‘King of the Road’ By Dele Agekameh



Last Monday evening, motorists plying Apapa-Oshodi expressway inLagosliterally went through hell, spending hours in the traffic, as fuel tankers waiting to load fuel at the tank farms in the area blocked the entire expressway. The traffic, which stretched through several kilometres, was particularly chaotic at Mile 2 and Julius Berger Yard area, due to the blockade of the service lane by the construction giant, Julius Berger Plc. Also, a large number of petrol tankers were indiscriminately parked in a manner which completely took over the route leading toApapaPort.

As a result of the commotion, some motorists got home as late as 1:00 am the following day. This is because those who could not navigate their way to Orile, aLagossuburb, turned against traffic and drove towards Mile 2 in their efforts to access Orile, thereby compounding an already bad situation.  The scene on the bridge linking Kirikiri Maximum Prison was not different. For hours, motorists were grounded on the bridge till late at night. A few weeks ago, a fully loaded petrol tanker exploded at Mile 2 and ignited a wide inferno which consumed three lives and 36 vehicles.

Those who frequently ply the route described their experiences as terrible and horrifying. The chaotic and unbearable traffic gridlock is often caused by tanker drivers who usually take over both sides of the roads. Quite a good number of Nigerians have called on the government to devise measures to check the menace of these tankers as the nation is losing unquantifiable man-hour on the road, the only road to the nation’s seaports. The plight of motorists on this route seems to have caught the attention of the Lagos State Government which has recently recorded success in clearing the tankers off the route. One only hopes that the current sanity will be sustained.

There is no doubt that the activities of these tanker drivers and trucks are silently killing the economy. Apart from the fact that two of the major ports in the country are located in Apapa, more than 75 per cent of the goods that are imported into the country come through the ports. The implication is that the blockage of the access roads leading to these two important ports makes it difficult to effectively service the economy because of the difficulty in accessing the ports.

However, it is not only inLagosthat the tankers and articulated vehicles carrying containers, have become a nuisance. They are largely ubiquitous inOnnePortinPort Harcourt,East-West Road,Ijebu-Ode-Benin Road, Ile-Ife-Akure, Akure-Ondo, in the southern part of the country. They are also highly noticeable in many parts of the northern states. Wherever there is high volume of trade or movement of goods, you will find them in their nuisance quantity.

If you are a regular user of the nation’s ‘expressways’, you will understand what I am saying. These vehicles are “kings of the road”. Whether they are coming towards your direction or you are trailing them from behind, all you need to do is to apply extra caution. They can either push you completely out of the road when they are coming directly opposite you or they could overrun you if they are coming behind you. If you are the type who embarks on reckless overtaking on the roads, you must ceaselessly blare your horns when you want to overtake such vehicles, otherwise you could end up in a ditch if the “king of the road” suddenly decides to change lane or avoid one of the many potholes dotting our roads.

This is one of the reasons why people are quick to attribute the cause of road accidents to bad roads. Agreed, bad roads, which are a regular feature of our roads, contribute immensely to carnages on the highways, but the human and mechanical factors far supersede this. Bad roads can be patiently managed by a diligent and meticulous driver. That is not to say that governments at whatever levels – federal, state and local governments – should be exonerated from blame. Far from that.

It is a good thing that trailer parks are springing up everywhere now. The drivers must be made to use them to refresh during long distances. Though the drivers of these vehicles appear to be highly unruly and not disciplined, efforts should be made by government to single them out for proper education on tolerance on the roads, good conduct and strict adherence to traffic laws and safety regulations. If you go to Ogere area of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway orOreon the Ijebu-Ode-Benin Expressway, you will understand the pervasive indiscipline among this category of drivers. They neither respect law enforcement agents nor respect traffic laws and regulations.

Since 1993, when they were visibly involved in the struggle for the actualization of the late Basorun M.K.O Abiola’s election, tanker drivers have constituted themselves into a formidable group that can disrupt smooth public life at the dictates of their own whims. Perhaps, that was why they bared their fangs in 2008 when they physically used their long vehicles to block the Shagamu axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway after a minor dispute with theOgunState government. I was one of the motorists caught in that unholy trajectory at the time, and my experience is better forgotten. Whichever way one looks at it, these drivers need to be properly orientated because of the human and economic destruction they wrought on the nation from time to time.

‘The FRSC should be properly funded and strengthened to carry out its statutory functions of saving lives on the roads’.

So, in essence, we are faced with the double-edged assault of tankers and articulated vehicles whose drivers have little or no consideration for other road users. In many instances, the tankers and articulated vehicles are driven so recklessly that they often create avoidable fatalities. In the process, a lot of Nigerians have met their untimely death. Many have attributed the fatal accidents involving these vehicles to drunkenness on the part of the drivers, sleeplessness resulting in fatigue while driving, and the last but not the least, mechanical fault.

It is no longer news that drivers drink while driving in Nigeria. When I say drivers, I don’t mean commercial or professional drivers alone as some I-go-drive-myself also indulge in this ruinous habit. At the inception of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, in 1988, one of the major campaigns embarked upon by the body was to dissuade drivers from drunk-driving. These campaigns were vigorously pursued at motor parks and other public places to sensitize the drivers to the damaging effect of drunk driving. At a point, a mechanism, generally known as Alcolyser, through which the alcoholic content in a driver could be detected, was regularly used. But this method seems to have lost steam.

Similarly, many years ago, there were constant adverts or jingles in the media warning drivers on the dangers of road accidents, but such jingles have dwindled in volumes or have completely disappeared from the screen or airwaves. The government needs to do more on public enlightenment about safe driving culture, especially by the drivers of these tankers and articulated vehicles. The carnage on our roads has become an epidemic, so much that it will take a complete reorientation of the mindset of this category of drivers to bring sanity to the roads. The FRSC should be properly funded and strengthened to carry out its statutory functions of saving lives on the roads. The time has come for the governments to wake up from its deep slumber and do something to reduce the menace posed to road users not only by tankers or articulated vehicles and their drivers but all other motorists. And the first step is to fix the roads!

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