The Lokoja tanker tragedy

ON Wednesday, September 23, yet another tragedy struck the country as scores of persons perished in a petrol tanker explosion that also razed several cars and other properties around the Felele area of Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. According to reports, the tanker fully loaded with premium motor spirit suffered brake failure around around 8:30 a.m and rammed into five cars, two motorbikes and three tricycles, popularly known as Keke NAPEP, killing all the occupants. The casualties included five students of the Kogi State Polytechnic, three primary school children who were being taken to school by their father and a woman and her two children.

Several persons sustained injuries in the explosion and were evacuated to different hospitals in the city.  While eyewitnesses put the casualty figure at 30, the Federal Road Road Safety Corps (FRSC) indicated that 23 persons died in the explosion.

In his reaction to the explosion, President Muhammadu Buhari said that it represented another disturbing and saddening incident in the litany of tragedies that had befallen the country. In a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the president said he was seriously worried about the frequency of the unfortunate and large- scale tragedies in the country which caused needless deaths. He said: “These frequent incidents that result in loss of lives and property are a national scandal caused by our indifference to safety standards. Many accidents are preventable if proper proactive and precautionary measures are put in place or properly observed as routine policies. Ours is a country where we move on whenever tragedies occur instead of taking preventive safety measures to forestall future calamities.”

While commiserating with the Kogi State government and the families of the victims, Buhari called on the county’s transport authorities, traffic and road management agencies as well as law enforcement officials to sit up and enforce safety standards with more seriousness, adding that refusal to do the right thing could cause potential tragic problems that would harm innocent people. He added that the country did not have a shortage of laws and regulations, but came up short in the zeal to enforce those laws and regulations for the sake of public safety. On his part, the Kogi State governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, expressed shock and sadness over the incident. Saying that he was very sad to learn of the tragic loss of lives, many vehicles, property and other valuables in the petrol tanker fire, the governor said: “This unfortunate accident is a sad development and I share the feeling of those who lost their loved ones in this incident.” He then urged students of the state polytechnic to remain calm and peaceful, as he equally shared in their grieving moment.

To say the least, the incident in Lokoja was ghastly.  The victims were burnt beyond recognition. The incident presented a disturbing picture of life in Nigeria. Time and again, petroleum tankers driven by reckless drivers have exploded, causing maximal damage and shattering dreams. Only in June, four people were killed in Lagos after two petrol tankers collided and the fire spread to another tanker conveying gas, causing extensive damage. From Lagos to Kano, and from Akure to Calabar, tanker fires are routine. In fact, they have become a permanent feature of life on the roads. It is telling that nearly in all cases, break failure has been implicated, putting a question mark on the effectiveness of the vehicle inspection offices and departments that dot the landscape. As it were, the drivers of lorries, tankers and trailers have been given a licence to kill and orchestrate sorrow, tears and devastation. In many cases, such drivers, if they survive the accidents, are never made to pay for their crimes, the case being killed soon after the commencement of the usual ‘investigations’ that lead to nowhere.

Besides, if, as President Buhari observed, Nigerians do not usually make amends after such tragedies but only move on, that is certainly a reflection of the value placed on human lives in the country. And it is only because the law often does not take its course in this clime. If infractions are punished without fail, everyone would take notice and sit up. As experience has shown, the same Nigerians who use the roads recklessly at home turn out to be law-abiding, very polite and safety-conscious citizens when they travel abroad. It is not hard to see that they conduct themselves properly in the civilised climes because they are aware of the fate that awaits them if they trifle with the law. In any case, it is instructive that it was only after last week’s tragedy that the Federal Ministry of Works promised to repair the damaged portion of the road in question. Pray, why wait for tragedy to occur before doing what is right?

We commiserate with the families and friends of the Kogi explosion victims. We also ask the Kogi State government, and indeed governments across the country, to take urgent steps to stop the needless loss of lives through tanker fires.

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