Ibrahim Oyewale writes that the recent tanker explosion tragedy in Felele area along the Okene -Lokoja -Abuja Highway, which claimed 23 lives and burnt 10 vehicles, has again brought to the front burner, the incessant fatal crashes along that axis
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 was not an ordinary day of horror, but also a day of carnage and tragedy in which many lives of both young and old persons were cut short unexpectedly.
It happened just like a Nollywood film. In the early hours of the day, the hustling and bustling of road users within the community was as usual, nothing out of the ordinary. All those on that stretch Okene -Lokoja -Abuja Highway, had no inkling the evil that lurked as everyone went about their daily routine. On that stretch, students, civil servants, parents and guardians mingled as they went to their various destinations.
Suddenly, tragedy struck. The driver of a petrol tanker loaded with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) lost control following a brake failure and all efforts to communicate with other road users to stop the inherent danger proved
abortive as the articulated tanker rammed into a car conveying a family of five and three other cars before it fell down, exploded and burst into flames.
Within a tinkle of an eye, scores of people waiting along the road were roasted to death in a horrific manner. At the scene of the crash, after the fire was put under control, gory sight of chared bodies of the victims, particularly the primary school pupils and secondary school students, as well as their parents and guardians littered the road.
Passers-by, smypathisers and journalists who rushed to scene of the ugly incident could not hold back tears because of the inexplicable situation that led to the untimely deaths that Wednesday morning.
At the end, the casualty according to the Kogi State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corp, Idris Fika Ali, was a total of 23 persons while one child escaped with injuries, adding that 10 vechiles where involved, five cars, one tanker, three tricycles and two motorcycles.
It was indeed a day that dealt a cruel blow on several families, leaving them devastated and yet to come to terms with the reality that befell them, particularly when they remember how their loved ones woke up hale and hearty to go about their normal businesses and various schools, especially students walking by to receive lectures at the nearby Kogi State Polytechnic, without having any premonition of the inferno that would silence them for good.
For the family of a sewing machine dealer, Mr. Samsom Ajala, who died in his newly acquired Toyota Highlander jeep along with his wife and three children on the fateful day, it was like total eclipse signalling darkness. The deceased was said to be full of life and was set to drop his children at their various schools and to return to his shop with his wife, who would cross to her shop opposite, for the business of the day. But that was not to be as the petrol tanker rammed into his car and they all went ablaze immediately after the explosion.
THISDAY investigation revealed that Ajala had lived all his life in Lokoja as a tailor who later became sewing machines repairer and subsequently a dealer in the same business. It was a success story of a kind, but the cold hands of death caught up with him and members of his immediate family, except the first daughter who is a student at Federal Goveenment College, Ogbomosho, where she was preparing to write her SSCE examinations as at the time of this incident.
Some of the friends and neighbours of the late businessman, Ajala, described him as easy going and God fearing, but lamented that the demise was too shocking , sad and tragic as he was burnt to death with his wife and three children in his newly acquired jeep. They posited that that he would be missed for his embodiment of humility.
Similarly, the family of Abdullahi Salihu were already counting their losses as he was said to have watched six children burn to death on the black Wednesday. Salihu who could not believe his eyes seeing the children from the same family dying in an inferno almost ran into the burning fire in a bid to rescue the victims. But Aisha, Aisha Junior, Wasila , Faiza, Ibrahim and Abdul-mutalib were burnt beyond recognition.
Abdullahi Salihu and Idris Yusuf are cousins who live in the same area at Felele community. While
Salihu lost four children in the inferno- Aisha, Wasilat, Abdulmutalib and Faiza, his cousin Yusuf lost two of his four children namely Aisha Junior, and Ibrahim.
Aisha Salihu was an SSS3 students of Army Day Secondary School Lokoja while her siblings attended Lokongoma Secondary School in Lokoja as Aisha Junior and Ibrahim attended a private school inside the town. The bereaved parents were said to have been placed on sediative and intensive care of their family members as the cry of “where do I start from” rent the air.
Recounting his ordeal, the Assistant Registrar of Kogi State Polytechnic, Mr Musa Raji, who escaped with other five staff of the Kogi Poly, said he was so lucky and escaped being burnt to death by whiskers. He explained that the tanker, which hit his car at the back, pushed him away completely from the roadside and when the tanker fell and exploded, it was easier for him to run for cover.
Like Aisha and siblings, many students of Kogi State Polytechic also got burnt which led to student demonstration before it was brought under control by the government top functionaries. Subsequently the management of the institution declared three
lecture free days in honour of the departed souls.
Like others before now, the tragic incident will forever remain fresh in the memory of the residents of Lokoja, particularly those living around Felele area on Okene -Lokoja -Abuja Highway who witnessed how scores of lives were roasted to death in the early hours of Wednesday by a tanker explosion, occasioned by brake failure and alleged carelessness on the part of the driver.
The smypathisers had argued that considering the topgraphy of Felele area which was prone to motor accidents being on a federal highway, such fatal auto crashes have been a reoccurring decimal, which has inadvertenty claimed the lives of several people in the the area. They urged government to do something to prevent the perennial carnages at Felele axis of the state capital.
Checks also revealed that between 2007 till date no fewer than 25 fatal auto crashes had occurred particularly in the ember months claiming hundreds of lives of people between the NNPC fuel station and Nataco Junction in Lokoja. These, it was learnt,
were caused by articulated vechicles which either lost control or ignorance of some road users.
In 2009, before the international market was relocated to its present site, at least 70 persons were crushed to death by an articulated vehicle loaded with cement. Many affected families have not forgotten in a hurry how their loved ones went to market and never returned back.
On Friday, July 28, 2017, it was reported that about 10 people were burnt beyond recognition while six others sustained serious injuries in an auto crash involving a fuel tanker and a commercial bus in Felele area of Lokoja, Kogi State. The fuel tanker burst into flames after colliding with the 18-seater commercial bus. The death toll was put at 13.
Barely two years after, eight people perished on November 18, 2019 while seven others sustained various degree of injuries as a petrol laden tanker experienced brake failure and rammed into other vehicles on its descent around the Felele axis
of the Abuja-Lokoja highway.
The ghastly crash involving three cars, four tricycles, two motorcycles and a bus, resulted in angry youths taken over the expressway in protest around 8.45am. The driver of the trailer which was coming from the Lagos end of the highway lost control as
a result of brake failure, leading to the death of innocent citizens.
The persistent calls for rehabilitation of bad portions of this road and appeal for fire service stations along the route were not heeded and once again, on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the fatal accident involving a fuel tanker occurred again, claiming scores.
Meanwhile, Presisent Muhammadu Buhari has commiserated with the Kogi State government, the people and family of those who lost theirs lives in the unfortunate incident, praying God to grant the departed souls eternal rest and give the families the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
In the same vein, the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello expressed shock and sorrow over the fatal tanker explosion. This was contained in a statement issued immediately after the incident,by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Onogwu Mohammed.
Also, Member, representing Lokoja II State Constituency in the State House of Assembly, Idris Ndako, had in a motion of urgent public importance, appealed to Kogi State government to call on Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to the repair the potholes around the Felele axis. He also called on the state government to establish and equip more fire service stations along the Lokoja-Banda-Abuja road to tackle emergency situations within the area.
However, a philantropist and the CEO of Wave of Minds Resources Limited, Chief Ocholi Yusuf, has appealed to the federal government to construct a by-pass or fly-over at the accident prone area.
Yusuf said as part of measures to curtail further loss of innocent and productive lives on the one-kilometer stretch on the highway, construction of a by-pass or a fly-over has become absolutely necessary.
He further advised the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to educate their members more on the danger of over speeding to which most of the accidents are attributed.
He also appealed to the FRSC state sector command to deploy more manpower to the Felele area to enforce regulations on speed limit.
A former National President of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Idris Omede, called on Kogi State government to engage the Federal Ministry of Works to fix bad portions on the Felele axis of Abuja-Lokoja-Okene road, adding that it should be treated as an emergency to halt wanton loss of lives.
For the Executive Director, Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR), Comrade Idris Miliki Abdul, who bemoaned the tanker accident that claimed lives of several persons including school children, “accidents will always occur, any time anyway and anywhere, however, the response strategies put in place is important and fundamental”.
Also the concerned residents along Felele road were livid with rage over the continued reckless driving by truck and tanker drivers, which has led to repeated killing of people in the area. They called on government to stop tanker drivers from plying the route if they can’t maintain the speed limit on the road as they are tired of burying their loved ones every year.