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Damaturu-Maiduguri: The rich take flights to avoid ISWAP’s siege

 The failure to complete the busy Kano-Maidugiri expressway, particularly from Damaturu to Maiduguri, due to security challenges has put motorists on edge, with reports compelling…

 The failure to complete the busy Kano-Maidugiri expressway, particularly from Damaturu to Maiduguri, due to security challenges has put motorists on edge, with reports compelling the rich to employ the services of charted flights and leaving the poor to travel by roads prone to ISWAP attacks.

Daily Trust on Sunday findings revealed that motorists plying the Damaturu-Maiduguri road are battling with incessant road crashes as a result of over-speeding. This is associated with the fear of ISWAP attacks and kidnapping of commuters, coupled with the daily closure of the road by the military, which makes drivers hurriedly beat time to meet up the dateline. This situation has become a major cause of loss of lives along the road, especially for commercial drivers of taxis and buses, pickups, mini trucks conveying firewoods and  and tippers, as well as trailers plying the Damaturu-Maiduguri road in the main entrance of the state.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the joint military operations of Operation Hadinkai in the North-East used to close the Damaturu-Maiduguri road, especially from Benishek to the Maiduguri between 5pm and 7am on a daily basis for security reasons.

Investigation indicates that the Maiduguri International Airport was not offering commercial shattered flight in Borno State but the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) offer such flights for humanitarian workers within Borno State and neighbouring states for humanitarian purposes. The UNHAS has choppers at the Maiduguri airport, which is offering only humanitarian services.

Findings revealed that some privileged individuals are allegedly using nongovernmental organisations to illegally register as members for the benefit of travelling from Maiduguri to Damaturu through the UNHAS to avoid the security challenges along the road.

When contacted in a telephone interview, a staff of the UNHAS who gave his name as Ahmed, said, “We don’t offer shattered flights or services to individuals. We offer services to only registered humanitarian organisations who are registered with United Nations Humanitarian Food Programme and the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and other relevant bodies in humanitarian services. 

“I can’t tell you the procedures because it is only registered non-governmental organisations working on humanitarian services that knows how to get the flight. We don’t have anything like charted flights from Maiduguri to Damaturu.”

Corroborating the UNHAS, an official of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Maiduguri airport who did not want his name in print said, “There is nothing like charted flights from Damaturu-Maiduguri for individuals in Maiduguri airport. The only thing I know is that the UNHAS has choppers offering charted flights for humanitarian service only; and they have laid down procedures, which you can go and verify. The flights are not for commercial purposes, and they don’t charge their clients.  I don’t know where you got the information that there were charted flights?

But contrary to that, a humanitarian worker in Maiduguri, who also didn’t want his name mentioned, told Daily Trust on Sunday, “I was privileged to use the UNHAS choppers from Maiduguri to Monguno, but I know that my office paid N35,000 for my too and fro trip. I don’t know whether they are offering Damaturu-Maiduguri flights.”

All efforts to get official reactions from the UNHAS and management of the FAAN at the Maiduguri International Airport was not successful at the time of filling this report on Friday.

The dilapidated Damaturu-Maiduguri road has become a source of concern to motorists. A trader plying the road, Adamu Mustapha, said commercial drivers running in high speed to beat the dateline were endangering passengers’ lives, apart from the attacks of Boko Haram insurgents. 

“We are facing a double risk of either being attacked by insurgents or involving in road accidents. We need government’s intervention because many people were killed from the double problem threatening the Damaturu-Maiduguri road,” he said.

Another commercial driver plying the Damaturu-Maiduguri road, Suleiman Adamu explained that many drivers and their passengers had lost their lives or kidnapped by insurgents along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road, adding, “Another reason some drivers run on high speed is the many security checkpoints that keep vehicles on standstill over a long period of time, which increases the apprehension of commuters in the road.

“Security operatives should stop creating long gridlock on the Damaturu-Maiduguri road because of the fear of ISWAP fighters. I am appealing to the government to advise the military to stop keeping motorists on that highway.”

The Borno State command of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) has disclosed that from January to December 2021, a total of 23 people were killed, 157 others injured and 385 involved in various road crashes across the state.

Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday, the FRSC sector commander in Borno State, Corp Commander Sanusi Kiri Ibrahim, said, “Most accidents occur from Benishek to Maiduguri. We have recorded very few cases within the metropolis because we don’t operate in some parts of the state because of Boko Haram insurgents. We restrict our patrols to Maiduguri-Magu and Maiduguri-Jakana-Damaturu routes.

“We recorded 78 road traffic crashes between January and December 2021, which involved 69 vehicles. A total 385 people were involved, with 157 injured and 23 people killed. 

“We only recorded 20 cases of road crashes within Maiduguri. Thirty-six vehicles and 112 people were involved in crashes, while 68 were injured. We recorded only one death. We have few cases in Biu and Kwaya Kusur. The Benishek-Maiduguri road has the largest cases of road crashes in the state.”

He said there were two factors responsible for the high increase of road crashes along the Benishek-Maiduguri axis, such as over-speeding and the fact that vehicles are always overloaded. The third factor is the issue of tyre burst as most of the tyres they use are either substandard or expired. 

“The major cause of accidents is the fear of Boko Haram attack; hence many drivers try to pass through the area quickly. Eighty per cent of the accidents are from strangers from other states who don’t understand the environment,” Ibrahim said.

The FRSC boss explained that there are specific periods to pass through the road, saying, “You cannot follow the Damaturu-Maiduguri road between those hours because of security arrangements; so, many drivers rush to meet up the time before the road is closed. In the process, crashes occur.

“Another major challenge is the attitude of the drivers plying the road. They don’t adhere to road traffic rules and guidelines. 

“One other issue is that the drivers don’t properly maintain their vehicles. I commend the state governor who is making efforts to ensure that the Benishek-Maiduguri axis is completed,” Ibrahim said.

He further revealed that the command is exploring avenues to enlighten commercial drivers, adding, “There is what we call early morning cry. Before we embark on patrol we stop over at motor parks and talk to them on safety tips, for about 30 minutes on a daily basis. 

“We also do advocacy visit and send our personnel to religious gatherings like mosques and churches to enlighten the people. We also go to schools to catch them young and educate them on safety tips.

“If the drivers observe traffic regulations and avoid over-speeding and overloading, there will be reduction in road accidents. 

“The only way we can curtail this over-speeding is the installation of speed limiting devices – restricting the movement not to exceed the stipulated number to all categories of vehicles.” 

When contacted, the secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Borno State,  Alhaji Amadu Musa, said the issue of road crashes along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road had many factors, including insecurity.

“The federal government has awarded the reconstruction of the Kano-Maiduguri road. Almost all the sections of the highway were completed except some parts from Benishek to Maiduguri, which still has many dangerous potholes, a situation that has contributed to many crashes. Many of the accidents also involved private vehicles, especially those not familiar with the road.

“Since relative peace has returned to many parts of the area, I am appealing to the federal government to speed up action and complete the remaining part of the road to alleviate the suffering of not only motorists but people living along the highway.

“Recently, we held a stakeholders meeting with all the security agencies in the office of the commissioner of police in order to take a collective decision to tackle the menace of overloading, including passengers, mixing passengers and luggage, overloading of trucks and trailers plying the Damaturu-Maiduguri road. 

“We summoned their leadership in various branches to unveil the decision of the meeting, with a view to ensuring reduction of road crashes,” Musa said.

Musa noted that the union had put in place, measures to reduce road crashes in the state, especially at the beginning of the year, adding, “We have a standing committee, which at the beginning of the month will check the tyres of all our members. It is now part of our regulations to ensure that no member uses substandard or old tyres that can burst and cause accident.”

“The team is also saddled with the responsibility of checking headlights and necessary lights like danger lights of our members as part of strategies to ensure safety for eventual night journey. These exercises are carried out in all our motor parks under the NURTW. 

“We also check the licences of our members to ensure that they qualify as commercial drivers. And the process of becoming our member is tedious. We give an intending member a form to fill and highlight the history, the type of vehicle he is driving, as well as working experience. 

“We also have another step we call watching trial, where we keep observing a prospective member for a period of time until he is certified on the safety of lives before he is fully registered.” 

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