From Joseph Obukata, Warri
It was a gory scene for commuters and passersby as four persons were roasted to death in Ekuigbo, Delta State. They were involved in a horrific accident, not because they were all occupants of the vehicles but as victims of circumstances.
Three of the deceased were on the road resting under a stationary truck, one was even praying when they were unfortunately roasted to death. They were burnt beyond recognition at the ever-busy Ekiugbo junction of the East-West Road in Ughelli, Delta State.
It was in wee hours of Monday, August 1, when the accident between a truck laden with cement and a Sienna bus claimed their lives.
The bus which caused the inferno was used to convey many bags filled with illegal petroleum products including Diesel and Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) often obtained from locally refined crude. Indeed, the illicit trade on stolen fuel stored in sacks have caused many deaths.
While the occupants of the truck were on legitimate duty to deliver cement to distributors and had stopped over to have a rest apparently after a night-long drive, the driver of the bus was on high speed. It resulted an in accident and four people died.
Findings indicate that the truck driver and the conductors were resting under the truck when they met their untimely death.
At first, everyone thought the deceased were all members of a suspected syndicate that specialised in marketing illegally refined diesel but our correspondent gathered that only the driver of the Sienna bus was on an illegal journey ostensibly the reason for his high-speed that killed him, including three others.
A version of the story said that the mini-van which was used to convey the locally refined products was escaping from security operatives when it rammed into the parked truck.
Witnesses said that the accident vehicle was allegedly being chased by yet-to-be identified security operatives when the driver lost control of the wheel and rammed it on the stationary truck.
Beside reckless parking of trucks on the highway which had caused many accidents in that part of the state and over speeding by motorists, the deplorable state of major roads in the state have increased the number of road accidents in recent times.
Responding to a question, a witness, who identified himself as Adasan said: “One vehicle carrying illegally refinery products rammed into a trailer. The vehicle swerved and hit the trailer once and went up in flames. The vehicle carried fuel and diesel. You should have seen human beings on the ground. They were roasted.”
Another witness, Ibrahim Charlie, corroborated Adasan’s narrative. He added that he didn’t know if the vehicle was being chased.
One source at Ekuigbo Junction said that some of the drivers who carry these locally refined diesel and fuel in bags are not directly involved in illegal bunkering but they are used by the major barons to convey the items.
“I know of a driver who was introduced to this trade. He was not part of the group but his duty was to pick their products and settle his way through police, army and NSCDC checkpoints. They know how to beat the checkpoints and escape with the products. It is possible this particular driver that caused the accident didn’t settle and was just escaping. He was on a very high speed and it is possible he was being pursued or was just escaping from a checkpoint. We see them every day on these roads,” he said.
The Unit Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in Ughelli, ACC Ikechukwu Ken, said that he could not say if the Sienna driver was being pursued by security agency when the accident occured but available information showed that the driver was on top speed when he rammed into the truck.
“What happened was that there was a Toyota Picnic coming from Warri end towards Ughelli and the Toyota was carrying illegal diesel. On his way, because of speed violations, it hit a parked truck and got inflamed. As a matter of fact, four people were consumed, burnt beyond recognition at that point. This happened around 6.14am.
“The vehicle was burnt beyond recognition too, so we couldn’t extract the number. The Sienna was carrying bunkering gas. That was what the witness told us and that was what led to the inferno. The people that got burnt were inside the truck. The front side of the truck got burnt and that was what really killed those people. It was stationary because we learnt in the morning hours the truck got bad and some of the occupants were just trying to have a rest.
“One of them that was picked up was even praying on a mat. The Sienna driver completed the four people that were killed in the fire. The relatives came in handy, I mean the Hausa community came and carried the corpses.”
Advising motorists to desist from conveying illegal petroleum products in sacks, Ken said: “We have been advising, it is not good for a vehicle to convey any type of diesel or fuel and be on excessive speed. People should take it easy and plan their journey from point A to point B so that they will reach their destination safely and soundly.
“That is our advice to the general public. On our own here, we have been trying to reach out to the motoring public and every other road user through public enlightenment and other means like using the media, through churches and going to Mosques. We have been preaching to them in the market places so that these dos and don’ts in the road can be indelible in their minds. That’s what we have been trying to do. You should also help us to tell them that speed is not good. When there is excess, it kills.”
On the menace of oil-thieves, who have now device a means of conveying stolen refined crude in bags, the Delta State Command of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) said that the Commandant General recently set up a Special Intelligence Squad, (SIS) to track the nefarious activities of oil thieves.
The command’s spokesman, Emeka Peters Okwechime, said that a recent raid by the Commandant General Special Intelligence Squad paid off as a spot where tankers secretly load petroleum products for supply to end users was discovered following credible intelligence at Odorubu waterside in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State.
He said that about six tankers and articulated trucks loaded with stolen and illegally refined petroleum products suspected to be automated gasoline oil (AGO) were discovered at the scene and impounded.
“Upon sighting the men of the CGSIS, the vandals used a 120 liters capacity tanker to barricade the only road leading to the illegal loading point to prevent men of the NSCDC from gaining access to the illegal loading point”.
He disclosed that determined to gain access into the loading point, men of the CGSIS engaged the services of about six truck drivers, two auto electricians and a tow truck with which they towed away the heavily loaded 120 liters capacity truck used by the crude oil thieves to barricade the road leading to illegal loading point.
In a related development, four suspects were arrested in Warri with suspected stolen diesel barely 24 hours of the arrival of men of the CGSIS in the state.
Okwechime said that the suspects were arrested with a Toyota Camry blue with Registration Number BMA 786 TN and a Toyota sienna with Registration Number KSF 107 CD loaded with illegally refined petroleum product suspected to be AGO concealed in 25liter polythene sacks numbering about 300 sacks.
The popular Ekuigbo junction in Ughelli, Ughelli North Local Government Area of the state, is known to be a stopover rest place for many heavy duty vehicle’s drivers. Several cases of accidents had been recorded within the Ekuigbo junction apparently because of the busy nature of the road.
In February this year, a suspected ‘yahoo boy’ killed two mechanics at Ekuigbo junction while they were repairing a truck. Five others, including a driver of a tricycle, otherwise known as Keke, and four occupants of the speeding vehicle survived the accident with life threatening injuries.
The mechanics were said to be fixing a broken down truck along the highway when they were crushed by the speeding Lexus 350 jeep. The two mechanics who died on the spot were dismembered.
Also, in March 2021, six suspected internet fraudsters popularly known as ‘yahoo boys’ died along the Agbarho-Ughelli section of the East-West road near Ekuigbo junction while celebrating the arrival of their newly-bought Lexus GX 460 Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) after the car rammed into a stationary truck.
Sources said one of the friends of the victims had just bought the Lexus GX 460 which necessitated the celebration.
“They were returning from a joint where they had gone to celebrate the arrival of the vehicle. The new vehicle rammed into a payloader truck along the expressway. The six of them died on the spot,” one of the sources said.