Beyond building good roads in Nigeria, more emphasis is being placed on safety of the users of this vital infrastructure. Lafarge Africa, a foremost producer of cement and a leading proponent of concrete roads, has embarked on this crucial campaign to save lives. Bennett Oghifo reports

It is imperative to build good roads, using materials that best suit the terrain, like concrete or asphalt or a combination of both. However, safety should be a major ingredient while developing this infrastructure. This is the campaign embarked upon by Lafarge Africa, a foremost producer of cement in Africa and a proponent of concrete roads.

Statistics on carnage on Nigerian highways is pretty much disturbing. In 2016, data compiled by the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) show that commercial vehicles accounted for 53.8% of transportation in Nigeria and that 8,876 commercial vehicles were involved in road accidents. The figures become more frightening when corroborated by the classification of Nigeria as the most dangerous country in Africa based on the number of deaths recorded in road accidents per thousand population. Much of these accidents are caused by drivers of articulated vehicles.

Accidents caused by ‘trailer drivers,’ truth be told, are accidents waiting to happen. In part, this is because no formal training is required to be a truck driver. In the highly hierarchical world of heavy duty road haulage, the dream of every motor-boy is to graduate to a truck driver. The many privileges attached to the office of ‘driver’ of heavy goods vehicles (trucks/trailers/articulated vehicles) make the position aspirational to any motor boy or mate. Whereas motor boys are mules that do all the heavy lifting associated with any journey and eventually offload goods conveyed by trucks, drivers are just that: drivers. They do nothing.

Becoming the next truck driver is no rocket science. Most truck drivers started out as motor boys who were crudely taught by other truck drivers, who themselves were taught by drivers before them in a crude and cyclical mentoring system: driver-teaches-motor-boy-becomes-driver-teaches-motor-boy. No stringent requirements are attached to becoming a motor boy. Oftentimes, all that is required is to show more brawn than brains; demonstrate a persistent drive and willingness to learn or to display boldness by having a ‘strong’ face, any of which would be well-complemented by filial or geographic affinity to the driver/mentor.

Upon ‘graduation,’ a driver’s professional life usually follows a pattern: travel plans are made ‘as-the-spirit-moves’; there is inadequate understanding of traffic regulations; and there is poor mastery of the trucks whose maintenance are taken for granted by owners who would rather save the money for some other things. Added to these is the challenge of bad road networks. These, combined, make the roads unsafe every hour of the day, as confirmed by a truck driver, Paul Etim, who is in his early 40s but looks at least 30 years older.

“Drivers take chances. Sometimes, they also squander the allowances meant for truck maintenance and repairs of faulty truck part,” he said, stressing, “Brakes and brake lights are never okay; wipers do not work and there are no extra tyres, no fire extinguishers; no seat-belts and broken pointer lights, so it becomes impossible to keep the trucks in perfect condition on bad roads.”

When asked if he attended any driving school before he became a driver, Paul, without remorse, said ‘No.’ He started out as a motor-boy who watched his driver at work and, through trial and error, became a driver, too. Like him, most drivers of haulage vehicles are not versed in the art and science of their profession, but they almost always follow the same pattern of behaviour. Every journey is preceded by a puff of marijuana and a shot of local gin to sustain ‘mental alertness’ on the long drive. Drunk, reckless and nonchalant, these drivers risk everything to embark on dangerous journeys. On their lucky days, they return and, expectedly, celebrate with bottles of beer and local gin. If unlucky, they lose control while driving and run into other trucks or even regular commercial buses and private cars.

Worried by the unacceptable rates of accidents and the absence of properly regulated driving institutes for drivers of articulated vehicles, Lafarge Africa Plc, Nigeria’s leading cement and building solutions provider, recently launched a N132 million driver behaviour modification programme as part of a strategically structured safety initiative to train truck drivers. In the plan, the Lafarge Africa Driving Institute will train a first batch of 200 truck drivers as part of a three-year strategic training plan for 600 drivers. This initiative, which is the first of its kind in Nigeria, will help to shape driver behaviour, build transport capacity and engender excellence and road safety. It will also enhance fleet utilization, productivity and employment opportunities.

Bruno Hounkpati, Director, Logistics at Lafarge Africa Plc, said: “The primary aim of our Driving Institute is to model drivers’ behaviour from the outset while equipping them with adequate training for truck driving. The school will ensure skilled drivers with safe driving skills that contribute to safer roads in Nigeria. It will promote professionalism among truck drivers and create jobs with our third-party transport companies.”

The school is in partnership with Transport Services Limited, a fleet management company and the FRSC. Selected trainees will go through an initial rigorous screening, thorough in-classroom training, state of the art driving simulator and on the road coaching and assessment. Lafarge has carefully selected the instructors with strong local and international experience and certification to ensure trainees are taken through the highest standard of driver training. Going forward, Lafarge contractors will only use drivers from the school.

Head of the driving school, Osaze Aghatise, said: “One major way to reduce road related incidents and achieve our goal of zero harm is to raise the standard of driver training in our operation and ensure drivers think about safety first and always while on the road. This requires the right training and coaching to understand the risks involved in performing a task, to shape behaviours and to develop safety processes.”

Classroom subjects will include vehicle instrumentation and inspection; speed management; night driving; risk perception and town driving; cargo handling and documentation; trip planning; personal health and emergency procedures. On the road, trainees will be taught basic control; space management; skid control and recovery as well as diagnosing vehicle malfunction.

With little drops as the launch of the truck drivers training programme by Lafarge Africa, it is safe to expect drastic reduction in the rate of road traffic accidents occasioned by negligence or over-confidence on the part of truck drivers. This success of this initiative, one also hopes, will spur other corporate organisations or owners of haulage businesses to replicate the efforts of Lafarge Africa to preserve valuable lives and, with the needless loss of goods, help enterprise to flourish. Most important is the hope that, with behaviour modification, the ‘kings of the road’ will learn to respect other road users.

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