23 October 2015, Lagos — Amidst the traffic gridlocks in major towns and cities of Nigeria are long lines of trucks loaded with the highly inflammable premium motor spirit, otherwise known as petroleum. The trucks navigate and meander dangerously on the highways, competing for the right of way with small cars and vehicles and thus constituting danger to motorists and other road users.
The intractable traffic snarl in the commercial area of Apapa, Lagos, where oil tankers queue to load fuel at the major tank, petrol, farms near the Tin Can Island port, has been described as hellish and unbearable. Many motorists dread passing through the area. Those without an alternative go through hell on daily basis plying the road.
Tanker drivers have become a source of worry to many people in the light of constant fatal accidents that they cause. There are numerous cases of cargo trucks either crushing vehicles by falling and causing deaths or bursting into flames razing many homes.
Many people have died and properties worth billions of naira lost to many tanker crashes on the highways with no end in sight.
This year alone, many incidents involving tanker drivers have claimed many lives. There was the incident in the Ikorodu area of Lagos in March and another at Iyana Ipaja in May. The worst in the year happened in Onitsha on May 30 when more than 70 persons were burnt to death when a tanker loaded with petrol driving from the Army barracks side of the Onitsha Enugu expressway lost control and rammed into the Asaba Motor Park at Upper Iweka, Onitsha. More than 11 vehicles, mostly commuter buses, and about three motorcycles inside the park were reportedly burnt beyond repairs after the tanker exploded.
The Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi recently disclosed that tanker drivers killed many people in 2014 alone. Oyeyemi painted the picture apparently to enunciate the cataclysmic dimension which tanker accidents have assumed. The Commission has, therefore, evolved a speed limit device to reduce the carnage caused by tanker drivers.
The FRSC initiative has been widely acclaimed as necessary. But what has been more widely acclaimed is the decision by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) to begin movement of petroleum products, cement and other products which are presently being conveyed by articulated trucks and lorries. The NRC announcement has been widely welcomed as a bolder move to stop frequent carnage on the highways.
The NRC had, last year, disclosed that railway links to the tank farms for petroleum products evacuation by oil marketers would be completed this year. Actually, some oil marketing companies have begun moving Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) known as diesel. Director of Operations of the NRC, Mr. Niyi Ali had said petrol transportation by rail would commence once attendant safety issues have been addressed.
Ali had said “The NRC had moved its first commercial quantity of diesel out of Apapa. We moved 12 wagons of AGO from Lagos to Kano. Moving AGO is a bit easier because you don’t need that much amount of safety considerations. So, we can trans-load from tankers to rail tankers and that is what we will continue to do. As time goes on, we will see some improvement in not just the volume of AGO, but also in other products. In the AGO movement, we used a third party called Connect Rail, which brokered the deal between the Nigeria Railways and a product marketer, Eterna Oil Plc.”
Ali further said that the NRC has acquired 40 brand new pressurised tank wagons meant for evacuating petroleum products from jetties. “Pressurised” means these wagons don’t leak and can be guaranteed of their quantity.
Ali expatiated, “But there is a bit more to petroleum products movement than just having tank wagons. The important thing to remember is that unlike other traffics, the point of loading and offloading is where there are always safety concerns. The first thing we do in our discussions with some of the oil marketers is how to create access to the tank farms and as we speak, we have contracts to rehabilitate all the lines to the tank farms of the major oil marketers.
“The lines are currently being built and rehabilitated to their terminals. We also have ongoing discussions with most of them about the facilities that are required to trans-load the products from their tank farms into the tank wagons. We also consider the fact that these materials are highly combustible, so safety is always the key concern for us.”
Speaking with the Daily Trust, the spokesman of NRC, Mr. Abdur-raouf Akinwoye disclosed the corporation had commenced talks with oil marketers in the country with a view to partnering with them in lifting their products to all parts of Nigeria.
Apart from the movement of petroleum, the NRC has also commenced movement of cement usually conveyed through heavy duty vehicles and trucks, a situation that constitutes danger to commuters on the highways.
Akinwoye said “We are moving petroleum products from Lagos to Kano. We are equally moving cement from the Lafarge company to all parts of the country. We have gone into discussions with oil marketers to let them know that we have all it takes to move petroleum products from tank farms in Lagos to all parts of the country”.
Observers say the revamping of the rail transportation system would have more impact on Nigerians with the resuscitation of movement of petroleum products and haulage services by the NRC. This was the case in the early days of the NRC when the rail mode of transportation was vibrant. The move, according to stakeholders, would not in any way send truck drivers off the road completely. It would, however, reduce the number of tankers and heavy-duty trucks, with the resultant effect being reduction of carnage caused on the roads.
A sector commander of the FRSC told the Daily Trust the measure would reduce carnage on the highway. He said “Honestly this is what the FRSC has been advocating because the rate of crashes by tankers and trucks on our highways is a serious source of concern and we are hopeful this would drastically reduce with this new system”.
General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Comrade Issa Aremu strongly welcomes the idea, saying the question is not about the feasibility,rather it should be the norm. Aremu recalled that the railway used to be the mode of transportation of petroleum products in the past and said nothing stops the railway corporation from reverting to the good old system.
An independent petroleum marketer, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Olapade stressed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) could adopt the rail transportation system to ease movement of its products to various parts of the country.
Olopade maintained the initiative to start moving petroleum products to all parts of the country through train is realistic and sustainable. He said “Nothing is difficult for a government to do at any level if they are honest and sincere. The problem we are having in this part of the world is that every policy is not anchored on honesty and sincerity.”
The oil marketer, who argued that “lack of sincerity and honesty on the part of government worsened the problem of pipeline vandalism which disrupts fuel distribution nationwide”, stressed that the railway arrangement should be meticulously handled to prevent it from being hijacked by saboteurs.
While stakeholders welcome the rail idea, they urge that all the necessary facilities that would drive and enhance the process be put in place to avoid any hitches in its implementation.
*Abdullateef Aliyu – Daily Independent