A Family’s Nightmare 

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the dilemma of the Famojuro family, whose three-year-old son and driver disappeared at the scene of the recent tanker explosion on Otedola Bridge in Lagos, fuelling suspicion of kidnapping, and anger about the recklessness of articulated vehicle drivers  

At the home of the Famojuro’s a bed lies empty. It belongs to their three-year-old son, Eyitayo. The little boy and his twin sister, Eyitoke, alongside their mother and family driver, simply identified as Joseph, were among commuters caught up in the tragedy on Otedola Bridge, in the Ojodu-Berger area of Lagos last Thursday, when a petrol tanker fell and caught fire.  The matriarch of the family had gone to pick the twins from their school at Ikeja GRA. They were on their way back home when the tragedy struck. 

Suspicion 

The disappearance of the toddler and the family driver has spiked fears of abduction. 

Eyitayo was said to have vanished into thin air with the family driver after the explosion. According to a family member, Funmi Balogun, the missing boy was with his mum, his twin sister, and the driver in the car when the fire started. 

Balogun posted the boy’s picture on her Instagram page, fabrics_n_more, and wrote, “This boy in this picture is a three-year-old named Eyitayo. He was involved in the unfortunate tanker accident with his mother, twin sister and the driver at Otedola Bridge yesterday (Thursday) evening. They were a few cars away from the tanker when the explosion occurred. The driver (Mr. Joseph) carried Eyitayo while the mother escaped with Eyitoke (Eyitayo’s twin). 

“The whereabouts of Eyitayo and Mr. Joseph is still unknown as all attempts to trace them at the scene of the accident proved abortive. Anyone with information should pls call 08033148161 or approach nearest police station.”

When contacted, Balogun had declined to state if they had gone to the Emergency and Trauma Centre at the old toll gate to look for the duo. She also declined to divulge whether they had reported the case to the police so the driver’s number can be tracked. She, however, stated that as at 3pm, they were yet to know their whereabouts, as neither the driver nor the boy were back home. 

However, the family was prevailed upon to share the picture of the driver to aid easy identification, and they obliged to release the picture that has since gone viral. 

On Saturday morning, hope loomed following information that the boy had been found. But that was soon debunked by the family with another post calling for people to disregard the information. 

Although many had urged the family to check with the emergency workers who had revealed that a minor was part of the dead, a check by THISDAY revealed that the minor among the dead persons was possibly a seven-year-old, thus could not be Eyitayo. 

The suspicion on many minds is that the driver might have capitalised on the chaos to flee with the boy.

But the state Police Public Relations Officer, Chike Oti, a Chief Superintendent of Police, said the police had not received any report of missing a person from the family, adding that only five persons have gone to the division to report that their cars were among the burnt ones. 

 Explosion  

It was exactly 5.30pm that Thursday, June 28, when the tanker fully laden with fuel fell while navigating the steep Otedola Bridge. The contents began to spill on the ground. In panic, motorists began to reverse as they attempted to zoom past. That however was their undoing. The fuel contents on the ground caught fire and spread like wildfire. 

By the time emergency workers arrived, no fewer than nine persons were dead and 54 vehicles, including a tricycle, were razed. As expected, pandemonium was the order of the day after the tanker, which was fully laden with petrol, exploded and engulfed virtually all the cars around it and some of the occupants. 

While nine bodies were recovered as at press time, several others with varying degrees of injury were rescued and taken to the Accident and Emergency Centre for treatment. Some of the injured persons, who had experienced third degree burns, were given first aid treatment before they were rushed to the accident centre.  

Eyewitness 

Although some motorists who were near the fallen tanker succeeded in fleeing before the explosion occurred, some others were not fortunate. Samson Ojo, an eyewitness told THISDAY, “I was driving inwards Lagos from Berger and was approaching the Otedola Bridge when the explosion went off.

“My first emotion was sheer panic as the entire axis shook as balls of flame erupted into the sky somewhere down the road. Like other motorists, I parked and came out to ascertain what happened. When some of us bravely made our way down, we saw people fleeing dell their cars as the fire was roaring. The screams of those in pain is not something I will forget in a hurry.

“We tried to do the little we could do to help put out the flames but nothing worked until the fire service trucks came and started dousing the flames one car after another. “

Another eyewitness, Kehinde Osamor, said the casualty figure was less because people abandoned their cars and escaped. He said, “We were all trying to navigate the bridge when this same tanker driver tried to climb it. We don’t know what happened but he suddenly started rolling back.

“Our immediate thought was to ensure he didn’t roll over any of us and surprisingly, the tanker fell sideways and its content started spilling on the road. Some of us immediately left our cars and ran. Some people stayed put. The next thing we heard was an explosion and cars caught fire. It was a race of the fittest.”

Effect

Meanwhile, the effect of the accident was not limited to the lives lost. It caused a heavy traffic jam that spilled over to virtually all major roads in Lagos, especially the ones leading to the bridge, on that day. Traffic spilled over from the bridge all the way down to Third Mainland Bridge and Oshodi Expressway and even major parts of Ikeja and Airport Road.

When contacted that day, the RRS Commander, ACP Olatunji Disu, said preliminary investigation revealed that the tanker had difficulty in driving up the bridge. Although he declined to give statistics on the casualty figure, he said several persons were injured and others dead. 

Similarly, General Manager LASEMA, Adesina Tiamiyu, said the tanker was exiting Lagos when he lost control and fell on the bridge. He said, “The content spilled and it exploded. All the vehicles behind it caught fire and exacerbated the explosion. 

“We got the distress call at our command center and quickly deployed to the scene. In collaboration with other emergency workers, we succeeded in rescuing four injured persons. While two out of the four were critically injured, the other two who were also injured received first aid treatment from LASAMBUS before they were rushed to the Accident and Emergency Centre along that axis to stabilise them.”

While the injured were given first aid treatment before they were rushed to the hospital, the bodies of the deceased persons were taken to the morgue.  

Crowd Control 

Immediately news of the fuel tanker accident broke, emergency agencies, including the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS), Lagos Fire Service, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), and other secondary responders stormed the scene.

While the emergency responders set out to rescue as many as they could, they literally picked up some of the dead bodies of the deceased persons, who had attempted to flee, on the ground.  

However, according to the emergency workers, one of the major challenges they had was the issue of crowd control, as the teeming crowd made rescue work extremely difficult.

The rescue team had swung into action immediately but the curious crowd surged in too with their cameras, turning into citizen journalists. 

Speaking on anonymity, one of the emergency workers said, “So instead of carrying out rescue operations and saving lives, we were forced to try to disperse the crowd first. Although some of them genuinely wanted to help, others were more concerned about taking pictures, while there were yet those who came to scavenge amongst the death. It took the combined effort of the police from the division and the RRS to get a semblance of sanity before we swung into proper rescue work.”

Fresh Accident 

Barely 22 hours after the Otedola Bridge accident, another accident happened in the same vicinity, involving two commercial vehicles. No fewer than 10 people sustained varying degrees of injury and were rushed to the hospital by emergency responders at the scene. Fortunately, no life was lost.

The commercial bus drivers, a yellow bus and a white Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) assisted mass transit bus, were said to be riding in opposite directions when their vehicles collided. Given last Thursday’s explosion, the emergency workers and traffic agencies had blocked a section of that road to enable them cart off the carnage of the 54 burnt vehicles and a tricycle. 

With that blockade, motorists from inward Lagos who were heading to outside Lagos and vice versa were directed to drive on one section of the road. Although the movement of cars on one lane expectedly caused a huge traffic snarl, the traffic agencies were able to control it. 

According to eyewitness account, the two drivers were impatient and attempted to pass at the same time and it resulted to a head-on collision. 

However, the impact of the clash affected the yellow commercial bus more than that FGN transit as it recorded more casualties.

At the scene were emergency responders from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Rapid Response Squad (RRS), the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS) and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).

Memory Lane  

Last Thursday’s tanker explosion was not the first of such accidents on Otedola Bridge. About eight years ago, on August 25, 2010, a massive tanker explosion at the Otedola Bridge claimed 15 lives. The explosion also claimed an infant and left 18 others with varying degrees of injury, with 20 cars burnt beyond repairs.

The multiple fatal motor accident was, allegedly, caused by policemen who had mounted an illegal road block on the highway.  But this was denied by the police who said if there was actually a road block, the policemen on duty at the time of the accident would have formed part of the first victims of this carnage. 

But many eyewitnesses said the reckless driver of a trailer belonging to Dangote had suffered a break failure and lost control, and consequently rammed through a long line of vehicles before going up in flames.

With the furore the accident had aroused, roadblocks were then declared illegal. 

Interestingly, eight years after the accident, no implementation of the coroner’s inquest has been reported. The coroner had stated that the Dangote truck was at fault for not slowing down on the bridge, just as it blamed the police for mounting a roadblock, which made it impossible for vehicles to flee. 

According to THISDAY’s earlier report, 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.

Pains of Relatives 

When accidents of such nature occur, it is usually the family members of the victims that bear the brunt. Given the culture of silence often surrounding such cases, it is often hard for the relatives of get accurate or even civil information from the authorities. 

To even track the whereabouts of the injured and dead persons was Herculean task as the emergency responders withheld the information. After visiting several likely hospitals and meeting a brick wall, THISDAY was lucky to have stumbled into some of the relatives of the injured at Gbagada General Hospital. 

Although officials at the Trauma Centre and LASUTH claimed neither the dead nor injured victims were brought to their premises, it was learnt that five injured persons were actually transferred from the former to Gbagada General Hospital.

While two men were moved to the emergency ward on Thursday night, a woman, Mrs. Ade Shittu, and a bus driver, Wasiu Olaitan, and another unidentified man were transferred to the hospital. Shittu, whose body was covered in bandages at the female ward, said the explosion occurred in less than a minute. According to her, she was burnt while trying to run away from the scene.

She said: “I am a civil servant and had closed from work. I was in a commercial bus going home when the incident occurred. I cannot really say what happened but we heard a loud noise and people were running.

“I got burnt while I was running from the bus. I thank God that I am alive. We were five that were brought to this place this morning. I do not know where the other four are.”

One of the relatives who besieged the hospital recounting the hours of horror said he trekked from Berger to the Trauma Centre in search of his family member. He said, “Yesterday was a terrible day but I thank God my wife survived it. I trekked from Berger to Trauma Centre and back. 

“I cannot say the number of people that died to be honest.  Most of the bodies were dismembered. Others have been burnt and turned to small objects. Those escalation equipment were carrying up charred bodies which makes it pretty difficult to put a figure to the dead bodies.”

The wife of the bus driver, Mrs. Fadiat Olaitan, said her husband sustained minor burns on the arm, adding that she was yet to see him.   

Another relative, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, lamented that as at Friday evening, she was not allowed access to her husband. She said: “We have been in this hospital since morning that they brought them here but the workers did not allow us in. They were brought in from the Trauma Centre. My husband was seriously burnt. At the Trauma Centre, they took care of them before bringing them here. You can see the number of people outside. We have not been allowed in.”

On the possibility of mass burial, one of the relatives at the Gbagada hospital said they were told the dead were burnt beyond recognition, while a good number were dismembered by rescue equipment. However, a government source said ordering a DNA to ascertain their identities was not impossible.  

Uncontrolled Tanker Operation 

As with many traffic regulations, the ban on tankers from plying the roads at certain hours of the day has been continually flouted with security agencies generally turning a blind eye. 

But the Lagos State Government at the weekend clarified the section of the Road Traffic Law 2012 which restricts trailers and long vehicles from plying the metropolis between the hours of 6am and 9pm. The government said while Section 2 of the Traffic Law ‎restricts movement of trailers and long vehicles, only petrol tankers and long vehicles used in conveying passengers were allowed to travel within the metropolis between the stipulated time. It also stated that vehicles with more than one real axle or six tyres are hereby restricted between the hours of 6am and 9pm with the exemption of the following in accordance with Section 2 and 38 of the Road Traffic Law 2012. 

These exemptions were tour bus/passenger buses, fire service trucks, rescue and recovery trucks, patrol trucks, perishable farm products trucks, refuse collection trucks‎, cement mixer trucks, tractors and refrigerated trucks. 

New Measures  

The Lagos State government has announced some stringent measures that restrict the movement of fuel tankers to designated trailer routes.The government also said it was now mandatory for all articulated trucks coming into Lagos to obtain the Ministry of Transportation’s Road Worthiness Certificate at any of the designated centres within the next 30 days.

Addressing a joint press briefing at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Alausa after meeting with the relevant stakeholders including Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), National Association of Transport Operators (NATO), Container Truck Owners Association of Nigeria, among others, the state’s Commissioner for Transportation, Ladi Lawanson, said the decision became necessary following preliminary investigations into the incident which revealed a combination of vehicular defect and human errors.

Lawanson said, “As an immediate response to the latest incident, the Lagos State Government hereby announces the following measures: fuel tankers are hereby directed to ply the designated trailer route, that is, Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway via Ogudu to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

“All tankers and containers coming into Lagos State from henceforth are directed to obtain the Ministry of Transportation Certificate of Road Worthiness at any of or centres within the next 30 days, while new centres along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will be established to quickly to cope with the expected demand for this service.”

He listed the 10 centres currently available to process the applications to include Berger, Ojodu; Odogunyan, Ikorodu; Agric/Ishawo Road, Ikorodu; Worksyard, PWD, Shogunle; NCI, Gbagada; VIS Yard, Oko-Afo, Badagry; VIS Yard, Ayobo-Ipaja; Test Centre, Badagry; VIS Yard, Epe; and VIS Yard, Oko-Oba Abattoir.

Lawanson, who addressed the briefing alongside heads of government agencies and the stakeholders, said preliminary investigation revealed that the affected tanker which exploded was registered in Nasarawa Local Government, Kano State, with registration number NSR 888 YC, and had changed ownership 13 times since purchase. He said further investigation into the current ownership of the tanker and other related details were progressing.

He said, “It (the tanker) was manufactured in 1999 by Mack Trucks Inc at its assembly plant in Winnsboro, United States. This truck was designed as a 14,959kg (approximately 15 ton) drilling rig with low bed, but it was converted in Nigeria from a drilling rig to fuel tank carrier to carry 30 tonnes. From this preliminary investigation, the truck should not have been loaded to the weight of 30 tonnes, which is twice its pulling capacity.”

On suggestion of restriction of operation of tankers to certain hours, the commissioner said having critically examined the issue especially considering the fact that imported petroleum products are pumped from import jetties at Atlas Cove through pipelines to Ejigbo Depots in Lagos, Mosimi (Ogun), Ibadan (Oyo), Ilorin (Kwara) and Ore (Ondo), and due to pipeline vandalism, any restriction of such would undermine supplies and threaten the wellbeing of the Nigerian economy since there is high demand for petroleum products across the country.

“This position has also been canvassed by the authorities in charge of the distribution of petroleum products in the consultations which followed the incident and at a time of great expectations for our economy to fully bounce back from recession, we believe that ensuring unhindered supply of petroleum products is indeed a patriotic contribution by Lagos State to the nation’s economic survival,” Lawanson said.

  He, however, disclosed that the state government was already exploring alternative modes of transportation of petroleum products to separate passenger traffic from cargo movements within the metropolis in the interest of the public safety and order.

He also said that government, in partnership with all the stakeholders, would set up joint-enforcement of the operating laws, while barriers would be installed on bridges in Lagos to prevent articulated trucks including Ojuelegba, Mobolaji Bank Anthony, Ekodeso, Abule-Egba, Lekki-Ajah, among others. 

Update 

Giving an update on the recent accident on Otedola Bridge, Commissioner for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations, Seye Oladejo, said out of the four injured persons that were taken away from the scene, one died while government was taking full responsibility for the treatment of others. Oladejo denied allegations that some victims were rejected by the General Hospital in Surulere, saying that the victims were only taken to LASUTH, Ikeja, and Burns and Trauma Centre in Gbagada.

He said, “When you have such incident of that magnitude, as part of our training as emergency responders, we need to be very careful the way we handle our communication so that we don’t raise unnecessary alarm. It is important for members of the public to remain calm while we get all our acts together, otherwise we would also be asking for another emergency.

“Altogether, nine people passed on at the incident and they were all burnt beyond recognition. We have set up a helpline at LASEMA to try and open a communication channel with members of the public and with family members of the victims. It is important that DNA is conducted otherwise we would end up giving the wrong bodies to some families to go and inter and that would become another issue entirely.

“This kind of situation really calls for patience and understanding on the part of members of the public and most especially families of victim. As much as we sympathise and commiserate, things still have to be done professionally. As a government, we are alive to our responsibility and the major business we have is to ensure safety of lives and property and we are committed to that. We have signed up on that, you are also aware of the massive investment of the state government on issues bothering on emergency and response.”

Besides, the commissioner dismissed insinuation alleging that the integrity of Otedola Bridge had been compromised following the incident, saying there was no iota of truth in such, while government would soon fix the damaged section of the road.