end of the 3rd Mainland Bridge where he’s also confronted with a non-moving lines of vehicles.

Well, as it were, I guess the Lagos traffic logjam helped out of a dilemma for the first time. Courtesies won’t allow me to reject an interview appointment with a colleague practitioner but, I was quite apprehensive that some information may not be right for this kind of discussion. So naturally, I was not going to encourage the journalist to get to Ikeja, and I refused to offer the option of locating him on the Island.

The kernel of my revelation here is that most of us have become co-conspirators in the some what cultic ways of information dispensation. The Mafian rule of absolute silence dominates information processing and dissemination; I ascertained the journalist must have been convinced he was not getting the quality of information he needed from official quarters, the reason he resorted to self help.

In self respecting countries, information is key, either in political governance or corporate relationship. To get required information that are in the public domain, all one needed do was to go on dedicated website or get a journal of the government agency or company you wanted to know its details. It’s that simple.

This tells much on the integrity of information, where information is treated as a prized jewel to be hidden in the bunkers of atomic bomb as it is the culture in Nigeria, concerned communities of the agency or company treat such information with a strong dose of suspicion. This has become so endemic that routine statistical information from the office of statistics is addressed with nonchalance in the public place. Bank statements of account, a document that is supposed to be sacrosanct in facts and details, are for Nigerians, another fanciful fictional paper work conveyed to the public in consummation of lip service to the satisfaction of a legal requirement that has lost all its potency of sanction many years ago.

Disclosure in governance and corporate relationship is essential to confidence building and until the breach of this is punishable not by the letters of laws but by political will, the nation would continue to flourish in the appalling cesspit of wheeler-dealing, creating a continuous circle of privileged insiders and ignorant outsiders.

Can the parliament take another look at the Freedom of Information Bill, please.