By AMINAH ADEGOKE
Daily, there flows a trail of sorrow, tears and blood when innocent people lose their lives to preventable truck accidents. Among them are the Ojuelegba incident of September 2, 2015, which claimed the life of Abubakar Sulaiman, a bureau de change operator and his friends, Kamilu and Umar, by a fully loaded 40-feet container that skidded off the bridge, landing on their black Toyota Sports Utility Vehicle.
Also badly damaged by the container was a black Toyota Corolla and white Nissan Sunny saloon car that were trapped in the gridlock when the accident occurred. The incident reportedly caused a stampede as motorists plying the ever busy route abandoned their vehicles and fled for their lives.
Two days later, another container accident was recorded on the popular Ikorodu-Shagamu Expressway. Though no life was lost, the fallen container totally blocked the expressway, causing untold hardship to motorists.
Earlier, on January 23, a middle-aged woman, Anthonia and her son, Chibuzor, were crushed to death after an unlatched container fell on them by Ketu Bus stop, as they waited to board a vehicle to Mile 12.
On April 5, 2015, another container crushed four persons by Agric Bus stop, Ikorodu.
Olabisi Onabanjo University was thrown into mourning on June 27, 2015, following the death of 14 students in a fatal accident at Ilisan Remo, close to Sagamu, Ogun State, when a container fell on a bus conveying them to Lagos.
On September 8, 2015, motorists and residents witnessed the brutal death of a middle-aged man, crushed to death by a container-laden truck on top speed as he made to cross Okoduwa Street, in Kirikiri Industrial Layout.
On June 7, 2013, a man was crushed to death by a container at Ikeja-Along Bus Stop, while another heavily loaded 40-foot container fell on a government meat van, crushing a passerby and wounding several others on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. The passerby was later identified as a manager with a top mobile phone dealer in Ikeja. The container-laden truck reportedly lost control after one of its tyres burst in motion.
The Christmas day of 2013 saw no fewer than 10 persons killed when a container fell on a commercial bus along the Alaba-Suru area of Lagos State.
Earlier, on July 25, 2012, a young lady was killed at the Berger end of the Lagos/Ibadan expressway when a container slipped off the back of a truck and fell on her. Four months later, on November 21, 2012, three persons riding in a Mazda car lost their lives in similar fashion along the Badagary-Seme Expressway.
The sad memory of the agonizing death of a motorist, his wife and two-month old baby crushed to death by a container at Ijesha Bus Stop in 2010, remains fresh in the minds of those that witnessed it.
In January 2017, the social media was abuzz with the gory picture of a beautiful young lady whose legs were trapped by a container by Durbar Bus Stop, along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. She was extricated from the container by a Hausa man that had to chop off her trapped legs from the knees, so she could be taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, she bled to death minutes later.
Many are strongly convinced that many of these cases clearly underscore the poor state of traffic enforcement and regulations, not only in Lagos, but across the country.
Just like other accidents, eye witnesses noted that these tragic accidents could have been averted if the trailer drivers had taken appropriate safety measures to ensure that their containers were latched to the truck flatbed at the point of loading.
According to an Apapa-based freight forwarder, it is sad that before a container-laden trailer leaves the port, the physical conditions are never assured; no appropriate latching is enforced.
“Even when the trailers leave the port with unlatched containers, those at the Apapa Wharf Gate just collect bribes and pass them on,” he lamented.
Deadly and quite fearful are the appearances of these container-laden trucks to every motorist that their sight, usually throw people into panic. Many factors have been adduced for these avoidable occurrences; yet, the authorities appear not ready to address such concerns.
Oftentimes, it has been discovered that many of the truck drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which tend to make them over-speed or drive recklessly, even as they see other road users as insignificant. Also, the physical condition of most of the vehicles falls far below prescribed standards.
Culpability of security and enforcement agencies
Relevant regulatory authorities or operatives like the FRSC, Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), statutorily charged with the responsibility of ensuring that drivers conduct themselves as expected while on the road, have not been living up to expectations with regards to truck drivers. These officials are known to shy away from carrying out necessary checks and enforcements; they have been found most wanting in the discharge of this role. According to some people that spoke with the reporter, “they have blatantly failed to enforce the traffic regulations.”
It is worthy to note that most of these trucks are not road worthy. It is not uncommon to find old container-laden trucks fit for the junk yard and without number plates, head and brake lights drive past these enforcement officials. The FRSC would rather turn a blind eye to rickety container trucks and hunt down drivers without seat belts and fire extinguishers.
Often times, these officials are also known to collect bribes from drivers of rickety trucks with worn-out tyres, allowing them to continue their journey to the detriment of other road users.
LASTMA, on many occasions, has been variously accused of becoming more involved in high level extortion than impounding bad container trucks. They are reportedly more concerned with impounding private and official cars.
The deplorable condition of many of the roads has also been fingered as contributing a lot to the endless accidents involving these container trucks.
Quite disturbed by the insistent container carnage, a safety expert, Uzo David, noted that the prevalence of container accidents on Lagos roads was due to poor maintenance culture, bad roads as well as no functional railway system.
He noted: “Only few roads in this country are good. Many articulated vehicles are on the roads without pointers, brake, rear lights, C-caution and other necessary items. It has become a common sight for trucks to break down and no form of sign is put up to warn other motorists of their presence.
“For them, a bunch or two of grasses would always come in handy and sadly, when they leave the spot, the grass is left to cause a nuisance. Also, many of the drivers behind the wheels of these trucks are underage motor boys and apprentices who think themselves experienced enough to ply the nation’s highways. Unfortunately, they are mostly high on narcotics.”
David described those attributing the menace to containers not being latched to flatbeds as lacking proper understanding of mechanics.
According to him, that a container is latched to a flatbed cannot stop it from causing havoc on the road, adding that in most instances, the containers always fall with their flatbeds.
Gbenga Olaleye, an automobile engineer, attributed the growing truck accidents to the inability of Nigeria Customs Service to stop the entry of right-hand trucks into the country. He maintained that these trucks end up being converted by artisans whose expertise are in doubt.
“Accidents happen and most times are attributed to brake or mechanical failure, fire outbreaks from truck heads or truck head detachment. How can we say for sure that all the bolts, nuts and electrical fittings were rightly fixed to standard?”
Many Nigerians insist that, to reduce accidents, the roads need to be fixed, while safety and law enforcement agencies must be on ground and uncompromised. Many also believe that trucks should undergo periodic checks to avoid wear and tear.
Babatude Owolabi, a concerned senior citizen noted: “Lagos State government should intervene and bring an end to the senseless carnage and avoidable insanity propelled by greed and disregard for safety standards. We all deserve to be well protected from the nightmare and deaths arising from these container-bearing trucks.”