Petrol tankers will continue to explode and claim lives on the Nigerian highways as long as marketers of petroleum products continue to flout safety regulations and allow tankers that are in bad operating conditions to load the highly inflammable products in their depots, Ejiofor Alike reports
The flagrant abuse of safety regulations by fuel marketers, who are driven by profit motives, has led to many road accidents involving tankers that are no longer road-worthy.
In a bid to increase their market share, some marketers have thrown caution to the winds and allow all manner of tankers into their depots to load petroleum products.
Though these dilapidated tankers may successfully loaded products, as there has been no reported case of any tanker explosion that razed down any tank farm, some tankers laden products have developed mechanical faults on the highways, which resulted in explosions and fire incidents that consumed other motorists and their vehicles.
Indeed, on many occasions in Lagos State, emergency agencies, including the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS), Lagos Fire Service, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria Police, and the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, have averted loss of lives by successfully evacuating petrol from leaking tankers, which developed faults on highways in the state .
Some tankers in bad operating conditions have also spilled petrol on residential houses and shops that were consequently razed together with the occupants by the resulting inferno.
In December 2017, such incident occurred in Festac area of Lagos State when at least 21 vehicles and four commercial motorcycles were burnt when a tanker laden with petrol fell.
The tanker spilled its content on the Festac Link Bridge in Awuwo Odofin Local Government Area (LGA), which resulted in fire that raged for about an hour.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) 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.
Petrol tanker explosions are not restricted to Lagos State because barely four hours after the Festac incident of last year, six persons, including three soldiers were burnt to death in Iwuru in Biase Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State when a tanker laden with petroleum products crashed and exploded along the Calabar â€“ Ikom highway.
The incident was said to have 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.
Latest incident in Lagos
The latest tanker explosion in Lagos, which for the first time, attracted the attention of the Presidency, apparently due to the upcoming 2019 elections, occurred at the Otedola Bridge area of Ojodu-Berger, and about 12 persons were reported to have died and burnt 54 vehicles, including a tricycle.
A similar explosion at the same area in 2010, had killed no fewer than 15 persons, including an infant and also inflicted 18 others with varying degree of injuries, with over 20 cars burnt.
The latest accident occurred after the tanker, which was fully laden with petrol, exploded and engulfed virtually all the vehicles around it as well as some of their occupants.
According to eyewitnessesâ€™ account, the vehicle rolled backwards when it was climbing the bridge, which showed that it was in a bad operating condition and should not have been used to lift petroleum products and ply the highways.
Emergency agencies, including the RRS, the LASEMA, LASAMBUS, Lagos Fire Service, LASTMA and other secondary responders had a hectic time, trying to put out the inferno.
Like other similar incidents in Lagos and elsewhere, the tanker was in a poor operating condition.
The RRS Commander, Olatunji Disu, confirmed that preliminary investigation revealed that the tanker had difficulty in driving up the bridge.
Also, the General Manager of LASEMA, Adesina Tiamiyu, said the tanker was exiting Lagos when the driver lost control and fell on the bridge.
Petrol marketersâ€™ complicity
Though some tanker accidents can be attributed to bad roads, most of the tanker explosions and fire are caused by the poor state of the vehicles, and of course, the recklessness of tanker drivers who, in some cases, hand over their vehicles to the â€˜motor boyâ€™ when they want to sleep.
The Health, Safety and Health (HSE) regulations in Nigeriaâ€™s oil and gas industry require that the marketers and truck owners should train their drivers continuously and prohibit loading products with vehicles in bad working conditions.
But in their quest to outsmart competitors and record high turnover, some of the depot operators even allow leaking tankers into their depots.
Before these vehicles get to 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.
The lack of will on the part of the officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) at the depots to check the state of vehicles that lift products from the depots has worsened the situation.
There is an urgent need for collaborate efforts to stop these incidents on the roads. The practice of passing bucks by the DPR that it is not, police, VIO or FRSC that check the road-worthiness of vehicles, should stop.
The DPR is the apex regulator of the oil and gas industry that enforces HSE regulations in the industry.
DPR officials who are stationed on the depots should check the state of the vehicles loading petrol so as to avoid setting the depot or road users on fire.
The ill-fated tanker that roasted road users alive on Otedola Bridge was said to have changed ownership 13 times, which was an indication that the vehicle was no longer road worthy.
Instead of turning back this type of tanker and preventing it from entering any depot, security agents that flooded Apapa to control traffic are only interested in extorting the drivers before allowing them into the depots.
The Lagos State Government has initiated a bold step by planning to prosecute the owner and driver of the ill-fated fuel tanker which exploded on the Otedola Bridge, according to the stateâ€™s Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal.
The Stateâ€™s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem was said to have written to Edgal to advise him on the relevant provisions of the law that could guide the ongoing investigation, which would lead to possible prosecution.
â€œAs regards investigation into the matter, it is in top gear. I have just received a letter from the office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice which stated very clearly charges which we are going to prefer against the driver and the owner of that tanker.
â€œHenceforth, we are using this opportunity to call on all tanker drivers, all lorry drivers, all owners of such articulated vehicles to please submit those vehicles for Vehicle Inspection Office test; they must go through the entire hub and get the Ministry of Transportation Certificate of Road Worthiness. We will not allow such vehicles which obviously pose serious danger to other road users on our roads,â€ Edgal had said.
But the Nigerian Police Force, Federal Road Safety Corps and LASTMA are also culpable because instead of checking these tankers that perpetrate mass murder on the highways, some of these unscrupulous security and traffic officials are busy extorting car owners and commercial bus drivers.
However, THISDAY gathered that these agencies ignore the atrocities of these tankers for fear of being victimised by their powerful owners.
However, the initiative by the Lagos State Government to prosecute the vehicle owner and the driver is a bold move that should be implemented to serve as a deterrent to others and stop the waste of human lives on the roads.