A scene at the Thursday inferno in Lagos, which claimed nearly 60 vehicles and 9 lives

Lagos, on Thursday, was thrown into sudden mourning, when an avoidable fuel explosion claimed many lives and vehicles, writes Olawale Olaleye

The menace and nuisance often constituted on Nigerian roads by articulated vehicles are now a culture of abuse that has been condoned to fester over time. With near-zero enforcement of extant regulations and sanctions in the event of infractions, this category of vehicles has earned their ugly name – lion or king of the road – harassing and intimidating other road users, such that often come at a very huge cost.

Last Thursday, in Lagos, hell lowered its furnace and unleashed its fury upon the surface of the earth, in a misfortune that claimed many innocent souls. This was however made feasible following a moment of sheer recklessness by some impossible fellow. In all, no fewer than 59 vehicles of different categories and people numbering nine were reportedly consumed in an inferno that lasted a couple of hours.

According to THISDAY’s account of the accident, “pandemonium erupted Thursday on Otedola Bridge in Ojodu-Berger area of Lagos, when a tanker fully laden with petrol exploded and fire engulfed virtually all the vehicles around it”.

The THISDAY report said although an official figure of casualties had yet to be ascertained as of the time the story was published online, it was learnt that over 40 cars were razed with some drivers and passengers caught up in the inferno.

Two versions of how the accident occurred have been doing the rounds. The first version claimed that the tanker, which was heading out of Lagos had a failed break, then the driver lost control and the truck hit the median before falling off completely, spilling its content.

The other version was slightly different. This version recorded that a commercial with a failed break rammed into the tanker leading to its eventual skidding and thus spilling out its content. The aftermath was an explosion that wreaked havoc and caused hours of gridlock. Whichever version of the account is true, what is established is that a certain reckless fellow put a lot of people through that avoidable mess and misfortune.

It is crucial to state that in 2010, a coroner’s inquest had found a Dangote Sugar Refinery-owned truck to be at fault for not slowing down on the sloppy end of the same Otedola Bridge inward Berger thus causing multiple accidents. At the same time, it blamed the police for mounting a roadblock, which made it impossible for vehicles to flee the scene of the accident.

Interestingly, one of the recommendations put forward by the coroner was that there should be a ‘slowdown sign’ along the bridge with distinct lane demarcations, where they would merge at the end of the bridge. But as it turned out, none of the recommendations has been taken seriously or put to use by the authority.

Thus, eight years after the ruinous accident, an even more terrible accident, which left the state and people more devastated, has happened. But before taking any action on what happened on Thursday, the government must first establish with clarity, what happened to be able to put paid to some of the swirling speculations.

Once that is done, then, it behoves the government to dust up the recommendations of the 2010 coroner’s inquest and regulate the movement of vehicles along that ever busy road as well as other roads. There are so many ignored regulations guiding the operations of the articulated vehicles including their time of movement. The government must ensure that this is taken very seriously as part of efforts to protect and save lives.

It is good to commend the government for rising up to the challenge as it happened. After all, emergency agencies like the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) and other secondary responders had deployed to the scene as soon as they could.

But the truth is that the government could actually do better. The speed of its first responders was not impressive. Perhaps, there is the need to bring in more equipment that could help in such fatal accidents as witnessed last Thursday.

After all, there are firefighting choppers in developing and civilised societies around the world. With its mega status, Lagos naturally ranks among such societies. It is not enough to flash the many billions it generates monthly without commensurate infrastructure as development markers. It is possible in Lagos and what is required is the will to deliver it.

Also important, there is the need for personal safety awareness on the party of the people. It is disturbing to learn that the moment the tanker fell off and started to spill its content, some persons still sat in their vehicles not thinking of the impending explosion. A majority of those caught in the inferno were people who refused to heed the urge to abandon their vehicle and seek safety first.
Sadly, such instinctive reaction is a no-brainer. People naturally scamper to safety when they come face-to-face with incidents that threaten their lives, to say the least, an inferno stoked by fuel. While it is understandable that momentary shock in some instances might have kept some people to their seats, the need to embrace safety awareness on-the-go is not negotiable.

Above all, the government must handle the corpses of those caught in the inferno with civility. It is important to establish the identity of the dead. It is bad enough that lives were lost in that inferno; families of the deceased must be given the privilege and honour of burying their dead after they have been clearly identified.

What happened last Thursday was a major disaster that should precipitate moments of reflections on the state of the nation, coming days after the Plateau State massacre by herdsmen, which claimed about 120 lives. It should be a moment of sombre national reflections, which should boost the beauty of the nation’s unity in its already coloured diversity than the gapping cleavages of the traditional fault lines.

Moving forward, the task of keeping the society safe, the roads particularly, is not a function of the government alone. It is about roles and responsibilities. The people have their roles and government its responsibilities, both of which are complementary. An abdication of one undermines the imperative of the other. Had someone acted responsibly, perhaps, the mourning last Thursday would have been turned into a wild jubilation.

This is why government in collaboration with relevant regulatory agencies must try as much as possible to enforced stricts licence issuance and compliance, expose and sanction manipulation at loading stations, ensure safety measures at all times and uphold road worthiness of the tankers before they set out. Above all, government must start considering others safer means of moving such products as done in other civilised society.