Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017

Road Haulage: Stakeholders Urge Concerted Efforts against Menace of Falling Containers

Road Haulage: Stakeholders Urge Concerted Efforts against Menace of Falling Containers

As many Nigerian road users increasingly worry over the grave danger posed to road users by articulated vehicles carrying unsecured containers across the city, stakeholders have urged the government, road haulage operators and road users to join hands in nipping in the bud unnecessary deaths and loss of properties

BAYO AMODU

For road users in Nigeria, the reoccurring incidence of falling containers from articulated vehicles in most parts of the country, especially Lagos and Ogun states, in recent times should be of concern to the government and the people. These days, the presence of these heavy duty trucks, be it petrol tankers and their likes have continued to elicit fear in the minds of many Nigerians, due to the recklessness of some of the drivers and the poorly secured containers which usually fall off lorries at the slightest opportunity, thereby sending its victims to an unprepared grave.

In fact, the fear of these trucks particularly those carrying containers, is the beginning of wisdom for motorists now in Lagos. Findings have revealed that some of the truck drivers sometimes drive under the influence of alcohol and hard drugs. In addition to the fear of the drivers, the problem of unlatched containers has sent many to untimely grave. Last month, about 12 students of the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State were killed when a container crushed a fully loaded bus. It was gathered that the incident occurred along Sagamu/Benin expressway near Remo-North Local Government of Ogun State.

 

According to Commander of the Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Agency, Tommy Hamzat, the crash occurred as a result of ahead-on-collision between a truck and a Mazda bus conveying the students from Ijebu area to Lagos. He said the truck with registration number Lagos, BDG 779XE, drove against traffic, before ramming into the oncoming Mazda bus with registration number, XV 311 MUS. The students died on the spot after the container pinned the bus in which they were traveling to the ground.

Accidents involving trucks with unfastened containers have claimed the lives of many. For example, a breadwinner of her family, Anthonia Nwaeme and her son, Chibuzor, were killed in the Ketu area of Lagos just three days to the New Year, when a truck with two unhitched containers fell on three commercial buses.

 

Untimely deaths caused by these articulated vehicles have been the norm in recent times. In June 2013, a young man identified as Samuel Ogunnaike met his death at Ikeja Along bus stop when a 40-foot container fell on a meat van belonging to the Lagos State Government. Many other bystanders were wounded in the tragedy. Also, in November 2014, many people lost their lives when containers from a truck climbing the Ojuelegba Bridge fell on a commercial bus below. The list of such avoidable accidents is endless.

 

A lawyer and public commentator, Mr. Fred Agbaje, said the state government must prove its seriousness by making sure the Traffic Law is enforced. “It is one thing to have the law in place and another thing to faithfully implement it. The Lagos State Government must wake up from its slumber and ensure full implementation of the law, irrespective of whose ox is gored. Otherwise, lives will be daily terminated and we will be completely helpless,’’ he said.

 

Agbaje also alleged that most of these trucks were owned by ‘untouchable’ top civil servants and dubious businessmen. “Why are the police unable to enforce the law if it is not for fear of those who will be ultimately affected, at the detriment of millions of Lagosians?” he asked.

 

 

It would be recalled that the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC had in May this year complained to truck owners under the aegis of Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMARTO about the rickety condition of trucks plying the ports, which according to the Council has caused delays in cargo delivery. The NSC laments on the huge economic loss accruing from these unprofessional practices.

 

When so many container-laden trucks are involved in road mishaps on a daily basis, it is fair to ask whether the fault lies with the trucks. According to an expert, for some trucks, there are clear evidences that the twist locks, which by standard are 104.1 mm long, 55.9 mm wide with a pointed top and rotated 90 degrees so that it cannot be detached, are not originally part of the chassis of the flatbed as they are unprofessionally welded onto the flatbed and are as such improvised and substandard. The expert posited that it is trucks under this condition that present the biggest challenge to road safety as far as container haulage is concerned.

 

Also, experts have categorized the causes of road accidents in Nigeria into human, mechanical, and environmental factors, disclosing that human factor is responsible for about 90 per cent of the accidents, with mechanical and environmental factors accounting for 10 per cent. An Information Retrieval Specialist at Nigeria Watch, Vitus Ukoji, in his paper, Trends and patterns of fatal road accidents in Nigeria disclosed that between 2006 and 2013, the FRSC recorded 41,118 deaths from road accidents, while Nigeria Watch recorded 14,300 within the same period. He noted that the Nigeria Watch figure is lower because its records only cater for accidents that involve at least one death and those reported.

 

However, relying on the breakdown of data provided by Nigeria Watch, he said that there were 833 fatal crashes involving lorries and trucks.

 

A table by the FRSC on the causes of tankers cum trailers accidents between 2007 and 2010 reported 4,017 cases, listing the causes to include: obstruction, speed violation, mechanically deficient vehicle, overloading violation, dangerous overtaking, loss of control, route violation, driving under the influence of alcohol and drug and wrong overtaking. The table also provided the contributions of each of these causes, disclosing that dangerous driving and speed violation by tanker and trailer drivers are the major causes of accidents on Nigerian roads.

 

But, the President, Association of Truck Owners, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, has also listed other contributors to include the condition of the roads, the state of mind of some of the truck drivers, especially within Lagos. He said, “Most of the drivers are driving under fear and anxiety, as a result of the hostile environment under which they operate.” According to him, the intimidating attitude of the traffic regulators is a factor.

 

He said fatigue is also a factor especially those that operate in the ports either as dry or wet cargo carriers. “When I say wet cargo carriers, I mean petroleum tankers and dry to mean containerized or other general goods trucks. They queue for several days waiting to drop their containers or load them. And within those days, they cannot eat and sleep well and probably did not take their bath. So, how do you expect such a person to behave normal?”

 

He further stated that because of the harsh and poorly regulated environment, young and immature persons now drive most of the trucks, because the matured ones do not have the strength to face the operational challenges within the system. “You can imagine somebody on the steering for two to five days. The married ones cannot afford to leave their families behind to go on long trips. So most of them have abandoned long trips to the young and immature drivers.”

 

Ogungbemi said that the relationship between the drivers and the traffic regulators is unhealthy as they see the truck drivers as means to augment their salaries. “And no truck driver could be free from traffic offence as far as traffic regulations are concerned. God gave us only 10 laws, yet some of us are breaking them, but as far as traffic regulations are concerned, there are over 100 laws, so how is it possible not to break one.”

 

On the claim by some stakeholders that indiscipline and bad state of the vehicles are responsible for accidents, he said; “Even if you buy a new truck worth N30 to N40million, can you afford to put it on the roads that have become death traps? Don’t you see the rate at which the containers are falling? Even the banks will not give loans to buy trucks because of the condition of the roads, which are terribly bad.”

 

Ogungbemi also feels that the roads can no longer accommodate the volume of activities, which is why the commotion and collission are happening daily.

 

“Roads that should not accommodate more than 20,000 trucks, about 200,000 trucks ply them at the same time. These are same roads we have been using in the last 40 years; we do not expect them to accommodate increased activities with population growth, increased vehicular and business activities.

 

Suggesting the way forward, he said that there cannot be sanity without putting the necessary infrastructure in place.

 

“For example, in the ports, there are truck parks, but had been taken over by other business activities. This is why trucks litter the roads, especially Apapa and Tincan areas. There must be discipline, but before you discipline somebody, you must consider the environment in which he operates. So, enabling environment has to be created, there must be sensitisation for the truck operators and drivers.

 

“I do not believe in harsh or punitive approach, the situation has gone beyond using punitive methods to achieve discipline. Efforts should be made to see how the environment could be more conducive. If there is a terminal and truck parks, the drivers could relax and rest, and it is only when their services are needed that they would be invited. A situation where they spend three days on the road, not eating and sleeping well, you do not expect such people to be at their best. Traffic regulators should not be out for revenue; most of their activities are targeted at revenue generation. Imagine a situation where a vehicle will break down and an agency will tow it, slamming a bill of between N200, 000 and N400, 000. And why do you think the vehicles will not be rickety as the money meant to maintain the trucks are being taken away directly and indirectly under different guises,” Ogungbemi stated.

 

Director of Information, Citizens Rights and Empowerment Advocacy Initiative (CREMA) James Ezema said that the authorities responsible for the regulation of activities of tanker drivers have failed to perform their duties. For him, from the drivers’ licensing agencies, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), to the transport associations and unions, there is laxity in sanctioning of their members when they violate traffic laws, and even the tanker owners are all to be blamed. For him, some of the drivers do not drive like persons, who have passed basic driving test. Strict sanctions could curb the madness on our roads, he stressed.

 

Also, experts have called on the Governot of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode and the relevant law enforcement agencies to enforce sections of the state traffic law which restrict their movement to a certain time of the day and also compel the drivers to secure the containers. Under the 2012 Lagos State Traffic Law, no articulated vehicle other than petrol tankers and long vehicles used in conveying passengers are allowed to enter or travel within the metropolis of Lagos between 6am and 9pm.

 

Similarly, the law states that “Driving a trailer-truck or other vehicles carrying containers that are not properly secured attracts a fine of N250,000.” According to the law, officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority may also impound the vehicle as an additional penalty.

 

 

 

However, Femi Oloke, a transport expert said that our problem is not the law but its enforcement. This is the reason we will not relent in supporting our traffic and security agencies for better performance. He urged road users to be patient when they are behind the wheels. He said, ‘‘Driving against traffic is not anusual sight on our roads, especially in areas that are known of gridlocks; therefore, authorities should map out such routes and ensure constant presence. People must know that the idea of driving against traffic because of gridlocks is totally unacceptable.’’

 

He also called on authorities in charge of licensing to play in ensuring safer roads in the country. According to him, the government must ensure that only people who have been tested and passed such tests are issued licenses to drive cars. He said that if Nigerian truck drivers were properly trained, maybe thye would not have been traveling with an unlatched container, therefore, greater emphasis should be placed on training.

 

Similarly, Chigozie Chikere, a Chartered Member, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport, CILT Nigeria said that the menace of falling freight containers should be given urgent attention. According to him, the rains are here, the potholes are getting deeper, road rehabilitation work is getting slower and the VIO is having more excuses for its inefficiency. He also urged the Federal Government to do better through the Vehicle Inspection Office, VIO. ‘‘The chronic underperformance of VIO’s Inspection and Maintenance Unit and the resulting high casualty rate due to falling freight containers on our highways is worrisome. It is inconceivable the number of human lives, vehicles and man-hours that have been lost to fallen containers and the avoidable traffic jams that follow each incident. Incidentally, nobody seems to count the economic cost of a fallen freight container,’’ he said.

 

 

 

 

 

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