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Ensure justice for Nithi Bridge accident victims

Wreckage of the Modern Coast bus that plunged into River Nithi on Sunday. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

"With the child in my bosom, I prayed, beseeching it to live….The child was, however, sadly pronounced dead on arrival." 

These are words of the Nithi bridge accident eyewitness as narrated to The Standard newspaper. The eyewitness describes the gory scene at the bottom of the Nithi River where a Modern Coast bus travelling from Meru to Mombasa veered off the road and plunged 40 metres below the bridge.

His narration describes a scene with "bodies strewn all over the river bank" and rescuers having to "contend with the fast-flowing River Nithi and Mwandumi stream, which joins Nithi just at the bridge".

A 29-year-old doctor Mary Mwandisha, who had recently secured a job with the Taita Taveta County government, was on her way to collect her appointment letter in preparation for what I imagine would have been a new chapter in her career. Her family describes her as a compassionate person on the right path to achieving her dreams.

IT expert Ken Mwenda had travelled to Meru to attend a relative’s funeral, as had Jane Karambu, who was travelling back to Mombasa after laying her brother to rest in Meru County. A student travelling home to reunite with his family after being away for two years did not make it out of the bus wreckage alive. Mzee Simba, the driver of the ill-fated bus, is said to have spoken to his daughter and promised to send her money.

If I could, I would call all the victims of the accident by their names, because they are real people with families and loved ones. They had plans and dreams to achieve.

What is even more unfortunate are the allegations now emerging, that the ill-fated bus had been reported several times for violating traffic rules. There are many screenshots of what is allegedly the same bus being recklessly driven.

In one incident, the bus is alleged to have been on the road without rear lights, and in another, it is said to have hit a stationary truck killing the driver on the spot. At one point, social media reports allege that the bus was even repainted. If these allegations are true, it seems they were not taken seriously by the bus company’s management.

The Nithi Bridge is not news to us. Many have lost lives there, some due to the recklessness of drivers and others as a result of genuine accidents. In 2017, the incumbent Tharaka Nithi County Governor is said to have promised to redesign the black spot bridge upon taking office. Clearly, that never happened. Now politicians are promising to fix the bridge once they win the elections in August.

From where I stand, justice for the Nithi bridge accident victims goes beyond political campaign promises. It goes beyond compensation by the insurance company. It is the holding to account the bus company for what seems to have been negligence on their part.

In fact, the driver’s wife alleges that her husband had on several occasions complained about the bus’ faulty brakes, but nothing was done. The National Transport and Safety Authority should not merely threaten the company and allow it back into operation once public outcry has subsided. If found culpable, this bus company has no business serving the public.

-Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University