Re: Nigeria’s killer containers


I am writing a rejoinder to Lekan Sote’s article, “Nigeria’s killer containers” published in The PUNCH, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. The author failed to hold the Federal Road Safety Corps responsible for the lax enforcement of traffic laws concerning unlatched containers on trucks found on Nigerian roads. Also, the article glossed over the many fundamental issues why unsecured containers are ubiquitous on Nigerian roads. For instance, the author merely referenced government agencies’ (the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Customs Service, Vehicle Inspection Office, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation) official positions on and their reaction to the problem of unlatched containers in the country. The agencies in the safety chain provided standard responses with little insight into the crux of the problem and how to resolve it. It is obvious there was no claim of responsibility as they merely passed the buck among themselves. Therefore, accountability by a particular agency becomes elusive.

Which government agency is responsible for the safety of containers on trucks plying Nigerian roads? If someone observes unlatched containers on trucks on the roads, to which government agency is the report made? Over the years, I have observed many trucks with unsecured containers go thru the FRSC checkpoints without being stopped. The million naira question is, why in the world is this blatant failure of the FRSC to enforce the traffic regulations of the country?

A few months ago, on the Owo-Ikare Road in Owo Town, a freaky accident occurred involving a truck with two unlatched containers. The containers on the truck fell on a small car parked on the roadside. The car was compressed like a “sardine.”There was no death reported due to the accident. But it was observed that the FRSC officers were busy on the scene controlling and managing the flow of traffic around the accident site.

The recent horrible accident on the Sagamu Interchange-Benin Expressway, which took the lives of 11 students and a driver from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye is the latest in the series of unlatched containers accidents on our roads. It also underscored the poor state of enforcement of traffic regulations in the country. How can you imagine a truck driver driving into the wrong lane facing the oncoming traffic? This is part of the impunity syndrome that Nigerians have had to live with daily. According to Sote’s article, the FRSC is unable to trace the driver and the owner of the vehicle. The truck is supposedly licensed by the agency. So, what happened to the vehicle’s information? This raises many issues among which is the FRSC’s bureaucracy and record keeping capacity in terms of its ability to provide vehicle information in the country in the case of an accident.

But, there is a silver lining in the Sagamu-Benin Expressway accident in terms of pushing the problem of unlatched containers to the public domain for discussion and it provides the opportunity for changes in public policy.

This author has not lived in a country where containers are loaded on trucks at the seaport without properly secured. The Nigerian experience where unlatched containers are loaded on trucks, and allowed to ply the highways, is contrary to the international norm. How can the governments in Nigeria be an exemption to the international standard and practices? Consider a truck carrying a load of unlatched containers from the Lagos seaport to Abuja. the nation’s capital. The truck may have passed through a chain of law enforcement checkpoints (FRSC, VIO, NCS, NDLEA) without being stopped. It is the responsibility of the government at all levels (federal, state and local) to make the highways safe for the commuters. It appears the current FRSC is weak as a public institution, which lacks the capacity in terms of trained manpower to effectively safeguard our roads. Corruption is part of daily life in the Nigerian society, the operations of the FRSC as a public institution have not escaped this tendency. According to the article, motorists obtain the MOT certificate without bringing their vehicles to any of the testing grounds. This may help to explain why there are so many junk vehicles on Nigerian roads. At night, it is a common occurrence to find vehicles without number plates, head and brake lights and other violations. In fact, there are many old, unfit vehicles on Nigerian roads that belong to the grave yard – vehicles’ junk yard.

The Federal Government needs to reform its motor vehicle policy concerning the operation of trucks on the country’s roads, particularly relating to unlatched containers. As part of this reform, the state governments must require regular inspection of vehicles to ensure road worthiness. The government should formulate a national policy and create a national data bank for all commercial trucks plying Nigerian roads. This bank will contain all pertinent information concerning the vehicle, owner, state of residency, insurance, etc. As asserted in the article, the FRSC accuses truck drivers of excessive speeding, drunk driving, drudgery and sleepiness from long distance drives, poor attitude to vehicle maintenance and ignorance of the highway codes. These allegations levelled against the drivers reflect the frustration being experienced by the FRSC officers. What are the corrective measures or programmes being implemented by the agency to mitigate against these issues?

What is the way forward in reducing the truck accidents on the roads? It is imperative that the Federal Government provides leadership and employs a comprehensive and integrative (vertical and horizontal) approach to a national policy to manage the commercial trucks plying the roads. It is obvious that the FRSC cannot do it alone. This requires all government law enforcement agencies (FRSC, NPA, NCS, NPF, etc.) to cooperate and work together through a multi-agencies organisation. This is part of the strategy to providing a better management structure to improve the performance of the FRSC. It is okay to solicit for the cooperation and voluntary compliance to traffic regulations from stakeholders (National Road Transport Owners, Licensed Custom Agents and Freight Forwarders). But, the effective implementation of the vehicle regulations remains paramount and more potent instrument in reducing truck accidents. As part of the reforms, all commercial trucks in the country must be officially registered with the Federal Government in each state capital and the FCT. Thus, each truck will carry a registered number boldly written on it for an identification purpose.

Copyright PUNCH.


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.