I was just six months old in the country after staying in Banjul, The Gambia for five years as a Mass Communication lecturer. I left the German Embassy at Howe St. when I was leaving Sierra Leone in 2008. However, I was able to know later that the Embassy had moved to Hill Station.
I was a stranger in my own country. I did not know that there were poda podas to go to Hill Station. Dressed in a grey suit, the okada riders rushed on me to know where I was going to. I told them that I was going to the German Embassy at Hill Station. Suddenly, one of them told me to go up his okada. He told me to pay Le 15,000. I did not bargain for long. From my suit, he discerned that I had money. I was a Johnny-Just-Come (JJC) from Banjul, The Gambia. I did not bargain much, especially when I was eager to reach the German Embassy before it closed that day.
I sat behind the okada rider and we moved. The sun was very hot. The Hill Station-Regent Road had not yet been commissioned. Work was still going on. Yet vehicles and okadas were plying the route daily.
After a ten-minute ride, I saw the okada man trying to overtake a giant Chinese truck. The truck driver was driving slow; probably at 20-30 km per hour. The okada rider decided to increase his speed. However, as the truck driver saw him riding fast, he doubled his speed.
The okada rider was still struggling to overtake the truck, but the truck driver continued to speed. The stubborn okada rider could not resist. He also increased his speed, but he could not pass. As this racing was going on between the okada rider and the truck driver, another heartless truck driver was coming from Regent end.
He had spotted the okada but refused to slow his speed. The stubborn okada rider continued with his attempt to overtake the truck that we were almost at its middle. The incoming truck driver, apparently with intention to kill myself and the okada rider, roll down the hill and sandwiched us.
I panicked a little that I was going to die. I started to sweat profusely and thought of what my people back in Banjul, The Gambia will say if they heard that I had died six months after returning home. I also thought about what my in-laws will say if they heard that I had died while trying to go for a German Scholarship to do my masters since they will be thinking that I was running away from my wife. I thought of dropping from the okada. But my mind told me that if I drop before they hit us or the okada rider panicked, one of the back tyres of the truck on our right will kill me within a second.
I was in a trance. I forgot to call Jesus that moment, though I had committed the journey to God before leaving my house in Bo. I resolved to stay behind the okada rider. Through divine intervention, the okada rider did not panic. He rode steadily between the two heartless truck drivers, especially the incoming truck.
I heaved a sigh of relief when the two devilish drivers vanished from the road. The sweating ceased. We moved on to The German Embassy without allowing the okada rider to overtake any other vehicle again.
That was how two heartless Sierra Leonean truck drivers would have killed me and an okada rider on 24 April 2014.
This is how most accidents are caused on our roads. The drivers have no love for fellow drivers, okada riders or pedestrians. Travelling along our roads in any of the vehicles, you will notice that truck and trailer drivers are responsible for most of the gruesome road accidents.
Truck and trailer drivers drive in the middle of the road. They refuse to allow other vehicles to move smoothly. They block the roads and sometimes force small vehicles to forcefully divert into the bush where they summersault and capsize, killing all those on board most times.
Sometimes, the stubborn passenger vehicle drivers will be running at 120-140 km per hour even in the curves or the hills. A trailer or truck will be moving at a snail pace, but as soon as the driver of a fast-moving car decides to overtake him, he too doubles his speed. This fight for ‘I can speed more than you’ or ‘I have right to the road too,’ are some of the causes of the incessant gruesome road accidents along the roads in Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) is also responsible for drivers disrespecting traffic rules. Commercial vehicles are still booking to the SLP in spite of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) Pay No Bribe (PNB) campaign. That is why they don’t dare caution drivers who flout traffic rules.
Another cause of accidents along our roads is caused by drivers who drive in the night without dimming their lights. Some truck and trailer drivers drive in the middle of the road, while some drivers sleep when driving on our roads.
I cannot give correct data of the number of deaths caused by road accidents in Sierra Leone. But it is on record there is one every month or every week. It is disheartening to hear from some drivers comments like ‘I missed to kill you; you come next time’ after narrowly missing to have a collision with another driver.
This happened before me when I was travelling in a commercial Benz mini bus from Shell to Bo between 7 and 9:30 PM. I refused to sit in the middle of the vehicle. The apprentice cajoled me that there was a seat on the right side of the driver for me to sit. I entered the bus and sat. The driver drove from Freetown to Masiaka without speeding. Some passengers shouted that they wanted to go to the Frock Room. He stopped at Masiaka and most passengers went out to satisfy nature.
However, before the passengers returned, I saw the driver drinking a bottle of bitter cola. We went onboard the bus and I saw the apprentice given the driver a 3x Extra Energy drink (where the sellers of these drinks normally put the kush, tramadol, etc). From Masiaka now, the driver drove at high speed. It was after 8 PM. Suddenly, I saw the driving dancing and singing behind the steering. I warned him to slow his speed but he ignored me. He was now sweating and his face was shining like a non-monsoon season star. He looked sleepy. We reached Mile 91 and he dropped some passengers.
From Mile 91, he did not stop speeding. We came to the first bridge to Moyamba Junction. He was driving in the middle of the road and refused to dim his light. Another commercial bus was coming from Moyamba Junction. He forced the other bus to almost hit his own vehicle. I heard the sound of the bus as if it had fallen over the bridge and our driver said, “I missed you. You will not do it next time. I will make your vehicle drop in the river.” It was a close shave we did not get an accident.
As a result of his high speed, we went inside a pot hole at the second village from Mile 91 to Moyamba Junction and the tyre fired. But guess what? The spare tyre had no air inside. The apprentice took over the driving. The former driver started to snore in the bus. I reached Bo angry with the driver close to curfew time that night.
In most of the countries that I have travelled in West Africa and outside, I am yet to see the heartless and reckless drivers who do not care for the lives of their fellow citizens or fellow road users as the drivers in Sierra Leone do.
I have travelled day and night times from Conakry to Koundara in Guinea (closed to Senegal-Guinea border) along the snake-like and narrow hilly roads, the drivers observe traffic rules. I have also travelled from Accra to the hilly parts of Ghana, the drivers there are professionals who respect the lives of other Ghanaian road users. I have travelled from Freetown to Liberia and from The Gambia to Senegal, or from New Delhi to Aggra ( a distance of over 300 km), India, or in Paris, all by road and no time did my heart throb, unlike when I am travelling on our roads in Sierra Leone.
Some drivers of the Road Transport buses in Sierra Leone do not observe traffic rules too, in the same way as ambulance, Government and NGO drivers.
As outlined above, these are some of the reasons why there are spates of gruesome road accidents in this country. The Okada riders are not left out. They are more unruly than the drivers.
The Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority (SLRSA) must hold a meeting with all transport owners, organizations, the SLP, government and the Transport Unions across the country to work out how to reduce road accidents in Sierra Leone. Most accidents are caused during the raining or festive seasons. Two heartless truck drivers and a stubborn okada rider would have killed me since 24 April 2014. But thank God for divine intervention. I did not die.
However, my heart throbs daily when travelling on our roads because our drivers deliberately refuse to observe traffic rules. Our roads have many curves. But some of the drivers drive at 120 to 140 kilometres per hour. The traffic rules and traffic signs mean nothing to them. The Minister of Transport and Aviation must look seriously into this!