- Trucks, trailers cripple activities in Amuwo communities, others
Friday, June 29, 2018. It was the morning after the mayhem, the day after sheer hell poured down on Lagos in copious quantities.
The gridlock on the Otedola Bridge axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – the scene of carnage and source of the unimaginable traffic chaos that paralysed many parts of Lagos the previous night – had thinned out. The flames and the clouds of thick, dark smoke had evaporated, though the ashes and black soot remained – a constant reminder to passersby of the nerve-wracking horrors of the preceding night.
On both sides of the expressway, traffic now flowed fluidly, albeit slowly, as motorists and commuters cast sad glances at the carcasses of vehicles haphazardly relocated from the main road to the right side of the expressway. Emergency workers were back at the scene with their equipment, hauling whatever remained of the razed vehicles away from the road. A few dozen individuals perambulated around the area, seeking information on their missing relatives and friends.
For months to come, the tragic event of Thursday, June 28, in Lagos would continue to haunt many minds. It was one day that hell descended on Lagos with fire and fury.
But in another part of the city, the event of the Black Thursday has thrown up a fresh round of panic. On the Mile 2 end of the Oshodi Apapa Expressway, residents expressed fears that an explosion that would be far more ferocious than that of the Otedola Bridge might be impending. And they have their reasons.
Each day, from Second Rainbow Bus Stop through Mile 2 to Apapa, hundreds of articulated vehicles, including fuel tankers, remain static on the highway. These days, they have spilled over to inner communities like Mazamaza, Kirikiri, Old Ojo Road in Amuwo Odofin and other streets in the area. Residents are nervous that the Mile 2-Mazamaza-Kirikiri axis of Lagos might descend into a theatre of inferno that would cause the death of hundreds and the destruction of scores of houses if the authorities remain apathetic to the issues of articulated vehicles that have virtually crippled all activities in the area.
The unfortunate spectacle on the Otedola Bridge began unfolding shortly before 5.30pm that fateful Thursday. A fully loaded Mack fuel tanker, conveying 33,000 litres
of premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol, was heading recklessly towards the Berger Bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Suddenly, it appeared like the driver had lost control of the vehicle. It was reported that the brakes of the truck failed. With the driver obviously unable to manoeuvre the vehicle to its right lane, the truck fell on the highway. It took a short while for many to fully fathom what was really happening. Then, as motorists realised what could follow, they started scrambling out of their vehicles.
Within seconds, the liquid contents of the tanker had begun to pour on the road with ferocious intensity. And almost immediately, the tanker exploded, its sound reverberating through the area. In no time, a monstrous fire had been ignited. Time was 5.23pm.
In a few moments, hell was literally let loose upon the area, descending on the Otedola Bridge with fire and fury. Huge balls of furious flames, accompanied by clouds of black smoke, spiralled into the sky.
Fire fighters and emergency workers poured in to the place in their numbers, but not much could be achieved. By the time the conflagration finished its course, no fewer than 54 vehicles had been totally burnt.
General manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu announced that nine persons, including one minor, lost their lives while four persons sustained injuries in the inferno.
Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who visited the scene later that night, commiserated with the families of the victims and praised the emergency workers for their quick response.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, also visited Ambode to commiserate with the government and people of Lagos over the unfortunate incident.
Ambode, during the visit of the Vice President, said that measures were being installed to ensure the prevention of such tragic incidents in the state.
Tapestry of tragedies
It wasn’t the first time that such a horrific tragedy would be unfolding in Lagos. In fact, explosions of fuel-laden tankers and the resultant infernos had become consistent spectacles for millions of Lagos residents.
In December last year, many people saw what might pass for a glimpse of hell fire when a truck laden with fuel exploded on the Festac Link Bridge in Amuwo odofin Local Government Area of Lagos. The tanker, which was coming from Festac, was trying to access the Festac Extension through the link bridge when the driver lost control of the vehicle. It rolled over and exploded. The inferno caused by the explosion led to the total destruction of no fewer than 20 vehicles and several motorbikes on display at an auto mart at the base of the bridge. Since then, the bridge has been closed to traffic while it continues to undergo repairs.
In February this year, eight persons were reportedly burnt to death while many others sustained serious burns when a fuel- laden truck collided with another trailer at the Ogunmakin area of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The incident occurred near the Foursquare Gospel Church Campground neat Ajebo. The fuel truck had a side collision with the trailer, which was carrying a container filled with passengers. The impact of the collision reportedly ruptured a part of the fuel tanker which caused fuel to gush out of the vehicle. The resulting inferno caused the death of the victims.
On December 5, 2015, four buildings and five vehicles were razed in Ojuelegba area of Surulere. A fuel-laden tanker fell off the Ojuelegba Bridge and exploded, spilling its contents on the bridge and on houses and vehicles below. Fuel from the fallen tanker gushed into the drainages and spread to the streets and houses in the area, and fire was ignited. Luckily, no life was lost.
On June 2, 2015, a fully-loaded fuel truck fell off the Iyana-Ipaja Bridge in Lagos and exploded. No casualties were recorded, but the resulting fire destroyed a popular recording company, electrical cables, three buildings, 44 shops. 22 vehicles , and six tricycles, among others.
In January 2014, a fuel tanker exploded around the National Theatre, Iganmu and destroyed three other oil tankers. The incident occurred while some oil workers were transferring fuel from a tanker to another. Fortunately, no loss of lives was recorded during the incident.
Earlier, in July, 2008, there had been another fuel tanker explosion in the same axis. About 5am, a petrol tanker fell, spilling its contents on the road before exploding. The explosion resulted in a huge inferno. Ten persons, including a pregnant woman, were killed in the incident just as many others sustained injuries. Six vehicles and valuable property were also razed.
Queries for regulators
Since the incident, angry Nigerians have been pouring out their emotions. They observed that fuel tanker explosions have become a regular affair in the country and wondered why the authorities appeared too incapacitated to curtail the menace of tanker drivers.
In his reaction to the incident, popular comedian, Ali Baba, said: “In organised societies, where traffic is a major issue, tankers and heavy duty vehicles move at night or at specified times. In developed climes, Ministry of Transport agencies are as serious as the police force. In some other climes that have deep shores like we do, only one port cannot be used for discharge of staples like fuel.
And even then, fuel and transportation of inflammable contents are done in controlled methods.
“We are a lawless country. If government tries to organise these same tankers now, they will go on strike, shut down the economy and day to day running, and we will let them continue. Bet me, more tankers will fall. Nothing will be done. Nothing.”
In an article, spokesman of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Adegbenro Adebanjo, said beyond the mechanical problems, the personality of drivers of fuel trucks should be critically examined.
His words: “The physical and mental state of the drivers of the vehicles and their assistants (motor boys) could be largely responsible for the growing rash of accidents of the magnitude that occurred on Otedola Bridge. Some of the drivers are not well trained to handle such vehicles while a number of them do not possess the right mental and physical capabilities to be on the road. And of course they are also forced by accidents or design to work beyond the threshold of their resilience. It is inconceivable for a driver to be behind the wheel for 72 hours without taking time to rest properly. Some of the drivers routinely drive for between two and four days nonstop. They are simply accidents waiting to happen. And when their vehicles are the types that convey inflammable liquids like petrol, diesel and gas, they are simply moving time bombs on the roads, unknown to other road users.”
Adebanjo also had some tips for the authorities, especially the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) on how a recurrence could be prevented.
Hear him: “The Lagos tragedy should be a wakeup call to the FRSC to reappraise its enforcement mechanism. It’s not enough for FRSC officials to flag down erring motorists or over-speeding tanker drivers on the highway. Time has come for a coordinated approach to put a stop to this avoidable carnage. It will not be out of place to begin a regime of examination of the state of tankers and other articulated vehicles and random tests of drivers at loading bays, ports, depots and other points where they converge. The drivers should be tested for drugs and when it is discovered that they are mentally or physically impaired, they should be stopped from driving. The FRSC should also ensure that it enforces its policy on speed limiting device to the letter. Only certified drivers and vehicles should be on the roads. Those who employ the drivers should also be more concerned with their physical and mental wellbeing and physical welfare. Some of the drivers are too young to drive while some of them are also too old to drive. They should also be trained and retrained and taught the value of human lives. Governments at all levels should begin the comprehensive enforcement of all relevant laws and regulations relating to road safety and safe driving.”
Apapa-Mile 2 axis: The fire next time
While Lagos residents continue to mourn the victims of Thursday’s carnage, some residents are worried that a bigger spectacle might be months, weeks or days away. Around the Mile 2 end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, a monumental tragedy might be in the offing, unless the authorities find a way to tackle the menace.
Every day and night, from Second Rainbow Bus Stop through Mile 2 to Apapa, you would find a long, troubling column of trucks, tankers and other articulated vehicles completely taking up the road, leaving absolutely no space for other road users. Among such vehicles are trucks laden with fuel.
Mr. Emeka Alex Duru, a senior journalist and editor with The Niche, on Thursday, posted a scary photograph of fuel tankers occupying three lanes on the Mile 2 end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway on his Facebook timeline. Those that made comments on the thread expressed fear of what might be if something accidentally ignites fire in the axis.
Right now, the major highways have become so congested that the trucks and trailers are relocating to the inner communities and streets.
For long, accessing Kirikiri from the Mile 2 end even for small vehicles has been a herculean task, as the articulated vehicles have totally cordoned off the area. Motorists would have to get to Second Rainbow, divert to Apple Junction, burst out through the Durbar Junction and then hit the Lagos Badagry Expressway. They would then drive down to Alakija, make a U-turn and head back to Mazamaza or Mile 2.
But these days, accessing places like Kirikiri through Mazamaza has become unpredictable and chaotic. In the past few weeks, articulated vehicles taking up entire roads and preventing access to even tricycles and motorbikes has become a 24- hour affair in the axis. Those residing or working in the area are forced to walk long distances, as they can no longer get their vehicles to their homes or offices.
A resident of Alahu Ozumba area of Mazamaza, Mr. Oyinade Ademola, was very angry when Daily Sun sought his comments.
“I refuse to believe that we have a caring government,” he exploded. “If we do, then the people in government obviously don’t know that people exist here. Imagine what we face in this area every day. One would have thought that the governor would visit here for an on-the-spot assessment, but we have not seen that.”
A worker with a haulage firm in Kirikiri explained that he had resorted to parking his car somewhere in Festac, as driving to his office was no longer possible.
“On Wednesday, the traffic started from Trade Fair to Mile 2,” he said. “Many people were stuck for more than eight hours, as traffic was at a standstill. Who did we offend? Why are we being punished like this? Are we not a part of this state? Why is no one coming to our aid? The other day, the state government told us that it had acquired a trailer park at Orile that could accommodate 3,000 trucks. What is happening to that park? Are we going to remain like this?”