The Otedola Bridge tragedy and the moving time bombs on Nigerian roads

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Yes brake failure and other mechanical malfunction could have been responsible for the spate of tanker and articulated vehicles accidents that have become a reoccurring phenomenon laden with tragedies in different parts of the country. As we continue to bewail the monumental tragedy that occurred in Lagos on Thursday, June 28, 2018 when a Petrol tanker on full speed crashed on the Otedola Bridge leaving in its wake carnage of horrendous proportion including nine deaths and 54 burnt vehicles, by official accounts that is open to disputation because of the scale of the tragedy, it is obvious that there is more to such tragic accidents than mechanical failure and over speeding.

One area that the authorities and other institutions vested with the responsibilities of keeping our roads safe from such horrendous and heart wrenching accidents have all failed to look at critically is the personality of those who drive tankers and articulated vehicles.

The physical and mental state of the drivers of the vehicles and their assistants (motor boys) could be largely responsible for the growing rash of accidents of the magnitude that occurred on Otedola Bridge. Some of the drivers are not well trained to handle such vehicles while a number of them do not possess the right mental and physical capabilities to be on the road. And of course they are also forced by accidents or design to work beyond the threshold of their resilience. It is inconceivable for a driver to be behind the wheel for 72 hours without taking time to rest properly. Some of the drivers routinely drive for between two and four days nonstop. They are simply accidents waiting to happen and when their vehicles are the types that convey inflammable liquids like petrol, diesel and gas they are simply moving time bombs on the roads unknown to other road users.

Some few months back this writer was travelling from the Federal University of Technology Akure, FUTA with a contingent of eight people including professors and other senior academic and administrative staff. Just before Ogere along the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, a tanker fully laden with combustible oil and on high speed left its section of the road and faced on coming vehicles. In a twinkle of an eye, the drivers on the other lane sensing clear and present danger veered off the road for the menacing tanker. Mercifully, there was no gully or any encumbrances by their own side of the road. They were lucky because their side of the road had a small pathway where they could maneuver out of the path of danger otherwise the tanker would have forced them into a gully precipitating deaths, injuries and another tale of monumental tragedy.

After some tensed seconds, the tanker was maneuvered back to its own right way by its driver. We helplessly watched the near tragedy with trepidation. After some minutes our driver managed to overtake the tanker and the cause of the near mishap became apparent. There were four people in the Driver’s cabin, three of them were fast asleep and the driver’s blood shot eyes showed he was struggling to stay awake. He was driving with one hand and using the other hand to rub his face with a substance we suspected to be aboniki or similar ointment.

The fact is that most of the drivers of petrol tankers and other articulated vehicles barely have time to rest and are prone to committing avoidable errors on the road leading to accidents and colossal tragedies. From investigation, some of them wait endlessly to be attended to at depots, ports and other rendezvous where they take their consignments for onward delivery to designated places in other parts of the country. During the periods of waiting they carouse all day and all night long abusing alcohol and other drugs. And when eventually they are attended to and ready to embark on their usually long journeys, they are spent mentally and physically. Of course they make stop overs at Ogere, Ibadan, Ile Ife, Akure, Owo , Ibilo, Okene, Lokoja, Onitsha, Umuhaia, Enugu, Minna, Eyenkorin, Sokoto, Bauchi and other major routes. But during the stopovers they barely take time to rest. It’s another opportunity for more carousing and endless banter with their colleagues and passersby. Without proper sleep or rest they hit the road again. And to ensure that they keep up with the deadline they resort to the use of all sorts of energy drinks and enhancers including alcohol and other dangerous beverages and drugs to, according to them, keep alert and stay awake. These impair their sense of judgment on the road and at times they simply sleep off on the wheel. They then become accidents waiting to happen and because of their state of physical exhaustion and metal incapacitation such accidents like the one that recently occurred on Lagos have become a frequent occurrence.

The Lagos tragedy should be a wakeup call to the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC to reappraise its enforcement mechanism to forestall such accidents. To be fair to the FRSC operatives stopping the tanker drivers on the highway is a suicide mission. The moment they sight the operatives or even road blocks mounted by security agents they simply increase speed and operatives who dare to stop them do so at their own peril. So it’s not enough for FRSC officials to flag down erring motorists or over speeding tanker drivers on the highway. Time has come for a coordinated approach to put a stop to this avoidable carnage. It will not be out of place to begin a regime of examination of the state of tankers and other articulated vehicles and random test of drivers at loading bays, ports, depots and other point where they converge. The drivers should be tested for drugs and when it is discovered that they are mentally or physically impaired they should be stopped from driving. The FRSC should also ensure that it enforces its policy on speed limiting device to the letter. Only certified drivers and vehicles should be on the roads.

Those who employ the drivers should also be more concerned with their physical and mental wellbeing and physical welfare. Some of the drivers are too young to drive while some of them are also too old to drive. They should also be trained and retrained and taught the value of human lives. The Governments at all levels should begin the comprehensive enforcement of all relevant laws and regulations relating to road safety and safe driving. And the work of rescuers and first responders are usually made more difficult by the intrusion of on lookers eager to capture such tragedies with their phone camera and post on the social media. Could we have less of such intrusion please!

We must all collectively work to make our roads safe and keep deaths, destruction and tragedies and of course moving time bombs off Nigerian roads.

Adebanjo sent this piece via [email protected]

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