Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The call by the Senate on the Federal Government to establish ambulance service on major highways in the country is understandable given the high rate of automobile accidents on those roads. However, the issue, while not necessarily outside the purview of concerned members of the public, including Senators, with any sense of responsibility, is less than substantial a matter to engage a Senate whose job is to make laws for the good of the country.
Apart from the fact that the nation’s National Assembly has hardly acquitted itself in its core duties, establishing ambulance service on the highways is the duty of states through their ministries of health. While their show of compassion is noted, the senators should understand that Nigerians are still hungry for life-changing laws and nation-building active legislative oversight duties from them.
There are many obsolete codes in the statute books that need to be changed and at no better time than now does the country need laws for order and good governance. The Senate should, therefore, apply itself to this and leave the issue of highway ambulance service to state legislatures to enact appropriate laws to that effect.
The Senate had adopted the motion sponsored by Senator Duro Faseyi (PDP, Ekiti North), in relation to the death of six prominent medical doctors and their driver from Ekiti State, in a ghastly motor accident along Abuja-Kaduna highway. The doctors died while travelling to Sokoto to attend a National Delegates Conference of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). Four other doctors survived the crash.
The accident occurred 60 kilometers to Kaduna, just around the same spot where the late Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi and members of his family perished in an accident last March. Reports have it that the doctors would not have died had basic medical care been administered on them soon after the accident and that unfortunate spectacle of absence of immediate medical attention to accident victims informed the call for highway ambulance.
Once again, ambulance on the highways is something that ordinarily should be taken for granted had Nigeria’s federal system worked in truth and the states had not become mere appendages of an overbearing central government. So, while the motion by the Senate is good in intention to save lives on the roads, it is a further reinforcement of a warped system that is currently killing the country.
The Abuja-Kaduna highway has become a death trap as hundreds of innocent citizens are killed periodically on that road. Several factors are responsible, of which the state of the road and lawlessness on the part of motorists, are tops.
There is no doubt, therefore, that highway ambulance service is a necessity as too many people who have lost their lives on many roads could have been saved with such a service.
Yet, ad-hoc arrangements, even if convenient, will never work where institutionalized propriety is needed.
At the moment, Lagos is one state in the country that operates an effective and efficient highway ambulance service. With a great foresight, the state’s leadership established the Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) in 2001, as a pre-hospital care, to complement the Lagos State Emergency Medical Service (LASEMS).
Both services operate on 24-hour basis and have significantly improved the response time and quality of care extended to accident victims in and around the state. Consequently, the level of mortality occasioned by medical emergencies in the state has fallen.
Under normal circumstances, an ambulance is part of the medical service infrastructure of a society. In the developed world, it is possible to call an ambulance and have it at the point of need within minutes. This, of course, is not the case in Nigeria because of too many factors, top of which is the poor state of medical service in general and a very low value placed on life.
Among other things, the LASAMBUS was established to create and has been creating awareness on the preventive aspect of medical emergencies; training of personnel on pre-hospital and hospital-based management of trauma. It also operates an efficient radio communication network linking the public with LASAMBUS and free medical treatment within the first 24 hours of an emergency.
To date some 15 ambulance points have been established across Lagos State and there are plans to establish more. This is the model other states in the federation should follow without delay.