Nigeria, it appears, now has a stream of sorrow, tears and blood on a daily basis. Nowadays innocent people lose their lives to preventable truck accidents that have become common occurrences on Nigerian roads. Families are frequently flung into terrible trauma and pains of mourning by deaths caused on the expressways by these trailers, especially, within the environs of Lagos. But are the authorities doing anything to curb these mindless killings on the roads? ISIOMA MADIKE reports
The recurring carnage on Nigerian roads caused by the activities of reckless truck drivers is, according to many, becoming insane. Nigerians, in recent times, have been witnessing an upsurge in the collateral damages instigated by those many now refer to as merchants of deaths on the roads. However the drivers cum owners of these trucks appear to have become more powerful than the Nigerian nation.
While the inexcusable activities of this group are commonplace across the country, Lagos appears to be worst hit. Accidents caused by container-laden trucks have also become common occurrences on the roads. Yet, concerned authorities, it seemed, are content with the seeming helpless posturing being adopted.
On a daily basis, many people lose their lives as a result of the recklessness exhibited by many tanker drivers, due mainly to the disobedience of traffic rules and regulations. Many of them act like the lords of the manor on the roads. Some often give many people concern given the way they control the steering while driving.
Just recently, a middle aged man driving a tanker laden with petrol, lost control of his vehicle. An eyewitness, who had a kiosk in an uncompleted building beside the Otedola Bridge where the incident happened, said the lorry lost its brakes and ended the lives of many on the ever busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It was a chaotic evening in the nation’s commercial capital after the accident as concerned authorities laboured so hard to clear the wreckages.
“People were shouting at him to put a wedge under his tyres. He tried to put a wedge but it wasn’t working. There were cars behind him, honking desperately. The traffic was mad. But his truck kept rolling backwards because it had developed brake failure. This tanker was on a slope. The truck was now beginning to spill its inflammable contents on the road. The cars behind the petrol truck were trying to scamper out of the way, but there was no way for them to go because all lanes were blocked.
“Next thing, we heard a bang, and then the fire started. I ran. Everybody ran….It was brake failure. The tanker, which was painted red, had no company name on it,” the eyewitness was quoted to have said.
About 5:30pm on that fateful Thursday, June 28, images of a long line of cars getting burnt in broad daylight on the busiest expressway in Nigeria, found their way to social media. The red balls of fire would morph into thick black clouds amid cries for help. Eyewitnesses said many had to be resuscitated after they inhaled black soot.
Barely 24 hours after, another tanker exploded around the same spot, along the same Otedola Bridge axis of Berger in Lagos. According to the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), two vehicles, a commercial bus and a Toyota Hiace had a head-on collusion inward Lagos, opposite the scene of Thursday’s accident. The RRS said the incident was a result of reckless driving on the part of the commercial bus driver who was on high speed against the traffic.
“Reckless Danfo driver speeding on one way had a head-on collision with Toyota Hiace bus entering Lagos opposite scene of yesterday’s tanker fire. The buses have been moved from obstruction while wounded passengers had been hospitalised,” RRS officials said.
As Lagosians mourned their losses, yet another occurred. This time, it was a collision with a trailer at Mallam Karo, along Minna-Suleja Road in Niger State. It burst into flames, killing many, instantly.
As the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) kick-starts implementation of the Minimum Safety Standard for Trucks in Nigeria, Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, disclosed that over 1,000 people have so far lost their lives as a result of auto crashes caused by tanker drivers between December 2016 and January 2017. About 308 of these crashes, he also said, were due to recklessness of truck and tanker drivers. In most of the accidents, according to him, the vehicles were usually written off while goods were lost.
Oyeyemi stated this at the one-day sensitisation workshop for truck drivers on the minimum safety standard at the secretariat of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO). Represented by Deputy Corps Marshal, Operations, Mrs Ojeme Ewhrudjakpor, Oyeyemi said the implementation of the scheme was to improve on the minimum standards already established by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
He had charged truck owners to ensure compliance with the minimum standard for lorries which include installing speed limit devices, ensuring that containers were properly latched, proper functioning of head lights, tail lights and other parts of the trucks. He said that engagement with operators would continue even as implementation was being carried out. Also speaking, president of Corporate Fleet Owners Association, Mrs. Folake George, assured the commission that truck owners were ready to comply with the safety standards by FRSC and NPA.
The FRSC boss has also said that the country may have lost about N7.157 billion to road traffic accidents involving 116 petroleum product tankers in the first half of this year. Oyeyemi disclosed this at a stakeholders’ forum on haulage transportation in Abuja recently. He said the figure excluded the number of people killed; the cost of treatment of those injured; damage to the country’s road infrastructure; environmental impact and other collateral damages.
“There is so much compromise by the tank farm owners. The tanks are supposed to carry specific litres of products, but they fill them to the brim; there is conspiracy. When the drivers are going they sell these products along the highways. Two, because of the minimum safety standards at various tank farms; they use the truck heads of different tankers to load at the tank farms. When they get back to designated points they now transfer it and use their own trucks. That is why we are having these problems; there is so much compromise at the tank farms,’’ he said.
Oyeyemi tasked relevant agencies, including the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), on full enforcement of the minimum safety standards in the certification of haulage vehicles. “SON should work with the tank farms to ensure that only tanks that comply with the minimum safety standards are allowed to load.
“The maximum haulage capacity for tankers operating in the country is 33,000 litres. There should be a directive that any tanker with more than 33,000 litres capacity should not be allowed to load. This is why the weight and measures of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment should be more active and ensure strict enforcement of these standards,’’ he added.
The Sector Commander, FRSC, Ogun State Chapter, Clement Oladele, also stated that 129 deaths were recorded through truck accidents in the state in 2017. Oladele disclosed this at a safety programme organised by “Temidayo Ogan Child Safety and Support Foundation,’’ an NGO, for schools in Abeokuta.
The topic of the debate was, ‘Road Safety Education More Effective than Road Safety Enforcement.’ He noted that the command observed that 129 (or 61.4 per cent) out of the 210 traffic deaths recorded in 2017 involved trucks and articulated vehicles. He also said that the command had stepped up enforcement against route violation, failure to cover unstable materials, use of sub-standard tyres, drunk-driving and other traffic offences common with truck and articulated vehicles.
He said the command was collaborating with Ogun State branch of Truck Owners Association of Nigeria and the National Association of Road Transport Workers (NARTW) to educate drivers on traffic regulations. “We are trying to reduce the dangers these trucks and articulated vehicles pose to road users, especially children going or returning from school,’’ he said.
According to him, early in 2017, the FRSC decided to improve its youth safety education by increasing its visits to primary and secondary schools in the state. “The aim was to educate pupils and students on how to use the road safely. Our efforts have yielded fruits but with some sad occurrences; some of us will recall the ugly incident where a truck crushed a primary school pupil,” he added.
Oladele noted that the collaboration was not to underscore either road safety enforcement or education, but to raise awareness of teachers and students to be road safety conscious. Between March and September 2015, no fewer than 200 lives were equally lost to accidents, involving tankers and other articulated vehicles. Many died with others sustaining various degrees of injuries and valuable properties gone up in flames at the scenes of such accidents.
In July of that same year, eight persons, including a student of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), were reportedly killed by a tanker driver at Ilaramokin, on the Akure-Ilesa Highway. The AAUA student, identified as Tolulope Omojola, was a 400-level student of Chemical Science Department, who doubled as the President of the AAUA chapter of the Chemical Student’s Society of Nigeria.
Before then, in June, 12 students of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye in Ogun State, were also reportedly killed by a reckless tanker driver, who was driving against traffic. The tale had been sour as tankers and trailers accounted for over 22 per cent of vehicles involved in road crashes of that year. A sizeable percentage of the victims of these crashes were within the productive age bracket, causing the economy significant losses.
In that same year, 14 people reportedly died in two accidents on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Thirty were bruised and badly injured. The same number of people, including a toddler, were said to have also died on August 26, of the same year.
Anambra State was not left out as it recorded its fair share of the tragedies when a petrol tanker fire in its commercial city of Onitsha claimed over 70 lives in May 2015. The victims of the tanker menace also included the drivers themselves. Within eight months in 2015, according to reports, 45 of them died in road crashes. The National President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Aches Igwe, however, blamed the deaths on poor state of the roads. Although he admitted that some of the accidents were avoidable.
However, incidents of container-laden trucks, crushing innocent victims to death have also increased over the years, causing deaths and distress across the country on daily basis. From all indications, nothing seems to have been done by the relevant agencies, to curtail the unsavoury happenings. It has become a daily ritual to see rickety articulated trailers bearing unlatched containers on various roads. Such containers are placed on flatbeds with no fittings to prevent them from sliding off.
A good number of them are usually tilted to one end and are never properly fastened, while most just sit on such surface, precariously, threatening to slide off when the truck attempts to climb a slope or is driven through bad roads. With these scenarios creating an atmosphere for avoidable deaths, Lagos residents particularly, have apparently developed apathy to such accidents when they do occur.
Statistics have shown that Lagos, the hub of container-laden trucks, has the highest percentage of such accidents in spite of the much touted determination by the state government to ensure strict enforcement of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012. The law restricts trailers and other long vehicles from plying the metropolis between the hours of 6am and 9pm. The state had at various instances, vowed to go tough on any one that contravenes the laws by having their vehicles impounded and making them pay the stipulated fines.
The state government, through its Ministry of Transportation, had put in place various strategies to monitor activities of drivers of articulated vehicles, including a special enforcement squad to monitor their movement and impound them at the exit points of the seaports. On September 22, 2008, 28 container trucks were said to have been impounded due to their rickety nature. But nothing has been heard about the trucks since then.
The 2012 Lagos Traffic Law was enacted to back the enforcement, and had 59 offences, with their penalties, covering all road users, including private motorists, commercial drivers, commercial motorcyclists and drivers of trailers. According to Section 2, subsections 1 and 2 of the traffic law: “No trailer other than petrol tankers and long vehicles used in conveying passengers shall enter into or travel within the metropolis of Lagos between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.”
Yet not a single driver or trailer owner has been prosecuted for criminal negligence and gross dereliction of responsibility when caught during the restricted hours and after causing deaths. What had been the case over the years was the state government developing cold feet over spurious threats by truck drivers to embark on indefinite strikes if restricted.
However, the continuous parking of articulated vehicles on public bridges in Lagos has become another cause for concern, which many have condemned. Apart from the gridlock caused by these vehicles on major roads, engineers have warned that persistent parking of trucks on the bridges would shorten their lifespan and expose the public facilities to danger.
Terrorists, some security experts also said, could exploit the gridlock caused by these trucks on the bridges to cause maximum damage in Lagos. Former president of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, Fadayomi Oreoluwa, had warned that loads of stationary trucks and trailers would affect the foundation of the bridges.
He said: “When oil trucks/tankers park on Lagos bridges, the immediate implication is that there might be fire incident. When this occurs, the negative effect will be felt on the bridge, adjoining buildings as well as by commuters and residents.”
Many had viewed Oreoluwa warning as timely, which they said if adhered to, would save Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, from the ticking time bomb. To them, it is a disaster, waiting to happen. Most of these bridges, they noted, were built over 40 years ago to ease traffic and ease travelling time in Lagos.
To say that many of the bridges are derelict due to wear and tear and age is simply stating the obvious. The pillars holding the Ijora Bridge, the engineers said, have suffered structural defects due to frequent fire incidents and erosion that have affected the concrete parts and exposed the iron rods. In recognition of this danger, the Lagos State government had given a 48-hour ultimatum to the truck drivers to vacate the bridges, which they flouted.
In spite of repeated warnings, oil tankers and trailers appear to have taken over the Jibowu- Ojuelegba, Stadium-Alaka, Ijora and Apapa flyover bridges, parking on one side of the lane, leaving commercial and private vehicles to struggle with one lane. The truck drivers, however, complained that they have been forced to park on bridges because there are no trailer parks in Lagos.
In 2017, the Federal Government had ordered the vacation of trucks blocking roads and killing road users in Apapa, Lagos. But like earlier orders from the Lagos State government, the drivers and owners of the killer trucks remained defiant.
Nevertheless, the accident involving a fallen container at Ojota, which left not less than five people dead and a few others injured had sort of reawakened the FRSC to act. The commission’s spokesman, Bisi Kazeem, said the incident had led to a directive from the agency’s leadership. “Immediately that incident happened, the corps marshall, ordered the agency to kick-start a special operation towards bringing an end to the menace of truck conveying unlatched containers.
“The directive, especially around the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway Toll Gate as well as the port area in Lagos, was to begin from the command in Lagos. And the operation is to be backed by a magistrate and a mobile court in those locations and whoever is found to contravene the law is not only likely to have the vehicle impounded but will also be prosecuted in court. They are now being compulsorily mandated to ensure that every single container is properly latched and we are saying enough is enough.
“Beyond ensuring that every truck that does not latch its container will face the music, we are equally all out to tackle the ones, which do not meet the safety standards. That is because most of the time, the containers are latched but they still fall because the trucks are mechanically deficient. To show how serious we are about this new drive, the leadership of their unions including AMARTO and Joint Council of Seaport Truck Operators (JACOST) has been duly notified of it and we will not relent until we are sure the safety measures have been adopted far and wide,” he had stated.
Speaking further, Kazeem said: “In the first two days just after the directive was issued, I think about 32 unlatched trailers were impounded, at the Toll Gate and I am sure the number would have risen further by now. The figures I have indicated that a total number of vehicles impounded the first day of the operation is 29. While 12 of them were impounded for failure to install the speed limiting device, others were confiscated over unlatched containers and we are pressing on with the enforcement.”
Before now, there had been efforts in the past to arrest this ugly situation by FRSC. In one of such efforts, over 40 truck drivers were arrested in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, for driving with expired tyres, non-usage of reflective kits, as well as driving with fake licences. The agency had also moved its ‘Operation Scorpion’ from state to state, trying to instill discipline in tanker drivers.
Statistics from FRSC shows that about 10,050 Nigerians die annually in road accidents. This translates to 27 deaths on Nigerian roads daily, excluding hundreds of victims, who suffer various degrees of injuries and permanent disabilities from such carnages. Between 2014 and 2016, 48,638 assorted trucks were involved in accidents across the country.
The commission pointed to over speeding, bad roads, over loading and bad weather as major causes of road accidents in the country. Others are poor vehicle maintenance, bad driving habits and fatigue. Some of the causes of carnages on the roads, according to FRSC, may be due mainly to drivers’ attitude.
But fatigue, it said, is also a major problem for drivers. This is usually caused by shortages in parking facilities, which often force drivers to continue to drive while tired rather than stop and spend the night on road shoulders and exit ramps.
The FRSC data also indicated that a number of road accidents in Nigeria are directly or indirectly linked to tankers, trailers and trucks. “One of the major problems the country faces with truck transit is the issue of indiscriminate parking on the road,” said Oyeyemi.
He added that the indiscriminate parking also poses security challenges to road users. Besides loss of lives, commuters, Oyeyemi said, often times are trapped on the road for hours because of the activities of trucks, tankers and trailers with attendant economic losses.
The FRSC also confirmed that sequel to the identified problems, the solution lies in the provision of Standard Truck Transit Parks (TTP) to address the issues raised. The TTPs, to be private-sector driven with support from the state governments, is expected to be a game changer in instilling sanity on Nigerian roads.
A TTP is a modern, state of the art, common user facility, off the highway where truck drivers can conveniently park their vehicles, get accommodation, fuel, food, drinks, restrooms, showers and other basic supplies like oil and spare parts as well as servicing of their vehicles. The parks are primarily intended for short-term safety breaks and also long-term parking services in high-use corridors. When fully operational, TTPs will provide security and easy tracking of cargoes along the transport chain.
The senate has, however, resolved to invite heads of agencies dealing with tankers and their drivers with a view to finding a lasting solution to incidences of accidents on roads. This resolution follows a motion by Gbenga Ashafa, a senator representing Lagos-APC.
Ashafa drew the attention of the senate to the incident of fuel tanker explosion at the Otedola Link Bridge which left 12 people dead and dozens of vehicles destroyed. He recalled other accidents in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria caused by fuel tankers while urging the government to find an alternative means of transporting fuel.
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