On Tuesday, June 19, it was yet another tragedy on the popular Ojuelegba Bridge in Lagos.
That evening, darkness descended on Lagos and the ever-boisterous Ojuelegba was gripped with its usual chaotic traffic, with people plying their trade amid the confusion. That was when a truck unleashed terror on the area, leaving in its wake death, injuries and agony.
The truck, which was heading towards the Fadeyi end of the bridge, reportedly lost control, emptying its heavy contents that included logs and plywood on innocent motorists and pedestrians. Three people were killed instantly, with others sustaining varying degrees of injury.
The fatalities would have been higher if not for proactive passersby that made spirited efforts to rescue those trapped under the debris.
Incidents of container-laden trucks or other articulated vehicles crushing people to death on or underneath the Ojuelegba Bridge have increased over the years.
And even weeks after such preventable accidents, movement around the axis is done with trepidation, as no one knows when the next truck would bear down with deadly rage.
Each new accident and losses on the bridge evokes fresh memories of those that have happened in the past. Several families have been thrown into disarray from the many deaths caused by fallen trucks on the Ojuelegbe Bridge. Many dreams have been truncated, people psychologically scarred and those maimed left to live each day on false hope.
For the family of Sulaiman, life has not been the same since the tragic incident that claimed the life of Abubakar on the morning of Wednesday, September 2, 2015.
The day, which started on a very good note for the businessman who operated a bureau de change, ended on a very sad note. His mangled body and that of his friends, Kamilu and Umar, were recovered from under the crushing weight of a fully-loaded 40-foot container-laden truck that skidded off the bridge and land on their black Toyota sports utility vehicle.
Also badly damaged by the container were a black Toyota Corolla and a white Nissan Sunny saloon car trapped in the gridlock when the accident occurred.
The incident also caused a stampede, as motorists plying the busy route abandoned their vehicles and fled for their lives.
According to Abubakar’s wife of 15 years, Zainab, the tragedy was too much for her to bear and her five children would forever miss the loving presence of their father.
Also in December 2015, at least four houses and five vehicles were razed when a fuel tanker fell off the Ojuelegba Bridge, spilling its content and bursting into flames. The tanker, which belonged to a major oil company, was reportedly ascending the bridge in the early hours of the morning when it lost control.
Efforts to prevent the spillage from causing an inferno proved abortive, as the fire ferociously destroyed everything in its path.
With each of these happenings come unquantifiable losses in goods and productive man-hours. And from all indications, nothing, aside from lip service, seems to have been put in place by the authorities to prevent a recurrence of the unsavoury incidents.
What has always been the standard status quo maintained by the government after every of such carnage, is the evacuation of damaged vehicles from the scene.
Those saddened by the recurring accidents have blamed them on the terrible state of the articulated trucks that ply the axis.
Daily, it is not unusual to see rickety trailers bearing unlatched containers struggling to make their way up or down the aged bridge. It is not also uncommon to find trucks fit only for the junkyard and lacking number plates, headlights and brake lights driving through the bridge or parked on the facility, apparently for repairs.
Most container-laden trucks placed on flatbeds have no fittings to prevent them from sliding off, especially as they attempt to ascend the bridges and flyovers in Lagos. A good number of them are usually precariously tilted and are never properly fastened.
Presently, there is a long line of such articulated trucks stationed on the Ojuelegba Bridge all the way to Costain, Surulere and the Eko Bridge, waiting their turn to lift goods from the ports. And from all indications, the danger they pose to motorists and pedestrians under the bridge is better left to imagination.
Quite disturbed by the carnage, a safety expert, Uzo David, noted that the prevalence of dilapidated trucks on Ojuelgbe Bridge should be a major source of concern to the Lagos State government. He noted that almost all the trucks that ply the axis are without pointers, brake lights as well as other rear lights and caution signs.
“It has become a common sight for trucks to break down and no form of sign is put up to warn other motorists of their presence. And several times, you are left trapped between unlatched container-laden trucks and tankers belching black smoke. It could really be scary,” he said.
Most people have also attributed the numerous deaths on the bridge to absolute recklessness and impunity of the articulated vehicle drivers. They blamed the regulatory authorities statutorily charged with ensuring that drivers conduct themselves as expected for not living up to expectations with regard to truck drivers.
They alleged that officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) would rather turn a blind eye to these recalcitrant drivers and hunt down drivers that are not using seat belts or those whose vehicles do not have fire extinguishers.
Oftentimes, these officials have been accused of collecting bribes from drivers of rickety trucks with worn-out tyres and allowed them to continue their journey, to the detriment of other road users.
An agency like LASTMA has been variously accused of becoming more involved in high-level extortion than impounding bad trucks. Many have accused operatives of the agency of being more concerned with impounding apparently well-maintained private and official cars.
Also cited as contributing to the perennial crashes on the Ojuelegba Bridge are the missing metal rails meant to act as buffers to stop vehicles from falling over the edge. Over the years, the rails have gradually disappeared without a trace, and they have never been replaced by the authorities.
On the bridge are also rough patches and an undulating stretch, which could easily make a heavy duty vehicle to lose control. Over time, distressed portions of the bridge were milled, yet no attempts have been made to have them asphalted. This has left motorists to, on many occasions, battle to control their vehicles from swerving out of control.
With all these sad factors exposing residents to sudden death and injuries, Nigerians
are unanimously calling on the Lagos State government to intervene and bring an end to what they described as the senseless deaths on the bridge.
According to them, the series of truck accidents at Ojuelegba were avoidable.
Uche Amadi, a commercial bus driver on the Ojuelegba-Oshodi route, who said he escaped death by the whiskers, said no one could predict when the next accident would happen and it could be a matter of days, weeks or months.
With exasperation, he lamented that, in a city like Lagos, where trucks have been virtually licensed to kill, the clock might be ticking towards another bloodbath, and anyone could be a victim.
General manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, said the issue has been a source of concern to the Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. He said the accidents were caused by recklessness and disobeying road and traffic rules by drivers, adding that steps were being taken to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians on Lagos roads.
He also advised motorists and pedestrians to always remain vigilant and adhere strictly to traffic rules and regulations.