How Buhari can avert fuel tanker tragedies on Nigeria’s highways

20 June 2015, Lagos – The spate of fuel tanker explosions on Nigerian highways is getting curious by the day, once again, raising questions about what has became of the rail-line projects of past administrations as an alternative routes to Nigerian highways.

fuel-tanker-on-fire-in-001Nigeria bemoans losses everyday caused by heavy duty vehicles on the nation’s highways but yet nothing concrete is being done to alleviate the problems, a situation which postures the nation as one whose leaders play the fiddle while the country burns. Otherwise, the leadership of any serious country would call a spade by name and tackle the issue head-on.

Within a space of one week, four fuel tanker fire accidents occurred in Nigeria’s two major cities claiming lives and destroying properties. The first incident was at Onitsha which claimed over 70 lives at Upper Iweka in Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State.

Nigerian leaders were always quick to send condolence messages to victims and their families but the question of bringing a permanent solution was clearly forgotten. It was not the first time Nigeria was experiencing fuel tanker fire on the highway but nothing serious was ever done. Typical of Nigeria, while the inferno raged, men of the fire service always tend to arrive late at the scene to extinguish the fire.

Condolence messages were still flying over each other to get to the victims and their family members when another accident occurred in Lagos.

Here, another fuel tanker conveying 33,000 litres of petrol exploded at Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos, and injured no fewer than 14 persons, gutting about 21 vehicles and razing 44 shops.

The incident also completely burnt down five buildings and six tricycles, even though officials of the Lagos State Fire Service and Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) responded to the distress call of residents in the neighbourhood.

The tanker driver had reportedly lost control at Iyana-Ipaja due to fatigue and the tanker swerved roadside and fell just a few metres away from the middle of the bridge, thus leading to the spill of its content and outbreak of fire that gutted buildings and vehicles within the vicinity.

Nigerians were still lamenting the tragedy at Iyana-Ipaja when yet another occurred at Idimu in Alimosho local government of Lagos. The petrol tanker fire incident destroyed property worth millions of naira and no fewer than 34 buildings, 70 shops, one tricycle, one truck and other property were consumed by the fire ignited by a fallen petrol-laden tanker.

As usual, the governor visited the venue and promised that he would ensure that those who lost property to the fire got back to normal business life.

Before this time, related incidents have been recorded in Badagry, where the driver of a tanker conveying 33,000 litres of diesel was contesting the road with a tipper, and in Ejigbo where fire razed a building.

During his visit to the scene of the tanker fire disaster in Onitsha, Anambra governor, Willie Obiano reportedly broke down and wept.

In Lagos, the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode blamed frequent fuel tanker explosions in the state on carelessness and indiscipline of the truck drivers.

He also promised to help those who lost properties and shops.

But the truth of the matter remains that the era of weeping, sending condolence messages or apportioning blames should be jettisoned.

The Nigerian government should sit up to its responsibility and do the right to push the tankers off the roads.

All the fuel tankers lifting fuel from the tank farms along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway have done tremendous damages on the high ways, causing death, pain and gridlocks on the highways. A time has come for government to seek a permanent solution instead of temporary palliatives. Nigerians are familiar with the tragedy of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway which appears to have defied solution . But history is pointing accusing fingers at past and present administrations which neglected its civic responsibility to the people. Fuel tankers from all the states in the North, the South-East and the South-South states come to Lagos to lift fuel and besiege the highways causing the type of tragedy we have recorded recently at Onitsha and Lagos.

The poor situation of some of Nigerian highways have not helped issues.

The problem traverses between bomb crater-sized potholes, roads resembling muddy rivers in the annual rainy season and the carelessness of tanker drivers. In Lagos, the road situation has gotten worse and most unbearable with the traffic situation and congestion of the highways which daily causes pain and loss to people and businesses.

The real problem

If past Nigerian governments have made good their promises of constructing new rail-lines or rehabilitating old ones, that would have moved heavy-duty vehicles off the highways and restrict them to the rails especially those travelling long distances from Lagos where they lift fuel to other cities and states. With an effective rail system, tankers coming from Sokoto, Maiduguri and the Northern states or from the South East and South-South states would not pass through the highways.

If our refineries were functional, all the tankers in Nigeria would not have any business coming to Lagos to lift fuel as refineries in Port-Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna would have taken care of that.

Nigerian government has to revisit the issue of rail-lines as an alternative in order to ease heavy duty vehicles and trucks off the highways.

In every ramification, the current road networks around Nigeria are inadequate for the operations of the trucks, tankers and the likes. In civilized climes, ports the size of the ones in Apapa have rails and expansive road networks serving them. But Nigeria cannot boast of an effective rail system.

During the second republic, President Shehu Shagari’s government awarded a contract for the 974km Lagos – Sokoto Expressway leading through Badagry and Agbara to Sokoto. The distance is a day’s travel time of 765 Minutes or 12 hours, 45 minutes. Shagari’s proposal was a ring road that would evacuate goods from Apapa ports through the Badagry Expressway to Sokoto, the contract of which the Shagari regime reportedly had awarded. Many alleged it was awarded to Fougerolle Vs Fougerolle and nothing else was heard about it. This major road construction would have strengthened the rails too, including a new line from Calabar port through Gombe to Maiduguri. That project did not see the light of the day.

With the palace coup of December 31 that ousted the regime of President Shehu Shagari who initiated the projects, the ideas died.

Indeed whatever solution that would nail the menace in the nation’s highways must consider the volume of tankers lifting fuel from tank farms along Apapa ports which have crowded the roads in and around Lagos and extended to other cities in Nigeria. Almost everything used by Nigerians is imported and more than 80 per cent of the imports are through Apapa ports and are transported along the highways. Tankers and containers should be restricted to rail-lines.

Nigeria appears to be wasting resources, investing billions of Naira on the present road networks and then watching them turn back to ruins in months.

According to stakeholders, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the other major highways that lead in and out of Nigerian cities are bearing burdens meant for the rails.

Tankers that lift petroleum products are usurping the role of the rails. They are a disruptive alternative. Poor government decisions are also contributory to this problem.

If the rails were operating, fewer trailers would jam Nigerian roads and other cities. As far back as year 2000, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had taken a cursory look at the entire scenario and had suggested that only the completion of the Lagos–Sokoto Expressway would solve the problem.

Tinubu had then urged the Federal Government to as a matter of priority, embark on the completion of the Lagos-Sokoto Expressway as a panacea for making the federal highways within Lagos state more durable.

According to him, “the Lagos Port-Sokoto Highway would take pressure off the highways within the state. The Lagos- Harcourt Harcourt coastal link road should also be given the same priority as the twin effort will impact positively on the safety of lives and property on the road”.

He had further advised that tolls be taken on the two road networks via a private sector involvement that would provide the federal government with the needed revenue for the roads’ execution. During Obasanjo’s regime as civilian president, his government had directed the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to ensure the completion of the Badagry-Sokoto Highway which the government said was actually kick-started during Obasanjo’s first tenure as military Head of State more than three decades ago before handing it over to Shagari’s government.

Railway as panacea for the problem

The Nigerian railway system is about 115 years old. Between 1898 and 1964, Nigeria had reportedly built a network of narrow gauge rail lines totaling 3,505 km. In 1986, the Federal Government commenced the construction of 274 km standard gauge line from Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri Port. In February 2011, the FGN commenced the construction of 187km Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge.

Before 2010, most of rail tracks have suffered deterioration because of long neglect and lack of maintenance which is further compounded by flooding. In a bid to turnaround the railways nationwide, the Federal Government articulated a 25-year strategic rail vision containing milestones for future programmes of development in the Nigerian railways to be implemented in three stages starting with the construction of new lines and extensions to key economic centres (i.e. cement factories, refineries, agricultural zones, mining sites, power plants e.g. Kaduna 200MW plant ), state capitals, seaports, River ports, airports and tourism centres.

There was also the connection of Tincan, Onne, Calabar and Warri ports with rail lines; and connecting the Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kaduna, Jos, Minna, Ilorin, Ibadan, Maiduguri Airports with rail lines. Pursuant to this strategic vision, the rehabilitation of over 90% of the entire existing narrow gauge lines throughout the country was commissioned but the level of completion of some of them is not yet determined.

The western line; Lagos – Kano was completed and passenger services and haulage of goods along the line was flagged off in December 2012 while the Eastern line Port Harcourt-Maiduguri was expected to have been completed before the end of 2013. But one cannot state the efficiency of these rail-lines. If they were efficient, the pressure would have taken off the road and disasters like experienced in Onitsha and Lagos recently.

What Buhari should know

In one of her comments, former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Jumoke Akinjide had blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for the traffic problems and disasters faced daily by commuters in Lagos and other cities in Nigeria. Akinjide had said that the fault lies on President Buhari’s shoulders due to his termination of the Lagos Metroline project initiated by the Alhaji Lateef Jakande for the purpose of easing traffic in Lagos. According to her, Buhari had terminated the project during his tenure as Head of State between December 1983 and August 1985. She said that, The visionary Jakande administration had concluded all the plans to finance the project, putting everything in place for its successful execution.

My father, Richard Akinjide (SAN), provided the legal frame work in his capacity as the Attorney General at the time, and the state government had deposited $50m after securing a $450m loan at six per cent fixed interest rate for 25 years. At the time the project was cancelled, the government had paid part of the loan and, therefore, had no worry about financing the project, but Buhari stopped the project. He went ahead to pay another $500 million which was almost enough to complete the project, as fine to the foreign company handling the project for terminating the contract”. The Lagos metro-line project if successfully executed would have also helped ease the traffic around major highways in Lagos.

Jakande had paid the full amount of $100 million, eighty five million pounds for Inter Alpha to come and start it and the military came and cancelled it.

Expressing his dismay over the cancellation of the Lagos metro rail-line, first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, had also blamed the duo of former President Shehu Shagari and former military ruler, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) for the cancellation of the project which he initiated to solve the traffic problem in the metropolis in 1983. Jakande, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, had accused Shagari of ordering the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not to release N70 million mobilisation fund for the metro line project.

According to him, “President Shagari was angry for two reasons. First, I did not congratulate him on his re-election in 1983. Second, he stopped the fund because I was not his party member” The scrapping in 1985 of the metroline project by the military regime of Muhammad Buhari was at a loss of over $78 million to the Lagos tax payers. The idea of developing a light rail network for Lagos was revived by Governor Bola Tinubu in the early 2000s with a formal announcement of its construction in December 2003.

This initial $135 million proposal was part of the greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project to be implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). LAMATA initially concentrated on developing a Bus Rapid Transit system, running from Mile 12 to Lagos Island. In 2008, LAMATA began also to make progress with the rail project, focusing initially on the Blue Line and the Red Line.

Why I cancelled Lagos metroline project – Buhari

Explaining the cancellation of the Lagos metro-line project, President Buhari during his presidential campaign in Lagos said he cancelled the Lagos metroline project because he did not want to take more loans or devalue the naira.

At the presentation of his party’s manifesto during his campaign in Lagos, Buhari had explained that when he got into power in 1983, the relatively stable economy which was handed over to the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, had been badly plundered and corruption was rife in every sector. He said that the rail line project was meant to cost N100m, which was a large sum of money then, and the Federal Government was asked to guarantee the loan meant for the project.

He said, “Then, we didn’t know how much debt was on us as a nation and we felt that we should not add another N100m to it. I had to set up two committees to assess how much we owed and we promised not to take more loans or to devalue the naira but to develop the economy.”

Buhari further argued that tagging him an enemy of Lagos State because he cancelled that project was mischievous and unfair, stating that the first one billion naira he spent when he was heading Petroleum Trust Fund was on Victoria Island and Ikoyi waterworks in Lagos. But the big question is what happens now? Will his administration continue what it stopped in 1983 and make the dream a reality in 2015-2019?

15 railway projects mapped for completion in 2015 across Nigeria

It was recorded that about 15 different railway projects were penciled down for completion between 2014 and 2015, according to reports. The completion of these rail projects across cities in Nigeria could perhaps bounce back positively on the highways across cities in Nigeria.

N1.61trn was recorded for the projected. According to a document on the 2013 capital projects of key federal ministries , 13 of the projects were to receive attention at a total cost of N44.35bn. A detailed analysis of the development projects by the Centre for Social Justice, however, indicated a difference of over 50 per cent between what was proposed for railway in 2013 and the amount prepared for the transport mode in the 2015 budget.

The railway investment, it was learnt, would involve the construction of new rail lines across the country and rehabilitation of the existing narrow gauge lines. Money was also voted for some railway projects last year, including the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Kano rail track.

Top on the list of projects in this year’s budget is the construction of new Lagos-Ibadan rail line on standard gauge at a cost of N8.6bn. A sum of N229.5bn was approved for this stretch of rail line under the Transformation Agenda of former President Jonathan. The former Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, had last year announced that the project was set to commence and gave the contract sum as $1.5bn. The plan is to take the new line to Kano on a standard gauge double line.

The government also provided N3.56bn in this year’s budget for the completion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line. A total sum of N243bn was voted for the project. The old Lagos-Kano rail line was recently inaugurated after its rehabilitation. The breakdown shows that the maintenance of Lagos-Jebba end and Jebba-Kano end will attract N700m each. The rehabilitation of another old rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, also got N1.2bn this year.

The Ajaokuta-Warri rail line should be ready this year with a provision of N4.1bn for its completion and the rehabilitation of the earlier constructed stretch. About 22 kilometres from Ovu to Warri, which had remained uncompleted for a long time, received N7.6bn under former President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. The feasibility studies for the preparation of tender documents on East-West rail line attracted N195bn. A total of N200m was provided in last year’s budget to commence the studies. The government had earlier in the year reopened the old Lagos-Kano line, after its rehabilitation by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and Costain West Africa Plc.

A total of N12.2bn was earmarked for the project. Despite these expenditures on rails, nothing seems to have been done. If these rail-lines were effectively completed, would the chaos on the roads have remained?

What experts think

If there would ever be a permanent solution to the problem of fuel tanker accidents on Nigeria’s highways, Nigeria would have to go back to the basics. This according to a senior engineer with the Ministry of Works who preferred anonymity is the only near-permanent solution to the problem of fuel tankers on Nigerian roads.

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard , the official said that what started the problem was lack of vision on the part of those at the helm of affairs over the years.

“Those who were in charge of affairs then did not envisage the current problem because they lacked foresight. If they were more proactive, they should know that the Lagos city development is an ongoing thing and should be able to project what should be the situation in ten, fifteen, twenty years. If you really want to know, I would say that lack of patriotism and commitment are highly contributory to the problem and like you asked about the Lagos-Sokoto road project, the new government can wake up the project as a near-permanent solution to the highway issues in Nigeria. “ There is need for a total overhaul of the rail system in Nigeria. Tankers come all the way from Sokoto, Maiduguri, Kano and other parts of Nigeria to Lagos to lift fuel .

If the tankers are off today, tomorrow they would all rush back and block the roads and that is our problem. They park on top of the bridges for days thereby weakening their life span. “So, the road should be made a priority or things will continue to deteriorate. I blame it on lack of vision because if it were elsewhere, they would have projected how the road would be in the next ten,twenty, thirty years, fifty years and since they failed to do that, it has now become a problem.” For President Buhari who was blamed for misdeeds of the past, the time to make up for it is now. Whatever was not done efficiently in the past could be corrected now. The search light should be on the rails as an effective alternative.



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