Tuesday, December 22, 2020 10:15 am
Otedola Bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway presents a recurrent nightmare. Virtually no month passes without Lagosians and Indeed Nigerians being fed with news of fatal accidents or near fatal crashes occurring at that spot.
Thick fumes leaping into the air and darkening the skies are familiar sights, and residents are left with no option, but to entertain feelings of deva ju whenever an accident occur on that bridge.
However, an intriguing thing about those accidents is that they follow an uncanny pattern. It is either articulated vehicles fall and spill fuel, which burst into flames at the spot engulfing motorists, passengers and vehicles alike or they collide with other vehicles, leaving casualties and economic losses in no small proportion.
Still, the latest danse macabre on the bridge, which occurred on Saturday 19 December 2020 brings to the fore the earlier ones that had occurred at that same spot. On that ill-fated day, at 5:30pm, a family of six, a truck driver and his assistant narrowly escaped being burnt to death when a tanker loaded with 44, 000 litres of diesel was gutted by fire after it had hit an SUV.
The tanker was travelling outward Lagos when one of its tyres reportedly caught fire. People around the area drew the driver’s attention to the fire. But rather than stop and put out the fire, he reversed the tanker and as it was rolling back it collided with the car conveying a family of six from the rear. Though the two vehicles burst into flames, no lives were lost.
However, while the occupants of those two vehicles were lucky, others who had suffered similar incidents at that same spot in the past were not so fortunate. They never lived to tell the tale as they were burnt beyond recognition. Indeed, Lagosians will not forget easily the accident that occurred on that bridge on 28 June 2018. That day, a tanker loaded with petroleum product fell, spilled fuel and burst into devouring flames that reminded one of hell fire.
Many motorists and passengers were caught up in the inferno, which resulted according to official figures in the death of 12 people who were burnt beyond recognition and the destruction of 54 vehicles. However, a number of eye witnesses are of the view that the authorities were economical with the truth as the casualties and economic loss are way more than the official figures.
In September 2019, another tanker loaded with diesel fell off the same bridge, spilling diesel and causing a shutdown of vehicular movement on the bridge and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
On 10 October 2019, barely a month later, another tanker carrying 33, 000 litres of fuel fell on the same bridge, spilling its content. Four people were said to have to have sustained injuries as a result of the accident
On 12 October, two days later, another tanker with 45,000 litres of fuel fell at the same spot. Though the accident caused a major traffic snarl, it did not resulted in loss of loss of lives as the fuel was immediately transloaded by officials of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA.
Many accidents have occurred around that axis in 2020. On 5 May, two tankers loaded with kerosene and diesel had a head-on collision inward Berger, though no casualty was reported. On 21 May, another tanker collided with a bus, killing one and injuring a few others.
On 17 October, 2020, around 2:30am, a container truck loaded with fabric collided with a petrol tanker. Both vehicles were completely razed in the inferno that resulted from that crash. It took the combined efforts of LASEMA and Lagos State fire fighters to put out the fire before dawn, though there was no casualty.
However, the question now is: Why are there so many accidents on that bridge? Are they the handiwork of blood- thirsty demons as many erroneously believe? Or are they due to human errors and engineering or technical malfunction? It was indeed in a bid to find lasting solution to the many accidents 0n the bridge that many now term the bridge of death that TheNEWS spoke with experts who gave various reasons why accidents continue to occur there.
When TheNEWS sought the opinion of Olumide Filade, Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, LASTMA, in a telephone conversation, he declined comment, saying he is not allowed to speak as a public servant. “I’m a civil servant. I’m not allowed to speak with the press,” he said.
However, TheNEWS later spoke with other top LASTMA officials who craved anonymity. One of the officials hinged the incessant accidents on that bridge to reckless driving and over speeding. He also blamed the accidents on poor maintenance of the vehicles that ply our roads. “The most common cause of accidents on that bridge is not far-fetched. It is over speeding and reckless driving. Those indeed are the primary causes that trigger other things. But over speeding and reckless driving on the part of the drivers are the immediate causes of accidents on that bridge. And you cannot also overlook the fact that some of these vehicles are derelict and not properly maintained. You also have cases of vehicles carrying tonnage that are way more than the capacity they were designed for,” he said.
“And when the vehicle is either ascending or descending it will experience things that may eventually lead to a crash or other forms of accident that will generate fire eruption and loss of lives and property. So this happens in sequence, one triggering the other. But most importantly, it is the human factor that aggravates the situation the more.
“When you have improper vehicular checks and maintenance, faulty and derelict vehicles carrying more luggage than is expected of them and the drivers are not careful enough to drive within the specified speed limit and apply all the techniques required of a professional driver, a whole lot of things that that may lead to road crash and other forms of accident may occur.
The LASTMA official spoke emphatically about the road outward Lagos, saying that the problem has to do with that part of the road. “How many times have we seen or experienced road crash on the side of the road inward Lagos, I mean the road going towards Toll Gate? You hardly have any report of such things happening. It happens more on the side of the road going out of Lagos. And reckless driving, over speeding and lack of proper maintenance of vehicles cannot be overemphasized when such things happen.”
Asked whether the physical design of the bridge and topography are to blame, he averred: “No, no, no! We have been to different parts of the world and have seen places like this. Go to other parts of the country. Go to the north. Go to some parts of the South West, you see roads like this, especially when you navigate Akure, Owo and some parts of Kogi State, Idoani etc, and the road leading to Abuja and up north, you get to discover that there are many roadways that are designed in this manner.”
He also spoke about how the sloppy nature of the bridge could lead to accidents. “Ultimately it is expected that when a vehicle is descending, there are ways and manners the driver should handle the vehicle, the speed he is expected to be driving at. And when he is ascending, there are also ways and manners in which the vehicle should be propelled. If a vehicle is not in good road condition or maximum operational condition and is carrying a consignment heavier than what it can accommodate, the vehicle will find it very difficult to ascend. And if care is not taken, and the driver continues to propel it forcefully, the vehicle may take over from the driver and he may lose control. And when he loses control, a whole lot of dastardly things can happen on account of that. So the design is not the problem,” he maintained.
Another LASTMA official that TheNEWS spoke with also echoed his colleague, citing over speeding, reckless driving and poor maintain ace culture as major causes of accidents on that bridge. He also debunk the story making the rounds that there are blood sucking demons on that bridge and that there is a certain part of that bridge that is responsible for the accidents. “You know some of the drivers will know that their vehicles are faulty, yet they will say, ‘Let me manage, manage, and manage,’ until they are no longer able to manage. And that always lead to dire consequences.
“And you know since that bridge is sloppy, often times it is difficult to climb it. So there is no other thing that causes accident at that spot but the bad conditions of the vehicles. Our maintenance culture is veer poor. When your vehicle is not in good condition, you are not supposed to ply the road. Since our roads are bad and our maintenance culture is poor, there will definitely be accidents,” he explained.
However, Ibrahim Farinloye, Lagos State Acting Coordinator, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), told TheNEWS that the sloppy nature of that bridge as well over speeding on the part of drivers of articulated vehicles are the causes of accidents there. “When you are coming from Toll Gate, that is inward Ibadan, before getting to Otedola Bridge, the level of the road there is even. But immediately you leave the Alausa area and move to the filling station on the right hand side, while approaching Otedola, you will see that it is descending. And immediately you get to that Otedola Bridge, you will start climbing up again. So that could also be the problem. As you can see, the the other side of the road is even. So the structural design of that area should be the problem.
Farinloye said drivers of articulated vehicles also always fail to take cognizance of the sloppy area.
“Apart from that most of the drivers of the articulated vehicles fail to take cognizance of that area and take control. They may be speeding, thinking the whole road is straight like where they are coming from. But by the time they descend and ascend again, they may lose control because of loss of concentration. So that could be the problem.
“The drivers are to blame because of loss of concentration when they get to that area. Because when one is in a city there is a speed limit one is expected to adhere to. So when the articulated vehicles exceed that limit, which is 40 kilometres per hour, definitely when they are in a very difficult situation, they won’t be able to be in control. So rather than they be in control, the vehicles will take control of the situation. And that may lead to an accident.”
Asked what was the way out of what seemed an intractable problem, Farinloye said the Federal Road Safety Commission had made some presentations to the Lagos State, restricting articulated vehicles from plying that road during the day and what the government needs is the political will to strengthen that law and enforce it. “You know there was a time such enforcement was made. Government only needs political will for us to strengthen that law and enforce it,” he said.
However, after the 2018 Haulage Operator Summit held by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, it came out with a report entitled, Articulated Vehicle Crashes In Nigeria: Concrete and sustainable Mitigation Measures. In that report signed by Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshall, FRSC principal causes of petroleum tankers crashes are attributed to factors such as non -adherence to road traffic safety practices, inadequate driver’s training/certification and retraining leading to driver’s error, non-adherence to safe laden/haulage practices/standards, heady and non-cooperative attitude of drivers and other stakeholders, security challenges and lack of clear-cut policy on tanker/truck transit in Nigeria, , alteration of original design value of truck heads and/or trailers, state of the nation’s roads, and failure to install speed limiting device.
It also says the number of people killed and vehicles destroyed in that ill-fated 28 June 2018 accident on Otedola Bridge was avoidable if safety standards were adhered to and driver error avoided. This also falls in line with what other stakeholders told TheNEWS.