The recent three tanker accidents in Lagos call to mind the recurrent enormous hardships and loss of lives and property Lagosians have suffered at the hands of tanker drivers. It is also a scary reminder of the possible return of those dark days in the nation’s commercial nerve centre.
Something drastic and enduring has to be done to tame the life-snuffing, monumental injury-inflicting and property-shattering monster.
Apart from inflicting injuries on Nigerians, rendering scores of Lagosians homeless and ruining the businesses of over 100 shop-owners, the recent incidents shattered the excitement of the people of Lagos who were basking in the euphoria of the inauguration of a new government.
Six days after the inauguration, precisely June 3, 2015, a fuel tanker bearing 33, 000 litres of petrol crashed and exploded at about 1:00am at Iyana-Ipaja in Lagos, razing over 40 shops, five residential apartments, six tricycles and injuring at least 14 persons. Official sources ascribed the cause of the accident to fatigue, which made the driver to lose control.
Four days later, another tanker crashed at about 12 midnight in Idimu area of Lagos, when an ill-fated petrol-bearing tanker was recklessly overtaking another tanker. The tanker spilled its contents on the road and exploded thereafter. Thirty-six (36) houses, 70 shops and 1 tricycle were burnt down.
Official sources also say that a tanker carrying 33,000 litres of diesel fell and poured its contents on the expressway in Badagry, Lagos State, within that period. But, thankfully, the incident did not result in fire outbreak. The cause was also traced to recklessness on the part of the driver.
It is unfortunate that the three tanker accidents, like most mishaps before them, were caused by avoidable human error.
It is salutary that apart from immediately paying a visit to the Idimu accident scene and promising relief for the victims, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, toed the exemplary line by conveying a meeting of all the stakeholders with a view to finding a lasting solution to the notorious incidents.
It is also commendable that the committee consists of all stakeholders, including all the relevant unions, the Ministry of Transport, the Police, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA).
Governor Ambode had said: “We do not want this to repeat itself again. We have said it before; we need to address our tanker drivers and start to enforce our laws…We must make pronouncement relating to the usage of our roads.”
The outcome of the meeting was the constitution of a committee of all stakeholders headed by the Secretary to the Government, Mr. Tunji Bello. The terms of reference of the committee, which had two weeks to submit its report, included examining the immediate and remote causes of tanker fire accidents in the State, preparing guidelines on ethical conduct for tanker drivers and other heavy duty vehicles, engaging the insurance industry and relevant stakeholders to work out an appropriate insurance policy to protect Lagosians from havoc that may occur in future tanker incidents.
The response of the Lagos State Government to the menace of tanker drivers in Lagos is holistic, inclusive and realistic as it does not only involve all the stakeholders, it also takes care of the interests of victims in a realistic and professional manner.
For the tanker drivers and sister unions that have for long been at loggerheads with the previous governments in the State, involving them in fashioning out solutions to the problem will give them a sense of belonging and encourage them to rein in their members.
Governor Ambode has started well. But he must assure that he is not caught in the implementation apathy that is the bane of governance at all levels in the nation. Strict enforcement of approved guidelines recommended by the Tunji Bello-led Committee is required.
Government must fulfil its relief promise to victims and ensure that the gesture is devoid of unnecessary bureaucracy.
While the relevant unions should allow the law to take its course in all cases of infraction, the law enforcement agents must play the game according to the rules. There must be a vibrant Monitoring Unit to ensure compliance by the enforcement agents.
Issues that should be of interest to the Bello-led Committee are issues of training/basic education for tanker drivers to enable them to read, understand and apply traffic codes and laws; age requirement for tanker drivers; the state of the vehicles; strict and stringent operation guidelines and safeguards for the drivers as a greater percentage of the accidents are caused by indiscipline and recklessness; use of loading bays of oil marketing companies by load delivery trucks to prevent needless fire explosion and to aid free traffic.
Without doubt, the incessant tanker accidents and fire outbreak are as a result of the failure of the Federal Government to implement the strategic plan of building rail system and petroleum pipelines that will link fuel depots and refineries with consumption centres.
President Muhammadu Buhari must find the courage to ensure that this is done to rid our roads of needless deaths and loss of property by innocent Nigerians. Ending tanker accidents requires collaboration by the Federal Government, the State governments and all the other stakeholders. But this collaboration must be backed by courage, sincerity and political will.