The recent tanker explosion at Dikko junction was a disaster that was bound to occur because the authorities have not shown any serious concern about developing the boundary between Niger State and other parts of the country, writes Laleye Dipo
Dikko junction in the Suleja Local Government of Niger State is a route followed by most vehicles going either into or out of Abuja, Kaduna or Niger States. The alternative is through Suleja town, a much longer route, which is usually characterised by traffic gridlock and congestion caused by huge number of people displaying their wares, hawking, or trekking along the narrow roads in the commercial town, thereby making motorists avoid it except they are going into the town.
As a result of the strategic location of Dikko junction, it is always a beehive of activities day and night, resulting in the area being congested and without anyone to take control.
Both sides of the road, especially from Minna after the ECWA church, are dotted with makeshift shops where different goods ranging from loaves of bread brought from different parts of the country, assorted fruits, yams, irish and sweet potatoes, vegetables, soft drinks, palm or groundnut oil as well as suya and roasted chicken etc are displayed for travelers to buy. There is also a live goat, ram, cattle, and fowl market around the place. Most often, these goods are cheaper than what obtains either in Suleja town itself, Minna or any other market around, which explains its attraction to people.
It has therefore become routine for both commercial and private motor vehicle owners to stop by at the Dikko junction for commuters to make purchases, a development that daily contributes to the congestion at the junction.
The presence of illegal roadside car, tanker and trailer parks on all sides of the road also contribute to the congestion and deter drivers from having easy manoevouring of their vehicles.
Thus for many, the disaster that happened at Dikko junction on August 30, 2019, was one that was bound to occur given the setting of the junction and the inaction by Suleja Local Government, which should have brought sanity to the area but were only concerned on the collection of revenues from the traders and commercial vehicle drivers.
The thick smoke and red flame from the fire that followed the explosion could be seen several kilometers from the spot the accident happened making night travelers to make a detour or stay a long distanc away from the flame in order not to be caught in the inferno.
Two reasons were given for the cause of the accident by eyewitnesses. On one hand, eyewitness account had claimed that the tanker driver, who was coming in from Warri in Delta State and was going to Adamawa State, had tried to negotiate the bend when he lost control. The heavy duty vehicle overturned and spilled its content, a combustible material (PMS ) on the ground, which got in contact with naked fire and exploded.
Another eyewitness account stated that traders around had warned the tanker driver not to park his vehicle but he ignored them and before he knew what was happening the vehicle had overturned and exploded.
One trailer driver at the scene corroborated the account when he said the driver was warned but he continued to try to park resulting in the back tyres slipping off the road, a development that broke the tank away from the body of the trailer.
The trailer driver who spoke in Hausa and declined to give his name said following the development, the tank containing 33,000 litres of fuel overturned spilling its content and resulted in the outbreak.
The driver, a Kano state indigene, was among those injured and taken to the hospital in Wuse. Narrating the aftermath of the accident he said “we tried to run for our lives but the fire caught up with us”.
The Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA) and the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC)however attributed the cause of the accident to reckless driving by the tanker driver.
Alhaji Ibrahim Inga, Director General of NSEMA while commenting on the incident said: “if the driver had been more careful the accident would not have happened.”
As at the last count, six people have been confirmed dead with one of them burnt beyond recognition, eight others were injured while 19 vehicles were completely burnt just as 35 shops were razed. A further breakdown revealed that while three out of the six victims died on the day the accident happened, two died on the way to Kano for treatment, while one died at the hospital in Kano.
The eight victims were initially admitted at the Wuse General Hospital but had to discharge themselves because of alleged lack of treatment by the management of the hospital. They were therefore taken to a local traditional medicine man at Angwa Dawaki area in Suleja Town for treatment before officials of the Niger State government prevailed on them to seek medical attention at a specialist hospital in Kano.
THISDAY learnt that all the injured are indigines of Kano State. One of them who also spoke on condition of anonymity before being moved to Kano said his relations asked him to leave the hospital “if i want to survive” because “there is no proper care here”.
Speaking in Hausa the victim said ” they just dumped us on the bed, no doctor came to see us. My people said I should leave and see a traditional medicine man that will give me proper treatment.”
When NSEMA DG was asked why the hospital authorities did not attend to the victims he said: ” I was not at the hospital so I cannot say what transpired there. When I learnt that they are here in Suleja I went there and facilitated their movement to Kano”.
The loss would have been more colossal but for the fact that the accident happened in the night 10.00 pm which resulted in reduction in human and vehicular traffics at the junction at the time. The tanker driver and his conductor “as usual” according to another eyewitness escaped without anyone knowing how nor their whereabout up till now.
Survivors of the explosion have been counting their losses with one of them Malam Abubakar Usman who sold fruits, saying he lost everything including cash to the fire.
“I thank God that I am alive, I will pick up the pieces and start all over again,” Abubakar Usman who said he had been plying his trade in the area for more than five years reiterated.
THISDAY learnt that the tracker of the tanker has been removed by officials of the NSEMA, who believe that after its scientific examination, the owner of the tanker could be known and traced to account for the damage caused.
A source said that it is the practice for such vehicles to be insured comprehensively, adding that the insurance company would be located and made to take up its responsibility to the victims and owners of vehicles burnt.
Meanwhile, the Niger State government has moved to forestall a repeat occurrence with Governor Abubakar Sani Bello directing that all illegal motor parks in the state should be cleared “with immediate effect”.
Bello gave the directive in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mary Noel Berje, in which he attributed the disaster to the illegal and in disciplined behaviour of tanker and trailer drivers.
“It is quite unfortunate that the accident happened. As a government we are pained to see the lives of our people being cut short, especially as a result of the recklessness of drivers. We will enforce all necessary laws with regards to illegal motor parks and other activities on the highways.
“I have therefore directed that the illegal park where the accident took place and other illegal motor parks and markets in the state be cleared off. We would ensure that our laws are enforced to the letter,” Bello who was away in Japan when the accident happened was quoted as saying in the statement.
Days after the governor’s directive, the order has not been implemented as all the illegal parks including the one at Dikko junction and parts of Minna the state capital, are still operational.
“It is only if the government has the political will that all these illegal motor parks that have been causing obstruction to movement of vehicles can be dismantled” a senior civil servant in the ministry of transport said.
However, in line with the directive of the governor, the NSEMA has begun an assessment of the disaster with a view to present its outcome to the government.
The DG said his officials have visited Dikko several times since the accident occurred and “we are already compiling our report and we will submit our findings to the governor very soon”.
The Secretary to the state government, Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed Matane and the speaker of the house of assembly, Alhaji Abdullahi Bawa Wuse, have also commiserated with victims of the disaster, during which they assured them of government’s assistance.
Matane specifically said government would work with relevant agencies in the state to ensure compliance to laws regulating motor parks and business operation on the highways before encouraging the survivors “not to despair in their moments of trials, but to remain in faith”.
Wuse on his part said the legislature would work with relevant agencies to bring about laws that would regulate the operation of motor parks in the state.
It would be recalled that the Dikko tanker explosion is one out of the series of tanker related accidents that has taken place in the state, which also led to loss of lives of innocent people and their properties.