Nigeria’s killer containers

JULY 15, 2015 : LEKAN SOTE

More than others, students of engineering or physics will readily understand that a hinge or pivot allows an articulated vehicle or truck to negotiate sharp corners better. A pivot, for those who may like to know, is a shaft or pin on which something turns. The strength of this device is also its weakness. As it allows a vehicle to rotate easily, it also tends to trip them off easily.

You only have to be human to feel the anguish of relations of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, students who died in an accident on the Sagamu (Interchange) – Benin Expressway. A driver, reportedly still at large, audaciously entered into the wrong lane, to face oncoming traffic, and caused an unlatched container to plunge atop a commuter bus, killing 11 students and a driver.

Of the students, who were identified through voter cards, receipts, driving licences, school IDs and textbooks, only Miss Ibukun Laughter Akinbo survived. On seeing the disaster, an obviously distraught officer of the Ogun State Traffic Management and Compliance Agency said: “I… ran there to see if the passengers could be rescued. But unfortunately all (sic) the occupants were dead.”

Some of the dead just graduated, some were still students, and yet others just took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, and had gone to obtain the OOU post-UTME forms. It is of little consolation if the Ogun State Command of the Federal Road Safety Corps impounded the vehicle, but is unable to trace the driver and the owner. All Nigerian vehicles and drivers are licensed by the FRSC.

Someone has observed that “Travelling on any of the expressways in Nigeria… inner cities or rural roads has become a source of fear, sorrow and tears.” Grieving OOU students declared the day of the accident a lecture-free ‘Black Monday,’ and held a candlelight night procession in honour of the dead.

A significant number of road accidents on Nigerian roads are caused by unlatched containers that fall off trucks. On Christmas Day, 2013, a woman, her four children, and five others were killed when a container fell on a stationary commuter bus at Alaba Suru, in Lagos. Only one woman survived with shattered legs. The driver was reportedly trying to avoid killing a lunatic sleeping on the road.

On Thursday, May 21, 2014, the brake of a truck, carrying two containers, failed. The truck fell on a moving bus at Toyota Bus Stop on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. No one died, but there was a massive traffic gridlock, and the badly-injured drivers of both vehicles ended up in the hospital. Evelyn Usman wonders how many more lives must be lost to road accidents that are caused by unlatched containers.

The traffic jams caused by these death-carrying containers in urban centres have negative effects on the economy: Man hours are lost, as commuters who resort to trekking arrive late at work, while others simply return to their homes. It is bad for business when consignments of goods do not reach their destinations on time, or ever.

A shipping container is a modular, stackable metal box used to convey goods by oceangoing ships or boats, and by truck or train on land. They are durable, and can withstand weight, salt, and moisture. They are often converted by architects and builders to homes, stores, or offices for individuals and organisations.

There will always be the need for Bulk Road Vehicles to move industrial raw materials, finished goods, and supplies like petroleum products. Even when you use pipelines and trains to freight supplies like petroleum products, bulk road transport will still be needed for short distance shuttles. But that shouldn’t cause haemorrhage of lives.

The FRSC accuses truck drivers of excessive speeding, drunk driving, drudgery and sleepiness from long-distance drives, poor attitude to vehicle maintenance (often resulting in poor lighting and bad tyres), and ignorance of the highway codes.

A human resources professional, who has responsibilities to supervise drivers, suggests that accidents on Nigerian roads can be reduced if more attention is paid to the drivers and their vehicles. The FRSC is particularly angry with the apathy of fleet operators who neglect its Road Transport Safety Standardisation Scheme, which is to certify drivers and ensure roadworthiness of vehicles.

The FRSC once noted that of the 18,308 accidents in a three-year period, 5,157 people died, and 13,251 were injured. About 2,119 of the accidents and 301 of the deaths were caused by petrol tanker drivers and other haulage trucks. To Usman’s call for a minimum safety standard for trucks, the FRSC recently announced a plan to enforce safety standards on petrol tankers by September 1, 2015. That’s a good place to start.

Though many of the accidents are caused by human error and drivers’ negligence, Nigerian roads have also become veritable death traps. And the slew of government agencies with responsibilities for safety on the highways routinely shirks their responsibilities. The usually grand announcement of huge budgetary allocations for repairs and upgrade of roads often amount to nought.

And the simple job of cutting shrubs that often hamper the view of drivers on the highways is left undone. The negligence is getting to make people think that someone is literally taking Dr. Tai Solarin’s oft quoted motivational pitch, “May your road be rough,” to heart. They make the roads rough indeed.

Officers of the FRSC that was established to reduce road accidents – when the Nigeria Police highway patrol team failed – have gone the way of the police, if you catch the drift. The Lagos State Ministry of Transportation Test, launched with fanfare, to ensure roadworthiness of vehicles is nearly moribund. Motorists often obtain the MOT certificate without bringing their vehicles to any of the (almost extinct) testing grounds.

Those who run the scheme are only interested in generating revenue, and no longer care about the safety aspect of their brief. You often wonder what the Vehicle Inspection Officers that endlessly harass Lagos motorists are really out to achieve – apart from chasing vehicles (that are inadequate on a good day) off the roads. Yet, the number of inner city road accidents is on the increase.

It seems that there is no law, or government agency, to check transport of unlatched containers on Nigerian roads. The Nigerian Ports Authority, that has a lot of business to do with containers, says it is only responsible for ensuring that vehicles that enter and leave its premises meet necessary safety requirements. It abdicates responsibility after the vehicles vacate the ports. That is understandable.

The Lagos State Traffic Management Agency also declines responsibility, and insists that its primary responsibility is to control the flow of traffic within the Lagos metropolis. And there is a deafening silence from the FRSC and the sundry Ministries of Works and Transport.

After Usman troubled them, staff of the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation promised to ask the leadership of the National Road Transport Owners, licensed customs agents, and freight forwarders to end the menace of unlatched containers and rickety trucks on Lagos highways. The Lagos State Police Command also offered, perhaps as a charitable gesture, to look out for containers that are not latched on trucks.

To borrow a phrase from Yul Bryner in the movie, “The King And I,” this sickening buck passing “is a puzzlement!”

Copyright PUNCH.

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