*’How ball of fire caught up with victims’
It was black Thursday in Lagos last week when tragedy struck at the Otedola Bridge area of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, after a tanker, laden with about 60,000 litres of petrol, exploded, killing nine persons and 54 vehicles burnt to ashes. First responders, particularly men of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, rose to the occasion by putting out the raging fire in record time, as well as evacuating the debris from the road. Adesina Tiamiyu, General Manager, LASEMA, in this interview, speaks on the unfortunate incident.
By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Clarification on controversial figure of casualties recorded
Well, officially, there were 54 vehicles and nine people brought out dead while four other people sustained various degrees of injuries, two of which were critical and two minor.
Level of accessibility to scene of accident for operation
Yes, we have our control room inside the Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, which is about five minutes’ drive from the scene of the incident. We made it in good enough time to get to the scene and there were other emergency responders who we met on ground; the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, LASTMA, officials were there to maintain order on the road; policemen, Federal Road Safety Corps were also there. After we received the distress call, we got to the scene within 11 minutes. We had to drive through the other road, facing oncoming vehicles from Berger because it was a closing hour period. There were so many motorists driving out of town. Immediately the incident happened, you know Otedola Bridge is sloppy at a point and those vehicles, which were descending, had an opportunity to roll back, while those who were caught up in the ball of fire were the first set of vehicles driving behind the tanker when it somersaulted and exploded.
Remote and immediate cause(s) of accident
Now, our preliminary investigation revealed that the tanker driver, while driving out of town, suddenly, had an issue with the engine and later skidded off the road and somersaulted in the process. Consequently, it started spilling fuel, Premium Motor Sprit (petrol), and with a lot of vehicles behind with their hot engines running. The tanker was carrying 60, 000 litres of PMS in content. Expectedly, it resulted in a ball of fire consuming everything on its path. But, impressively, it did not take us much time to put out the raging fire. We found out that some of the victims died while trying to escape from their vehicles when the ball of fire caught up with them.
Though, this is contained in a preliminary report, some people alleged that the tanker developed a brake failure.
Normally, what these articulated vehicles do when they have hilly and sloppy spots is to use wooden wedge on the tyres in order to be able to climb the hill and continue their journey.
My appeal to residents is that they should avoid tale-gating. That is, do not drive bumper-to-bumper. We should drive defensively so that when there are cases like that, you can maneuver and, if you cannot, just leave your car and run for your dear life. The casualties could have been higher if there was no way to maneuver. The incident that happened is avoidable if proper safety measures had been applied by operators.
Compliance and enforcement of traffic regulations
There is the need for stakeholders’ meeting because we need total cooperation from all, everybody has a role to play. There is the need for total cooperation from the owners and drivers of these vehicles, from port and depot operators. Because, if we know that a vehicle is not roadworthy, why loading it with fuel. For example, a tanker was impounded 24 hours after the Otedola inferno for leaking fuel on the road. A tanker that is leaking fuel should have been detected at the depot in the course of loading it and should not have been allowed to get to the road in such condition.
Thus, we expect that from the point of take-off, these tankers should be put in order. That is where a lot of work is needed to be done. Loading and enforcement units at depots and ports have to start and work.
And also there is the need to strengthen cooperation and enforcement of traffic regulations among security agencies on these operators. Look at the tankers parking indiscriminately on bridges, this is absolutely unacceptable. If the Otedola incident had happened in another state, you can imagine what could have happened. The crash is one too many. It must be stopped.
It’s not that Lagos State government has not tried. I must tell you that a 3,000 capacity truck park in Ijora area of the state is on-going where all these tankers will be relocated. We went to Apapa ports, sometime ago, to find out what was going on. We identified some problems and it’s all about turn-around time. Some trucks are on the bridge to stay before they drive in for loading, whereas some of them are supposed to drop their dockets and come out and when there is time for them to load come back again. Lagos at a time was helpless. Some people suggested we have to stop them from coming into Lagos but where are they going to pack? Automatically, they will still have to block the road into Lagos. It’s not as if we do not have the wherewithal to enforce the law.
Nigerians need to rise up and support security agencies too. Look at the case of driving against the traffic, its needless and uncalled for. If there is an announcement on planned enforcement of a particular law, you will still find some Nigerians making excuses. We don’t have to break the law for any reason. We have a challenge. It is time for all of us to be extra careful driving in Lagos.
Well, we had to work overnight to ensure prompt evacuation of charred vehicles from the road in order to allow motorists make use of the road. In fact, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode visited the site at about 1 am, and we promised before daybreak that all the charred vehicles would taken away from the road and that was what we did.
Though, initially, there was interference with rescue operation by onlookers and sympathisers who impeded officials from carrying out their exercise promptly, we were able to achieve success in the rescue operation due to the modern equipment we were able to deploy. In LASEMA today, we have the state-of-the-art equipment for rescue and emergency mission you can find anywhere in the world. We have all the equipment which we formerly hire from private companies.
The current administration has re-invented government’s approach to emergency management and incident response practices.
Ambode has rebranded and repositioned LASEMA to a standard comparable only to a first class emergency management agency. I make bold to say that Lagos State is now better prepared for emergencies, better positioned to respond and we have tremendously improved on our safety and emergency management practices.
Now, we need the cooperation of the people. Please whenever there is disaster, do not resort to self-help such as trying to quench fire with ordinary water, all you need to do is call out for help.
The way forward
I want to see a situation where everyone will drive where he is supposed to drive and not the other way round. We just have to do the right thing on the road all the time by complying with safety rules and regulations.