The use of dilapidated tankers to load petrol at the depots has led to increasing rates of explosions and fire incidents on the highways, with the attendant loss of lives. Ejiofor Alike reports that the rising incidents have exposed the high level of non-compliance of fuel marketers to health, safety and environment regulations
With the increasing use of petrol tankers that are no longer road-worthy to load petroleum products, it has become obvious that there is high level of non-compliance to health, safety and environment (HSE) regulations in Nigeriaâ€™s oil and gas industry by the independent marketers of petroleum products and depot owners.
The marketers have ignored several warnings by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which has continuously re-emphasised the importance of safety in the industry.
At the recent 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Lagos Zonal Office of the DPR held in Lagos, the Director of DPR, Mr. Mordecai Danteni Baba Ladan was alarmed at what he described as the ill-fated incidents recorded in 2017, saying the incidents were unfortunate and dire reminder of the dangers inherent in the operating environment when the operators fail to adhere to safety rules.
He identified the major fatalities in 2017 to include the fire incident at the Apapa Jetty belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and operated by the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), which claimed four lives and the retail outlet fire incident in Ogun State, which recorded six fatalities.
Also speaking at the AGM, which had â€œSafety â€“Our Joint Responsibility,â€ as the theme, the DPRâ€™s Lagos Zonal Operations Controller, Mr. WoleAkinyosoye had also noted that the gas skid explosion, which claimed six lives in Ogun State was an avoidable incident.
â€œIllegal gas plants and skids are mushrooming and more people are rushing into the gas business without taking time to familiarise themselves with the modus operandi on skill and statutory requirement for entry and operations.
This has led to increasing fire incidents and near-misses in recent times. For example, early this year, six lives were lost to an explosion in a gas skid somewhere in Ogun State. Subsequent inquest by the DPR revealed it was an avoidable incident. We also found the lives could have been saved had the minimum safety procedures been followed and the DPR involved in the events leading to the operations in the facility, as prescribed by law. Recently, another gas explosion occurred somewhere in sub-urban Lagos, where three people were wounded and one, very critically,â€ Akinyosoye had explained.
Frequent disasters on highways
As the DPR is warning operators to adhere to safety measures in gas plants and retail outlets, there has been a rising cases of violation of safety rules by marketers and depot owners who authorise the use of tankers that are not road-worthy to load inflammable products at the depots and ply long highways where they explode and cause havoc.
While these tankers successfully load products at the depots without any incident, they do not successfully get to their destinations in most cases.
On several occasions, some of these tankers developed faults on the highways that resulted to explosions and fire incidents that consumed other motorists and their vehicles.
In some cases, these tankers spilled petrol on residential houses and shops that were consequently razed together with the occupants by the resulting inferno.
One of the most recent incidents occurred in Festac area of Lagos State when at least 21 vehicles and four commercial motorcycles were burnt last Wednesday when a tanker laden with petrol fell.
The tanker spilled its content on the Festac Link Bridge in AwuwoOdofin Local Government Area, which resulted in fire that raged for about an hour.
The News Agency of Nigeria had reported that the tanker, which was coming from Apple Junction and going to FESTAC Town, was ascending the bridge, when it suddenly rolled back and fell.
The impact of the fall separated the tank from the truckâ€™s body, resulting in an explosion, according to the report.
Expectedly, the fire spilled over to nearby vehicles and into a car shop on the foot of the bridge, burning some of the cars.
Barely four hours after the Festac incident on the same last Wednesday, six persons, including three soldiers were burnt to death in Iwuru in Biase Local Government Area in central district of Cross River State when a tanker laden with petroleum products crashed and exploded along the Calabar â€“ Ikom Highway.
The incident occurred when the tanker developed break problem and the driver tried to maneuver it to a ditch to avoid collision with oncoming vehicles.
This led to an explosion and fire after the vehicle was said to have upturned.
Earlier in July 2017, at least 10 people were burnt to death while six others sustained serious injuries when a petrol tanker went up in flames in Felele area of Lokoja, Kogi State.
The Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps in Kogi State, Mr.Segun Martins, had reportedly said that most of the victims were passengers travelling in an 18-seater commercial bus.
Culpability of marketers
While some tanker accidents can be attributed to bad roads, most of the incidents are caused by the poor state of the vehicles and of course, recklessness of tanker drivers who hand over their vehicles to the â€˜motor boyâ€™ when they want to sleep or rest.
As part of the safety measures, marketers and depot owners are required by HSE regulations to continuously train their drivers and disallow the use of tankers in very poor state to load products in their tanker farms.
But in their unhealthy competition for high turnover and large market share, some of the depot operators even allow leaking tankers into their depots.
These depot operators, it was learnt, adopt high level of safety measures to ensure that these faulty vehicles load products without any incidents within their facilities.
However, before these vehicles reach their destinations, they will either explode and catch fire or develop mechanical problems that could lead to accidents that claim the lives of other road users.
THISDAYâ€™s investigations revealed that on many occasions, a combined team of LASTMA, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria Police, Civil Defence, Lagos State Fire Service, and LASEMA have averted loss of lives by successfully evacuating petrol from leaking tankers, which developed faults on Lagos Highways.
THISDAY further gathered that such successful evacuation of products from tankers on the highways have been recorded in Coconut area of Apapa-Mile 2 road, Trade Fair Bus Stop along Lagos-BadagryExpressway and Ojo Barracks Bus Stop, also along Lagos-Badagry expressway.
However, in some cases, petrol tankers cause accidents without giving signs for these agencies to intervene.
Need for urgent intervention
The federal government and the security agencies should collaborate with the DPR to stop the wanton destruction of lives and property on the highways by petrol marketers who have little or no regard to safety of human lives on the highways.
Tankers that cannot pass integrity test should not be allowed on the highways, let alone into the depots to load inflammable products and endanger human lives.
Some tankers have become a nuisance on the roads by causing accidents and gridlock.
Unscrupulous LASTMA officials, police and security agents are not helping matters as they collect money from tanker drivers and encourage them to block the roads.
In some areas, these officials simply look the other way out of fear of the powerful owners of these trucks.
For instance, as businesses are collapsing in Apapa as a result of menace of tankers, the 10-lane Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which is still under construction, is increasingly under threat by the activities of tanker drivers.
These drivers have turned the road to holding bay where their trucks park and wait for their turns to go to the depots in Satellite and Ijegun areas to load products.
THISDAY gathered that tankers park along the highway between Alakija Bus Stop and Trade Fair Bus Stop, causing heavy gridlock, especially at night and early morning hours, while LASTMA and police look on.
Investigation revealed that motorists that wait on the long queues caused by the tankers blocking the road are robbed every night by hoodlums.
The terms of the licensing of depot operators by the DPR stipulate that the depot owners must build a holding bay where tankers will park and wait for their turns to go into the depots to load fuel.
But experience has shown that tanker drivers abandon these holding bays and park on their highways and also threaten to go on strike and plunge the country into fuel crisis when government officials attempt to eject them.
The Lagos State government should quickly intervene to clear the tankers along the Lagos-Badagry road before the powerful petrol tanker drivers claim it is their right to park on this highway as they have successfully chased other business owners out of Apapa roads.
It appears the focus is on the safety of upstream operations, while the loss of lives in the downstream sector and the highways are ignored.
For instance, the federal government is considering jail terms for directors of oil and gas companies found guilty of abusing industryâ€™s safety standards, according to the new National Petroleum Policy recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The policy acknowledged that HSE practices of the operators in Nigeriaâ€™s oil and gas industry is quite poor, and needed to be improved on.
The policy seeks to push for a robust adherence to standard health and safety practices, by ensuring that individuals found culpable of breach of safety standards, which result to accidents, is brought to criminal justice to serve as a deterrent to people who may consider acting in a similar fashion in the future.
However, the focus should not be only on upstream operations as more Nigerians are daily losing their lives and property to the lawlessness of marketers and tanker drivers on the highways.