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Curbing Anambra’s rising tanker accidents

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(Photo by EMMY IBU / AFP)

The massive network of bad roads across the country has often been blamed for the high rate of road crashes. Daily, cars, buses, heavy-duty trucks, and tankers while navigating the dilapidated roads, run into each other spilling their contents, or maiming and killing humans on board.

But with the recent crashes involving fuel tankers in Onitsha, Anambra State, and the attendant loss of lives and property, many are asking whether the state is prone to tanker accidents.

On February 15, 2017 at the DMGS Roundabout, located around the Upper New Market area of Onitsha, a petrol tanker went up in flames after falling down. Razed down in the process were several offices, residential homes, cars, shops and wares among others.

Most of the victims were yet to recover from their losses, when another tanker went up in flames at the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha few months later. Upper Iweka is a very busy part of Onitsha and it plays host to loading bays belonging to at least a dozen transport companies and other smaller businesses.

During the accident, many lives were lost, while several vehicles and wares were also destroyed.

However, before the incident, a human rights activist had warned about the location, and cautioned that based on the earlier tanker fire accident at the Asaba Park, which claimed about 70 lives in 2015, it was dangerous to have over 300 commuter vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers at that point. Of course, it did not take time for another incident that took many innocent lives to happen after he sounded the warning.

Just as the citizens were trying to recover from that incident, another petrol-laden tanker, which was trying to negotiate the Amawbia Roundabout, near the Governor’s Lodge, Awka, fell off and spilt its content all over the road and adjoining business premises, including the state Fire Service office.

The damages and losses incurred during the incident are yet to be addressed. Sadly, while the victims continue to lament their losses, the state government is busy re-constructing and edifying the roundabout.

Months later, the last major crash and attendant explosion occurred within the Upper Iweka area. It became a major embarrassment to the state government as it was the state police command that alerted of the development.

At about 10 am, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Abang and some of his key officers ran all the way from Awka, to Onitsha, to take charge of the environment. It was from there that the police started alerting other stakeholders, including the state Fire Service, which ordinarily ought to have been there before any other group. But until the tanker exploded and its content spilt far and wide, there was no presence of any Fire Service official.

In the absence of the Fire Service and in their frustration, residents instantly mobilised to help put out the raging inferno, using just about anything that they could lay hands on, including sand, stagnant water from drainage/gutter, human faeces from two passing sewage trucks, but to no avail.  The petrol just kept gushing out of the tanker into the drains until it caught fire that engulfed the surrounding buildings killing a pregnant woman, her little baby, among others.

Properties worth millions of naira were lost at the popular Ochanja Market, which was equally razed.

A few months earlier, specifically after the DMGS Roundabout incident, Governor Willie Obianor promised to acquire additional fire engines for the Fire Service, ordered the recruitment of one hundred additional fire officers, as well as the training and retraining of other officers.  This was because the incident elicited immense public outrage against the state government and the Fire Service.

Until the latest tanker explosion happened, less than a week, and not far from the scene of the last one, not a single of Obianor’s promises had been fulfilled.

However, this time around, even though the fire consumed some property (no life was lost), the Fire Service eventually showed up and saved the day.

Rattled by the string of sad losses, the state government put in place new measures, including limiting the movement of the tankers to between 8pm and 6am only.

That notwithstanding, four other mishaps in Agulu, Abba, Awka and Nise were recorded, which the Fire Service responded swiftly and contained it before it exploded.

Be that as it may, the frequency and enormity of these disasters is raising posers on whether Anambra State is prone to tanker accidents.

But an environmentalist, Chika Uzo said that whatever was happening in the state was not peculiar to it, explaining that, the incidents were disastrous because of the volume of congestion and businesses that go on in the state.

He regretted that the people had continued to jettison the state’s master plan in their bid to build illegal structures and engage in businesses, stressing that, “as much as the roads are not free, movements will always be encumbered, and what this means is that in the long run, people will pay dearly for any mishap.”

On his part, Chris Okoye, an engineer, said that the incessant fall of petrol tankers in the state was not as a result of poor planning of the state, but the failure of regulatory agencies to live up to their duties.

Okoye told The Guardian that similar crashes were frequent along Enugu–Onitsha Expressway due to bad roads, and the nature of vehicles conveying petroleum products.

“We know that the quality of roads in the country is bad; we know how our vehicles, especially these tankers are maintained and we know who is behind the wheels. It is unfortunate that Anambra State has received an unfair share of the recklessness of these drivers. But if we have regulations in place, and go ahead to enforce them, I believe it will go a long way in containing the situation.

“People set up shops along highways, which is very bad. There is what is called setbacks that must be maintained on every constructed road, but even when these things are observed, people still go there to do their business. In the long run, when anything happens, they will become victims. Trading on major roads should be discouraged,” he said.

The State Commissioner for Information, Don Adinuba, said it was wrong to allege that the incessant tanker crashes on Anambra roads was due to poor planning of the state, adding that many of the tankers were hardly maintained despite conveying petroleum products routinely.

He said the state government has continued to regulate activities along its major roads, as well as put a restriction on truck movements into the city.

He regretted that these regulations made for the good of the people were being violated to create a wrong impression about government.

Adinuba informed that after the last incident that caused a fire outbreak in Onitsha, the state government decided to make the state Fire Service autonomous, as well as ensuring the recruitment of more staff, additional fire fighting engines, and restructuring the place to be headed by a retired air force officer to make it more result-oriented.

The state government, he added had set up a committee headed by the Deputy Governor, Nkem Okeke, to review certain activities in the state, adding that the government would implement resolutions of the committee, which membership includes, Air Vice Marshal Ben Chiobi (rtd) and Deputy Inspector General of Police Val Ntomchukwu (rtd).

Other stakeholders that were part of the committee, which resolutions are yet to be made public were drawn from the police FRSC, DSS, Anambra State Transport Management Agency, Petrol Tanker Drivers, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association (IPMAN).

But it was reliably gathered that health of the tankers, quality of drivers, speed limit of the operators among others, will feature prominently in the reports.


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