Tears flowed freely yesterday morning in Felele, a community on the outskirt of Lokoja along Abuja-Lokoja highway, as a tanker truck laden with fuel caught fire and roasted no fewer than 40 people to death.
Most of the victims were said to be school children and their parents who were said to be going to school.
Also, five students of Kogi State Polytechnic living in the area, were reported to have been killed as they were heading to school along the highway
Several passersby, Okada riders and taxi cabs were also said to be trapped in the inferno which caused serious traffic gridlock on the highway.
A witness, who spoke to newsmen said no fewer than 40 corpses were counted on the scene, including those who were roasted beyond recognition.
But the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), confirmed 23 deaths, including seven school children.
Its Sector Commander for Kogi, Idris Ali, said the seven school children comprised 10 male adults and six female adults.
The commander said 10 vehicles, including five cars, three tricycles and two motorcycles were burnt in the inferno.
He said bodies of victims had been deposited at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, where the only survivor was also receiving treatment.
He said 11 corpses had been claimed for burial by their relations.
The incident threw some schools that lost their students in the accident into mourning forcing them to hurriedly shut down.
One of them, the Baptist Group of Schools at Ganaja, lost three pupils and their parents to the accident, and its management immediately closed the school till September 28 in honour of the deceased.
The accident occurred when an Abuja-bound fuel tanker had a brake failure and in the process fell down at a spot close to GT Plaza and spilled its content on the road, which immediately caught fire.
The fire engulfed the entire spot and extended to other parts of the area, including a major a bus stop where school children, workers and other people were waiting to board vehicles to their various destinations.
Meanwhile, the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, has expressed shock and sorrow over the accident.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Mohammed Onogu, yesterday, lamented the loss of lives and property in the accident which he described as sad and tragic.
Reacting last night, President Muhammadu Buhari, described the frequent petroleum tanker explosion and fire incidents as a national scandal caused by indifference to safety standards.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari said “these frequent incidents that result in loss of lives and property are a national scandal caused by our indifference to safety standards.”
He insisted that “many accidents are preventable if proper proactive and precautionary measures are put in place or properly observed as routine policies.”
Reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, expressed shock over the petroleum tanker explosion in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital which resulted in the death of about 30 persons.
The PDP, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja, expressed worry over the slow pace of response by concerned authorities, saying “our party is extremely distressed by this horrid and traumatizing incident, which, in a very painful manner, cut short the lives of hardworking compatriots, brought instant anguish to families and painful material losses to many.
“It is even more disturbing that the fire raged without any intervention by authorities, which would have helped mitigated the effect.
“Indeed, the absence of fire and other emergency facilities around the area, despite the frequent occurrence of such accidents in the past signposts the failure and insensitivity of both the federal and Kogi State governments towards the dangers that daily confront the people.
“The PDP demands the Federal Government to put instant traffic measures to forestall such accidents as well as immediately establish emergency facilities in the area.
“Our party also calls on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fasola, to leave the comfort of their offices in Abuja and immediately visit the area as well as undertake a tour of our highways to witness the sorry state of infrastructure across our country, under their administration.
“The PDP commiserates with the families of the victims, the Kogi State Polytechnic, parents of the school children as well as the entire people of Kogi State,” the statement read.
However, to curb the incessant incidents of oil tanker explosions leading to loss of lives and property, the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), yesterday, met with the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) to discuss truck renewal project.
Speaking at the conference, the Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Ruqayyah Saraki, noted that tanker accidents caused more deaths in Nigeria than most deadly diseases and stressed that the meeting was timely to address the tanker explosion situation.
The minister, who was represented by the Assistant Director of Mass Transit Administration, Mrs Angela Keyede, said: “It might shock you to know that road crashes is a serious ‘epidemic’ in Nigeria that produces more deaths than HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis (TB) put together annually. The ministry through the Nigeria Shippers Council under Public Private Partnership arrangement has identified some locations for Truck Transit Parks in the country.
Also speaking, the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Dr Boboye Oyeyemi, recalling the explosion which claimed over 30 lives, last Wednesday in Kogi State, charged MOMAN and NARTO to do proper safety examination of drivers, trucks and tankers before allowing them to move on the roads.
He said: “We have been battling with the tankers that are falling and killing scores of people. We need to really address these unnecessary killings on our highways, just yesterday around 30 people died in the Kogi explosion and a whole family was claimed. And if you listen to the comments of President Buhari, yesterday, you will notice he charged the relevant agencies and stakeholders to act. And I’m happy that MOMAN and NARTO are here today to address this”.
The Managing Director of MOMAN, Mr Adetunji Oyebanji, said that 80 per cent of the trucks involved in hauling products from the south of the country to the north do not have the relevant safety equipments needed for preventing ghastly explosions.
In his remarks, the National President of NARTO, Yusuf Lawal Othman, urged his members to renew their fleets and solicited support from MOMAN in the purchasing of trucks.
Meanwhile, panic gripped residents of Lagos and Ogun border communities, yesterday, following an explosion and massive fire.
The explosion, which was heard as far as Harmony Estate and Obawole, Ogba, Iju in Lagos as well as Akute Ogun State, was said to have occurred around 3:30pm around Balogun Bus Stop in Ishaga.
Contacted, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) confirmed the incident, urging residents to stay away from the area.
NEMA’s South-West Coordinator, Ibrahim Farinloye told newsmen, that the agency’s officials were on ground and fire service has been contacted.
He said: “Yes, a tanker exploded at Balogun Bus Stop, Iju Ishaga. Our people are already there and fire service has been informed.
“The tanker was trying to enter a gas plant when it exploded. There were domestic cylinders there and so, those ones also started exploding.
“The fire has not extended to any building. It is still within the gas plant. People sustained burn injuries but no deaths reported yet. We have contacted fire service. We appeal to people to stay away from the area,” he said.