By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Lagos Zonal chairman of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, supervising activities of the union in the South West and Ilorin, Kwara State, Comrade Tayo Aboyeji, spoke on measures being taken to curb Tanker accidents, the Oshodi Apapa Expressway gridlocks, among others.
Reckless Drivers With due respect, tanker drivers are very responsible. But we that are driving all these cars, most times, people don’t want to see tanker drivers on the road. The way average Nigerian drives, is a cause of concern.
Ordinarily, tankers are supposed to be on the slow lane, but in a city like Lagos, where a Danfo will come and drop passengers, do you expect them to be on the slow lane? So, a tanker driver that is on slow lane moving and before you know it, a Danfo driver stops, drops or picks a passenger and is negotiating his way out of the road and the tanker, for example, hits the Danfo, people will say all sorts of things, what do you expect the tanker driver to do?
Of course, this is a big challenge. People should know that driving a truck is not like driving a car where you can easily control it in a sudden situation like a Danfo suddenly about to negotiate a way and you are on top speed, what do you expect the driver to do? When a trailer is moving and suddenly sees a broken down vehicle in front, the trailer driver will want to negotiate his way out and as a result, people don’t want to give him chance, this is a challenge. We should understand the peculiar nature of our roads before we start blaming the tanker drivers.
And I want to say this, no driver plans to have an accident. We usually tell our drivers that if you move from here to Kano and you spend six days on the road and when you eventually arrive your destination, people will say you are a good driver.
But if you move and have accident, you are not a driver. Another thing is that a driver that collects a truck that is not road worthy from someone, we warn them that if they are involved in an accident and they die, the owner of the truck will buy another truck and give to someone else.
If your tyres are bad, meet the owner of the truck, tell him that the tyres are bad and if he refuses to change them, they should not move. All these things we tell our drivers and many measures we put in place to avert loss of lives on the road. We train our drivers periodically for them to be in tune with the trends on the road.
Drunken Truck Drivers
Driving is not by age and it is not by physical appearance. It is by being responsible. And I want to tell you that we don’t have underage driver, all our drivers are matured. What makes drivers do the way people think they do is this: a driver coming from Ibadan, he has used between two to three hours to arrive Lagos and within Lagos he spends three days to reach the tank farm – they take their bath on the road, they take their meals on the road – all these things make them become another thing. They become very aggressive and when they are on the road they transfer the aggression. Not that they take drug.
Take for example, someone that has been in the traffic for between two to three days, looking for one thing or the other to take to just stimulate himself, it is the environment that is causing all those things. It is not drug, it is sometimes, fatigue. That is why we recommend for a co-driver to assist, but when the two of them are on the road for three days. Imagine someone coming from Kano to Lagos, before they get to the depot it is a problem and when they get to the depot they face a lot of challenges. Tanker drivers are very responsible people, when you see them off the steering but the situation they face on the road makes them the way people see them. No driver will say he wants to go and have an accident, they are not on drugs.
There is this adage that says where you see sugar, you will see ants. Where there is tank farm, definitely, you will see trucks. When the tank farms started springing up, we told government, there would be problem in the future with the way tank farms are springing up. The tank farms in Coconut are not supposed to be more than eight, but we have more than 30. And all the trucks want to load. So, it is overconcentration of tank farms in Apapa and besides, along the port, go to Satellite, Ijegun, even Kirikiri, if you visit Kirikiri, you will weep and ask who on earth approved these tank farms in that place? Inside residential area and it is the same tankers that will go there and load.
Go to Ijegun, when Ijegun started, we told them don’t let this place be like Kirikiri or Apapa, but they didn’t listen, my brother that place has about 40 tank farms now. The challenges we are experiencing today in these areas like Apapa, Tin Can, Kirikiri are as a result of lack of proper planning.
What is the solution?
The solution is this, let the government make our refineries work. Let the depots work. We are even lucky now, in about three to four years; the trucks that will enter Lagos will be about 1000 per day. But thank God, some depots have started working. Mosinmi, Warri and Port Harcourt have started working and this will help reduce the number of trucks that enter Lagos. Let them make use of other ports like Onne, Calabar, Warri and the problem we are facing in Lagos will not be there. Today, we have suggested to them that they should decentralize the port. I have been involved with them all this while and we are talking to them to find a way of relocating some of the tank farms, let them go and develop other ports and all these things we are facing will become a thing of the past.
Even if the roads are in order we still can experience this. These roads did not spoil immediately we started using them; it was when the tankers started loading. About 15 to 18 years ago, you could easily pass through Coconut, Wharf and Tin Can roads more than twice because the roads were free. There is no way you will overstretch the roads that it will not tell on them.
No matter the policy, if the roads are overstretched, they will decay. No matter the policy, whether sincere or not, if the government does not put up measures to control the tank farms, there will still be problem. We must change our attitude, it is not only about making policy, sometimes government makes policy to derive revenue from it and this will not put checks on the problems they intend to solve.
Approval of tank farms
It is the federal government through the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR. But we have been telling Lagos State government that since it is also deriving revenue from the presence of the tank farms, it should go and meet with DPR and tell them that this chaos can no longer continue in Lagos. They should stop issuing permits for tank farms in Lagos.
We have been talking to all the people that we need to talk to for them to stop issuing and allowing tank farms in Apapa. They can go to Badagry, Epe and other places. We have been praying everyday that God should not allow us to experience a fire disaster in Apapa. If it happens, nobody will escape from it. Where will you escape to? Because of that, the union makes it a point of duty to frequently patch some of the portions of the bad roads in Apapa to avert fire disaster.
Otedola Berger Bridge tanker explosion
Well, let me first commiserate with the families of those that lost their lives and properties to the fire. The cause of the accident, the security agencies said it was a brake failure. But on our own, we are still investigating. We believe that the truck was moving and brake failure cannot drag the truck back. It is only when you want to stop that brake failure will prevent you from stopping.
But from our preliminary investigation, there was one a tipper in front of the tanker and probably the tanker hit the tipper and the tipper driver came down and they started arguing. During the process, the tanker might have rolled back and the accident happened. Immediately, the driver of the tipper entered his tipper and drove away.
It is a painful because the accident was an avoidable. That is what the preliminary investigation just gave us but later when we have the full report, we will be able to determine the actual cause of the accident.
If you recall five years ago, accidents involving tanker was a regular basis, the union came in and began to find out what was causing the accident. We met and had several deliberations and at the end of the day, we discovered that a lot of measures have to be taken. One of the measures was to train our drivers. For the past five years, we have training our drivers quarterly.
We collaborate with all the security agencies on the roads, especially those that ensure safety on the roads, like the FRSC. As I talk to you, two road safety personnel have been deployed in all the tank farms to ascertain the road worthiness of each truck. Many times, I have been in the depot where the FRSC will stop some trucks from loading because they are not road worthy.
That is to tell you the efforts we are making to ensure that our trucks are road worthy. In our own, we have chief VIO and their responsibility is to check every vehicle and check if the driver is under the influence of alcohol and that has reduced accident involving tankers drastically, except this unfortunate one that occurred along Berger area.
Ultimatum, restriction of trucks
The question we should ask is: They should mention the roads we are restricted to. Where are those roads in Lagos? The tank farms are located in two different locations; one at Wharf end and the other one at Tin Can end. When you load at Ijora, you move towards Anthony. And the other issue of ultimatum, we told the government that we will cooperate, any measure taken to avert road accident involving tanker. But the policy must be civil not a policy that is dead on arrival. They said they will give us about 10 MOT centres. We told them that we do not have problem with that. But the one at Ojodu Berger, when they start, we may take about 50 trucks there per day, the one at Agege, about 30 trucks per day, how can they cope? When you see about 50 tankers in one location, what do you think will happen? People will begin to panic and think there is a problem. The locations they asked us to go, we have told them that these places cannot contain tankers and tankers cannot manoeuvre in such places. We suggested to them to look for a large portion of land that can accommodate these tankers so that they can go for the test or probably they should come to the depots. They told us they would do that with a certain fee and we told them not to make it look as if they want to make money from it.
Orile Tanker Park
We used to have one at Orile but the railway line they are constructing there is affecting it and only as small space is now left for the tankers. But the state government has waded in and said they want to extend that place to contain as much as 3000 tankers. It is a welcome development. We have begged the government on several occasions that they should look for another place beside Orile. But you know, Lagos is choked and trying to move here and there in Lagos is a challenge.
Meanwhile, we have been talking to our drivers to be careful on the roads and they have maintained orderliness until this unfortunate accident that just happened. We have also talked to them about overloading and that they should be conscious of the load they carry. They should be mindful of the bridges and the kind of load they carry. We have been training and retraining our drivers.
To a large extent, their excesses are being contained. In all organizations, there are bad eggs and we have measures of dealing with such people. It is not all the tanker drivers that are bad or not responsible. Those ones you see on the road that are misbehaving are just the bad eggs among the good ones. We have a means of dealing with them. What we do is to identify those bad eggs and we place their photos and identities, even at the ports to let people know them and why they should not engage them on the road. The union carries out a lot of advocacy measures to ensure we achieve sanity on the road and to a great extent it is working for us.