Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Drains or water channels are constructed to take away surface water from an area. But standard water channels are usually built in such a way that the surface water being drained would not endanger life and property of people along its route.
However, for users of Old Ife Road in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the drain near the Sawmill/Onipepeye bridge at the Ibadan end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has become a harbinger of death.
The channel has also been endangering the life and property of motor mechanics, vulcanisers, car wash operators, commercial motorcycle operators and other traders at the foot of the bridge.
It was gathered that issues with the construction of the water channel were some of the factors that contributed significantly to the recent fuel fire that dispatched a cab driver and a nursing mother to their early graves. The fuel fire also completely razed three cars and partially burnt three others, apart from motorcycles and other property that were razed during the inferno.
The fuel tanker, which was loaded with 33,000 litres of premium motor spirit (PMS), coming from Lagos on Thursday, April 18, after the Sawmill/Onipepeye Bridge, had toppled on the median of the dual carriageway. The distance between the spot of the accident, and the bridge was approximately 500 metres.
The tanker reportedly fell down after the driver of a cab, fondly called Micra in Oyo State, drove recklessly by taking the fast lane from the slow lane when the tanker was at high speed. The tanker driver, in trying to avoid hitting the cab, lost control and the vehicle tumbled.
But there was no immediate explosion. It took about one hour after the tanker fell before it caught fire. Shortly after the tanker fell, the driver reportedly came out unhurt and asked for the nearest fire service station, and he was directed to Gbagi. Before he returned from the station, the tanker had caught fire.
As gathered, the PMS in the tanker started gushing out immediately it fell and the liquid streamed through the curve of the road median to the opening of the water channel. The petrol entered the channel and flowed to the other end, covering the Old Ife Road under the bridge. Many of the road users, especially drivers and motorcyclists, were not surprised to see the liquid on the road. The place had always been covered with water. They probably mistook the petrol for water and navigated through it.
The motorcycle operators, motor mechanics, and other artisans at the foot of the bridge raised the alarm that the liquid was not water but petrol. They quickly constituted a task force to stop motorists and motorcyclists from driving through the road under the Sawmill/Onipepeye Bridge.
But some motorists did not yield to the warning. They defiantly drove through the ankle-deep petrol on the road. Some passed through it successfully. A Micra cab reportedly started the fire when its back tyres fell into a pothole on the road and its silencer hit a stone. The fire traced the petrol to the spot where the tanker fell, which caused the explosion.
It was also an opportunity for some people to scoop petrol on top of the bridge and under the bridge. But none of the people that scooped the fuel on the bridge was affected by the fire. It was argued that the second person that died in the inferno under the bridge was actually scooping petrol.
He reportedly parked his Micra cab under the bridge and came out with jerry cans to scoop the fuel before the explosion. Some insisted, however, that the deceased man did not scoop petrol but was just unlucky.
The inferno did not affect any vehicle or any other property on top of the bridge, apart from the tanker itself. The victims of the disaster and belongings that got burnt were all under the bridge and at the foot of the bridge by the side of Onipepeye River.
Although some people escaped being burnt to death, they sustained varying degrees of burns. Those that spoke with the reporter said the water should be properly channelled to the Onipepeye River to avoid a future calamity.
They also called on relevant agencies of government and the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to embark on massive education and enlightenment for commercial cab operators on the danger of indiscriminate parking and reckless driving.
Ayo, a motor mechanic at the foot of the bridge, told our correspondent: “The tanker fell down and the petrol on top of the bridge streamed down under the bridge. The petrol filled the road under the bridge and it looked like water on the road.
“We raised the alarm, and many motorists turned back so that the petrol would not catch fire. People that have shops and workshops around this place quickly removed some valuables from their stalls and fled.
“But the fire started when a Micra cab wanted to quickly pass through the road. The Micra cab was completely burnt. The second car that got burnt wanted to join the express and in it were a husband, wife and their child. It was a Toyota Camry, the one called ‘Big Daddy.’
“The husband pulled up and quickly escaped with the child. But as the wife stepped out of the car, the smoke was already thick and she did not know where to follow. She slipped, fell down on petrol, and the fire burnt her to death.
“I counted three motorcycles that were razed. One of the affected motorcyclists quickly abandoned the bike and ran away. But the fire burnt his hand and that side of his body. The fire also burnt a tricycle partially. The tarpaulin cover of it was burnt. The fire burnt the rider on the hand and chest. He also survived.
“We mechanics also took precautions when the petrol was streaming down from the bridge and covering the Old Ife Road at Onipepeye, which is in front of our workshop. But the fire also partially burnt the car we parked very close to the road. We quickly put out the fire, because it would have affected other cars in the workshop.”
Mr. Michael Babalola was one of the car wash operators by the foot of the bridge. He said: “We were washing some cars when the incident occurred. We quickly stopped washing the cars, and we moved them out of the danger zone. At the time the tanker fell, we had three cars on the ramp. The incident happened some minutes to 2pm. We heard a loud bang on the bridge, and we thought a container had fallen down, or the police were pursuing some criminals and they had to shoot at them.
“We quickly went up the bridge to check what happened. When we got there, we discovered that it was a petrol tanker that fell.
“There is a water channel very close to the bridge, and water on the bridge usually streams through it whenever there is a downpour. The petrol also streamed down through the channel and found its way to cover the road under the bridge. The petrol flowed like water on the road.
“We told the car drivers not to pass through the flowing petrol. Majority of drivers stayed far away from the flowing petrol, while some of them ignored our warning. They sped through the petrol on the road.”
Chairman of the Onipepeye unit of Commercial Motorcycle Operators, Mr. Ramon Ayankunle, popularly known as Satiramon, told the reporter that the only way to prevent the disaster from happening again was for government to extend the channel to the Onipepeye River.
“If the channel were constructed to empty its contents into the river, this kind of calamity would have been prevented. I use this opportunity to appeal to the government to come for an inspection of the channel and do the needful.
“Giving relief materials to victims of the fire disaster is good, but there should be steps taken to ensure that this kind of calamity does not happen again. In case it happens, the effect would be minimal if the channel is constructed to connect with the Onipepeye River,” he said.