Road safety in Nigeria and Cameroon

By Rebecca Tickle

In Nigeria, according to Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), motorcycle accidents are ranked third after cars which accounted for 457 cases or 36%, followed by minibuses with 243 or 19% of the total.

The analysis has been attempting to obtain new regulations on the ban of commercial motorcycle (okada) traffic on Nigerian highways. Motorbikes are also seen to be frequently involved in arm-robbery and other crime related activities. 

Then it is the mode of action and the power of civil society that determines the relationship between analysis, formal demands and efficient results. And the civil society in Nigeria is pretty obviously very more developed than in Cameroon, where the rights for protest is non existant. 

Supposing accurate statistics and analysis were published in neighbouring Cameroon, what would the impact be on general road safety, in an environment where traffic accidents remain a major issue. 

Just as in Nigeria, commercial motorcycles in big Cameroonian cities (bensikin) have been popularly recognised for years as a big problem in terms of traffic nuisance. Increasing numbers of cheap Chinese motorbikes and anarchic driving styles are the main points the motobikers are blamed for.

Road security is generally speaking a big problem in Cameroon anyway, particularly in terms of casualties. An average of no less than 100 deaths every year are known to be occurring on the 240-kms-long road between Douala (commercial capital) and Yaoundé (political capital) locally called "axe lourd". This particular highway was rated in 2014 by the United Nations as litterally one of the most dangerous in the world.

Impetuous log trucks with overloaded 5-axle trailers, impatient bus-drivers, general disproportional speeding, weak legislation and corrupt Law enforcement, wide-ranging release of fake driving licenses, lack of political will for efficient improvements, and global disrespect for traffic regulation are the causes of absent road security on Cameroonian highways.

As for traffic nuisance related to motorcycle transport in Douala for instance, various types of bans have been attempted. But essential issues, such as lack of adequate urban public transport and abdication or incompetence of transport authorities, structural social crisis and difficult economic setting are not addressed. The global context has thus legitimised the rapid expansion of commercial motorbikes which have become an unavoidable means of transport. 

Like in most major cities in Africa, informal supply of transport to meet public demand can also be considered as a demonstration of innovative ability in the context of unresolved economic and political issues. Motorbike transport is first of all more affordable than normal taxis. Then long distance from poor suburbs to the city centre, as well as bad road conditions don't give people much choice as to the available type of transport. 

In short, road safety in Nigeria and in Cameroon doesn’t simply depend on the publication of statistics or the number of motorbikes around. The structural background ought to be addressed first, although it is not the easiest thing to analyse. The economic context is probably the first issue that needs tackling in the case of commercial motorcycle traffic, both in terms of offer and demand. Then regarding general traffic conditions whatever the mode of transport, possible improvements lie within wider and more complex factors such as the general political and social atmosphere in the country. The questionning of follow-up and respect for existing Laws and regulations, as well as for other State responsibilities towards the citizens, could also produce quite a range of ideas for improving road security.