Following last month’s disaster on Otedola Bridge in Lagos, which involved a petrol-laden truck that spilled its contents, exploded, and caught fire, resulting in several deaths and destruction of about 54 vehicles, stakeholders recently gathered to consider options for safer roads in the country. Tobi Soniyi writes

Greed, ignorance, lawlessness and opaque demarcation of duties for regulatory agencies have often combined to provide a space for commotion in the haulage and heavy duty transportation sector. This was the position of stakeholders, who gathered in Abuja recently to brainstorm on how to solve the problem of incessant carnage on Nigerian roads, especially those involving articulated lorries.

When the unforeseen occurred on Tuesday, June 28, the country was jolted by a disaster foretold. On the Otedola Bridge, going out of Lagos, a petrol-laden tanker had rolled over, spilling its contents. The resultant inferno killed 12 people, consumed 54 vehicles and a tricycle.

Road crashes, especially those involving articulated vehicles, cannot be wished away soon, but this particular incident was gruesome enough to send policy makers and operators back to the drawing board. Records indicate that articulated vehicles, trailers and tankers, account for about 50 per cent of road traffic crashes and fatalities in the country.

The day-long session hosted by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, was an eye-opener for a country that derives so much revenue from the oil and gas sector, yet reaps great agony owing to bad policies, half-hearted implementation of programmes and outright circumvention of procedure by unscrupulous elements in the value chain system.

Records

The biggest sore point, perhaps, is the continued transportation of flammable petroleum products on dilapidated roads, across long distances by unskilled and reckless drivers. Statistics from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) indicate that no fewer than 1,255 trailers ply Nigerian roads daily, ferrying 41 million litres of petroleum products. Perhaps, no other country in the world matches this record.

Indeed, records indicate that articulated lorries are causing enormous drain on the economy. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, 1,120 tankers were involved in road crashes, costing the nation about N7.157 billion, beside loss of lives, injuries to persons, damage to the roads, farmlands and the environment.

Negative Indicators

Providing the statistics, Corps Marshall, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Boboye Oyeyemi, who was widely praised for doing a good job, listed a litany of reasons for this trend. The government, regulatory agencies and truck owners/ operators were all fingered as complicit in allowing the menace of road carnage to fester.

The negative indicators include non-adherence to road traffic safety practices, inadequate drivers’ training/certification and re-training leading to drivers’ errors, inadequate provision of tanker/trailer parks across the country, non-adherence to safety practices and standards by stakeholders; non-functional weighbridges to assist in enforcement of axle load compliance, including overload with sundry goods like tomatoes, and firewood.

Boboye also listed ageing trucks and lack of fleet renewal programmes, non-cooperative attitude of drivers and other stakeholders, non-adherence to standards by operators and by tank builders including alteration of original design value of truck heads and trailers. Also to blame are bad roads, parking on unauthorised locations along the road, failure to install speed limiting device as well as lack of cooperation of private tank farm owners on the Safe-To-Load programme.

Participants nonetheless agreed that a functional rail system would have reduced the pressure on the roads and minimised the carnage cause by tanker drivers.

FG’s Concern

Although the FRSC had organised several advocacy sessions to address this worrisome issues, Mustapha emphasised that the federal government felt a “deep concern on the rising spate of road traffic crashes involving articulated vehicles in recent times and the consequential high casualty rate in both human and material resources.”

Specifically, he said the forum was conceived as a platform for stakeholders to exchange ideas, share information and chart a new course for safer road environment in the country. He recalled that the FRSC, in 2015, convened a National Summit on Tankers and Trailers Haulage Operations to deliberate with key stakeholders in the haulage business and proffer lasting solutions.

That effort threw up a Plan of Action predicated on four platforms, namely: Standards, Enforcement, Institutional Capacity and Legal. Mustapha noted that efforts were made to ensure effective implementation of the resolutions and these include the FRSC Safe-To-Load programme; building partnership with relevant stakeholders; training and re-certification of tanker drivers by the petroleum tankers division of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers.

However, despite the implementation of these safety measures and the initial success recorded, the nation has not been spared the agony of road crashes induced by articulated vehicles.

Stakeholders

Participants blamed apathy among stakeholders in keeping to safety standards and the flagrant abuse of traffic safety rules by operators.

Goodwill messages were received from relevant committees of the National Assembly while technical presentations were made by National Association of Road Transport Owners, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria, Freight Owners, Total Nigeria Plc and Dangote Group among others.

The forum was quite engaging and revealing. While many participants blamed road traffic crashes on non-adherence to standards and flagrant abuse of regulations, the Director General of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Osita Aboloma, debunked insinuations on absence of national standards.

He said there are specifications for Bulk Road vehicles, open body, closed body and flat deck vehicles as well as code of practice for cargo securing for road transport. “There are specifications for the design and construction of mobile horizontal tanks for the transportation of bulk petroleum tanks, including specification for the storage of tanks and the basic requirements for the semi-trailer.

“The NIS 529:2017 also specified requirements for the tank, fittings such as manhole, semi-trailer and accident damage protection which includes rear end, under carriage and roll over protection. Furthermore, there are specifications for speed limits for haulage vehicles as contained in NIS 775-1, 2: 2014.

“Compliance to standard has been a major issue with the fabrication of these vehicles starting from material specification to construction and fittings and accessories,” said Aboloma.

He went on to suggest compliance monitoring of fabricating process, especially ensuring requisite fittings such as manholes and valves to prevent leaks when vehicles roll over as experienced on Otedola Bridge.

Mr. Salam Taiwo, the permanent secretary at the Lagos Transport Ministry, bemoaned the culture of conspiracy among regulators and operators which manifests in haulage vehicles carrying loads beyond their pulling capacity; possession of fake documents by truck drivers; overstaying of vehicles at the ports and on overhead bridges and non-adherence to vehicle maintenance requirements.

But the SGF said government now feels uncomfortable with the situation. “This situation is unacceptable to government and therefore calls for affirmative action to reverse the trend”, he emphasised even as he promised that an Inter-Ministerial Committee will be raised to ensure faithful implementation of the outcome of the summit.

“Similarly, the Federal Executive Council will be briefed on a monthly basis on the status of implementation in order to speedily address policy issues,” the government scribe promised.

Participants who deliberated for about six hours drew a new plan of action and expressed optimism on the assurances given by the SGF that their suggestions would not be locked in one dusty archive. “It is a continuing dialogue among stakeholders towards ensuring an efficient, effective and beneficial haulage transport system in Nigeria,” Mustapha assured.

Action Plan

At the end of deliberations, the forum agreed on an 18-point Plan of Action to be monitored by the office of the SGF. The radical improvements on the previous action plan include mandatory certification of all haulage vehicles to be carried out twice in a year; ban on importation of haulage vehicles older than 10 years effective January, 2020; compulsory installation of speed limiters, safety valves and required number plates in all haulage vehicles; enforcement of Federal Highways (Control of Dimensions, Weights and Axle Load of Heavy Duty Goods Transport Vehicles) regulations (2018) and the establishment of a Fleet Acquisition Renewal Scheme for haulage operators.

The forum also endorsed the convocation of bi-annual meetings to sustain government engagement with stakeholders in exchanging ideas and sharing information for the sustenance of safer road management in the country. Meanwhile, an Inter-Ministerial Stakeholders Committee will be saddled with the effective implementation of the Plan of Action.