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Of fuel tankers and infernos

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IT was another sad day in the Nigerian road users’ history when on Thursday, the 28th of June 2018, a tanker ferrying premium motor spirit exploded on the Otedola bridge in Berger, along the lagos-Ibadan expressway.  As if that was not enough, on Friday, 29th June, a tanker and a truck collided on the Abuja-Minna highway resulting in another inferno, while the death toll for that cannot be ascertained as at the time of this writing, no fewer than three have also been confirmed dead. While the news comes in ripples of shock, it can be leveraged on as a call to action. Nigeria is such a reckless country where we do not learn until something tragic happens. Now that tragedy has knocked on our doors, it is time to take action. How can the menace of fuel tankers and infernos be curtailed:

We must first be committed to redefining our transportation system, Nigeria is arguably one of the few countries left that use tankers in transporting petroleum and other crude products across the nation. Other countries have thought up innovative ways to move these ‘essential evils’ across the terrain at relatively low risk as compared to transporting with tankers. In looking for an alternative to fuel tankers in the transport of crude product in the country, the foremost alternative is rail. What happened to the Nigerian railway system? All that is left in most states is just a few surviving carriages and an under staffed, ineffective railway service. If we ever hope to correct the menace of fuel tankers and the resultant infernos that they have been associated with, we must be committed to redefining our transportation system.

Prompt attention must be paid to insurance. No one knows the exact number of cars in the mass wreckage that littered the pages of newspapers on Friday morning. There is no official figure of how many of those cars t were insured or not, although going by the Nigerian culture of negligence and the way we handle things lightly, very few of those cars would have been insured. If nothing, insuring those cars would have cushioned the harsh effect of the inferno, if only on their family. It’s high time we have started taking insurance serious, it may not rank so high on your personal scale as a measure to prevent reoccurrence of such an incidence. It is a palliative measure that will cushion the effect of the occurrence if it ever happens again, which is highly probable.

Another huge and necessary step in curtailing this menace is commitment to quality design and building of tankers. As the need arises, these tankers may be constructed using a different design structure that distinguishes them from other long vehicles. The end gain of this is to achieve high quality traction, fantastic driver handling and fewer cases of eventualities on the high way. It is seemingly a ‘Nigerian’ problem to only look for solution after a disaster has occurred, so many accidents that have occurred on our roads would have been prevented if only we were committed to quality design of fuel tankers and conveyors. Will it come as a shock to you that in some of these petrol tankers, the tankers are only placed on the long vehicle and not welded or screwed to the vehicle of conveyance? That should come as no shock because not only is this happening in Nigeria, it is more of the expectation than the exception.

Some states have enacted laws that mandate heavy duty vehicles, including petrol tankers, to travel only at night. This is based on the assumption that traffic is usually lighter at night and, as such, these heavy duty vehicles can travel without causing a high level of risk to other road users. It may be just time to legislate such a law.  Finally, every road user must make it a duty to embrace responsible driving and road usage. As reported by some passengers, some drivers even after seeing the petrol spill out of the tanker on Otedola bridge were struggling to reverse their cars. This ended in a gridlock that eventually increased the number of causalities in the fire incident. Away from the inferno, there have been countless times that a gridlock occured on major highways without any satisfactory cause; it is most times due to the unruly behavior of some drivers. Our leaders must also, as a matter of urgency, desist from paying lip service to the construction of durable and highly motorable roads. This will go on to prevent the recurrence of such terrible incidents. If the road network within the country is in top shape, the headache of the average road user would be minimised.

As much as we are mourning the souls lost in the Lagos and Abuja infernos, we must take steps towards avoiding a repeat. Coming on the backdrop of such a bloody weekend for the nation, these steps will not only be definitive, they have to be radical and life-changing.

  • Babatunde writes in from Ibadan

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