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Crash of crash helmets in Kano

Although the use of the protective device is enshrined in Nigeria’s Road Traffic Regulations, 2004, the law has suffered years of non-enforcement, until when January…

Although the use of the protective device is enshrined in Nigeria’s Road Traffic Regulations, 2004, the law has suffered years of non-enforcement, until when January 1, last year was given as deadline for motorcyclists and their passengers to commence wearing the protective headgear.

Crash helmets, according to road safety experts, are designed specifically to protect the head from sustaining fatal injuries when an accident occurs. But no sooner had the enforcement regime come into force than it attracted criticisms from a large section of motorcycle users, resulting in clashes between Federal Road Safety officials, who are the principal enforcers of the policy and some commercial motorcycle operators, popularly known as “achaba”.

However, after several impoundments of defaulters’ motorcycles, some riders in the state bought the headgear, while others resorted to wearing improvised ones like painted calabashes, plastic buckets and pumpkin shells.

But Pyramid Trust has observed that the use of the crash helmets has significantly decreased among motorcycle users in Kano. When our reporter went round the commercial city, it was observed that no single rider was wearing a helmet, even though the state has one of the highest population of motorcycle riders in the country, with thousands of riders plying  the roads daily.

Cyclists and passengers were seen riding freely around the city without safety helmets, as though they were oblivious of the law which requires them to cover their heads with the protective caps when “on motion” and the added directive to that effect which came into force last year.  The only places that were seen to be in total compliance with the directive were military barracks. In these areas, our correspondent found out that only riders and passengers who used helmets were allowed to move freely within the barracks.

Similarly, it was discovered that the only exception in default of the regulation comes from the part of the military personnel. The uniformed men use the safety devices even when they operate bikes outside the precincts of their cantonments, thus making them distinct from other motorcycle operators on the roads.

 People’s apathy towards the use of helmets in Kano was centered on issues of high cost, beliefs and apprehension. The fears of contracting skin diseases have, for instance, dominated debates about the desirability or otherwise of the measure particularly among passengers, who think that continuous sharing of the headgear among people could be dangerous and could expose them to skin diseases like head bumps.

Others criticized the policy for its tendency to expose users to the snare of ritualists, who, they think, may place charms in the helmets, such that passengers will fall unconscious on wearing them so that they could be easily abducted.

But a motorcycle operator who spoke with Pyramid Trust, picked holes in the policy for different reasons. The rider, Babangida Abubakar, attributed the general opposition to the helmets among motorcyclist in Kano to its “doubtful” efficacy. Abubakar who said he was a witness to several motorcycle crashes, argued that most of the head injuries that his fellow riders sustained in accidents were caused by the very helmets they were putting on. “What have they been saying about the helmets, other than our heads will not sustain injuries when we fall? Let me tell you, if you don’t know, all the motorcycle accidents I have witnessed, the ones that turned out to be deadly were those involving riders who wore helmets, because the headwear helped inflict injuries on their heads,” he said.

The motorcycle rider further revealed that when officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) mounted pressure on motorcyclists last year, he obtained one crash helmet for himself. But according to him, the helmet has been lying fallow since as he has no other use for it in the absence of challenges from the officials.

Another motorcycle owner, who also said he has stopped using the device, attributed his reason for dumping it to the intense heat it generates. “Whenever I had that thing on, I feel like my head was being cooked, so I dropped it at home,” he explained. He however stated that he does not totally disapprove of the policy, saying he was willing to wear it the moment he found it difficult to escape the eyes of law enforcement personnel.  

Even with this, the Kano Sector Commander of the FRSC, A. K. Ahmed, disclosed that majority of motorcycle impoundments in the state was due to violation of the helmet directive. He stated that between 30 and 50 motorcycles were being impounded by the FRSC on a daily basis in the state, while he noted that total compliance will be gradual.

The FRSC has been engaged in sensitizing motorcycle operators on the importance of the safety device, Ahmed explained, adding that the fight for safety was not for the commission alone. He cited examples with some states in the country where he said the use of the crash helmet was commendable, saying however that the feat was achieved because of cooperation among all stakeholders in such states. He further cited an example with a company in Kano State where, according to him, the management made it mandatory for its staff who own motorcycles to purchase and use helmets. Ahmed said if government agencies and private organizations could copy from the company, the successes recorded in other states could be replicated in Kano also.

 He however admitted that a lot of risks were attached to arresting defaulters of the policy in the state presently. “The moment they sight our men, they take the greatest risk of turning wherever they are on the road, not minding the traffic in the other direction. They turn sharply, violently sometimes resulting in their falling down,” he averred. But the greatest danger he said, could come when passersby, that may not know how it came about, would resort to taking the law into their hands, a situation which he said, could lead to a breakdown of law and order and possible attack on the officials of the commission.

But on his part, the Chairman of the Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycles Owners and Riders of Nigeria (ACOMARAN) Kano State, Muhammad Sani Hassan, pointed out that the violation of the helmet policy in Kano was not peculiar to only commercial motorcycle operators. He said all segments of motorcycle riders, private and public, ran afoul of the law.

He however disclosed that the ongoing sanitization exercise for achaba riders in Kano is taking care of the helmet issue, saying after the reform of the sector, all members of ACOMARAN must use the protective headgear before they can operate in the state.

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