The firefighter said he had the foreboding that the fire incident would be massively catastrophic. He saw from their office in Alausa, Ikeja as thick black smoke billowed and spiraled skywards forming an impenetrable smog over the entire area. He immediately alerted his colleagues and off they raced to Otedola bridge to put out the ravaging fire that eventually claimed 12 lives and consumed about 59 vehicles. As people stood metres away watching in horror and inhaling the pungent smell of roasting flesh and rusting metal, they could not help but shed spasmodic nerve-wracking tears.
Coming on the heels of the Otedola Bridge incident was the unfortunate Suleja – Minna expressway fire mishap where a fuel laden tanker collided with a goods trailer leaving five people terribly injured.
Barely a week after these two infelicitous incidents, another diesel tanker fell off at Iyana Ipaja and it was the alacritous response of the Lagos State Fire Service and security operatives that averted what would have easily metamorphosed into an intense fire accident.
The disclosure made by Corp Marshal of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC), Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi that over 306 persons were killed in accidents involving 338 fuel tankers and 629 vehicles across the country in the year 2016 vividly foregrounds that the vicious menace of fuel tanker precipitated accidents has for a long time been a venomous serpent coiled on the shoulders of our highways and locked in the corners of our inland roads.
Who do we blame for these seemingly unending massacres plucking our lives daily? Do we heap the blame on the months that the mishaps occur or on the government? How about we blame the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) Officials, fleet owners, depot operators and tanker drivers.
Before apportioning blame blindly, we must note first that each of the stakeholders mentioned above have a role to play and each one of them, without any equivocation has not played their part well enough.
For policies to work, we must ensure first that we make provisions for diverse, expansive and seamless transport systems as argued here. In many other countries, transporting crude or refined fuel by road is not a very prevalent norm. In India, North America, some African countries and many European Countries, the primary mode of transporting refined oil is through an expansive network of pipelines. Other methods are through interconnected rail networks and ocean tankers. According to some global oil industry statistics, 40% of refined petroleum products are moved using product tankers or water carriers while only 10% of finished petroleum products are transported by road.
However, the lack of an efficient transport network does not abdicate traffic law enforcement officers, policy regulators and drivers who sit back and cede the driving wheel to motor boys, of their culpability in this murky menace of tanker mishaps.
While we await the actualisation of excellent rail networks that our government has promised, we need to put in place measures to mitigate nagging tanker accidents that are wasting our precious lives. First, there is the pressing need to strictly enforce driving rules especially as it concerns articulated fuel tankers that ply our roads. We must also ensure stringency about the road worthiness of these vehicles while clamping down heavily on unconscientious depot owners who load unworthy, faulty and leaking tankers with fuel to make more profit just like it was seen in a video that went viral recently where a motor boy was trying furiously to stop fuel leaking from the tanker with a rag.
The installation of weighbridges is another important step in the right direction as this will curb the sharp practice of overloading fuel tankers way above their normal capacity as it is the custom of many oil marketers.
It has become incumbent on independent oil marketers and depot owners to adhere strictly to HSE (health, safety and environment) regulations as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) keeps emphasising while DPR and other regulatory agencies must however go beyond warning and take actual steps to scapegoat defaulters.
Moreover, fleet owners need to train and retrain their drivers and not overwork them to the extent that they are moved to put the charge of fuel tankers in the hands of untrained motor boys.