Thursday, 28 June 2018

Deaths, Anguish On Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Several Vehicles Burnt As Petrol Tanker Catches Fire

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The Lagos-Ibadan dual carriage ­way once the bride of the nation is subtly acquiring an infamous reputation – an expressway of death and anguish. Two accidents that claimed 22 lives within the space of three days showed the grim statistics of anguish and horror on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in recent times. No fewer than 19 lives were lost on Sunday, June 19, when a fuel tanker with registra­tion number RAN 571 XA had a head-on collision with a commer­cial bus with number plate AGL 373 XR at the Fidiwo/Ajebo end of the expressway. The official report by Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Agency blamed the auto crash on the driver of the tanker who, it was alleged, attempted to wrongfully overtake another truck, before colliding with a Lagos-bound commercial bus.

Less than 72 hours later, yet another carnage was recorded on the road when an oil tanker caught fire at Kara-Ibafo axis of the road. At least three persons were reported killed with several others injured. The crash resulted in a traffic snarl, which forced many to pass the night on the road. The Ibadan-bound fuel-laden tanker, it was learnt, had crashed into the concrete median along the road while negotiating its way through the traffic. Some touts would later swoop on the tanker to scoop the fuel before it caught fire, killing two of them and another passenger.

Horrifying statistics of grief

The Lagos-Ibadan highway has claimed more lives and caused more grief for the families of victims of the carnages that occur on the road than several other major roads in the country. In fact, the Federal Road Safety Commis­sion, FRSC in 2013 ranked the 127.6 Kilometre expressway as the most accident prone highway in Nigeria only behind Benin-Ore and Abuja-Lokoja expressways. This unenviable ranking is not an arbitrary conjecture after all. One of the telltales of horror and grief on this road is the ubiquitous carcasses of ill-fated vehicles lining both sides of the road from Lagos to Ibadan.

Statistical fact also confirms the unflattering position, which the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway occupies among Nigeria’s most accident-prone highways. Before the recent auto crashes recorded on the highway, no fewer than 58 lives had been lost to road crashes since the beginning of the year. The figure represents the casualty figures from both Lagos and Ogun ends of the road.

According to the Managing Di­rector of the Lagos State Emergen­cy Management Agency, LASE­MA, Mr. Michael Akindele, a total of 23 road crashes were recorded on the Lagos end of the highway, which according to him terminates at Berger end of the road.

“Between January and now (June), on the aspect that is within the territory of Lagos, that is, from the Third Mainland Bridge, Alapere, Otedola and Berger, the number of road crashes LASEMA and all other responders have re­sponded to is 23. Of these crashes we had 41 casualties and about eight mortalities,” Akindele said.

From the Ogun State end of the road, a total of 50 deaths were recorded within the same period from 76 crashes, according to the Public Relations Officer, Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Agency (TRACE), Mr. Babatunde Akinbiyi. Giving the breakdown of the crashes, Akinbiyi disclosed that a total of 11 road crashes with eight mortalities and 37 casualties were recorded in the first month of the year. A similar number of crashes were recorded in the month of February with 10 deaths and a total of 47 casualties.

The months of March and April witnessed total number of 30 crashes, 16 deaths while 83 victims of the crashes sustained varying degrees of injuries. In May, 12 accidents were recorded with 11 people killed. Eight of them were men while the remaining three were women. From the beginning of June till date, a total number of nine crashes have been recorded with five deaths and 18 casualties.
However, there are indications that the figure could be more as the statistics do not capture the two most fatal accidents re­ported along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway within the period under review. On Sunday, February 7, no fewer than 30 passengers, all male, perished at the Adeosun end of the road after a truck conveying them crashed. Over 50 people also suffered injuries. The accident occurred at the Oyo State end of the expressway. And more recently was the June 19 crash which claimed 19 lives at Ajebo/Fidiwo end of the road.

Attempt to verify the figures from the FRSC proved abortive. When called for verification, the Zonal Commanding Officer, FRSC, Zone 2, Nseobong Akpabio referred Sunday Sun correspondent to the Policy Research and Statistics unit of FRSC in Abuja. Also, efforts to reach the unit did not yield any result as series of calls put through to the section indicated that the telephone number was either switched off or out of coverage area.

Lagos-Ibadan Expressway’s vul­nerability

Built in 1978 by the military adminis­tration of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a 127.6-kilo­metre highway connecting Ibadan, the cap­ital of Oyo State and Lagos State. It is also the major route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of Nigeria. But the impor­tance of the road has been dimmed by the incessant crashes and the attendant wanton loss of lives recorded over the years.

Government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining law and or­der on the road are unanimous in their view on why the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway remains prone to auto crashes. In his as­sessment of causes of crashes on the road, the Public Relations Officer of TRACE blamed the recklessness of most drivers as the major cause of crashes.

He said: “Our findings reveal that 23 out of the total number of 76 crashes record­ed on the road were caused by excessive speeding. This figure represents 31.5 per­cent. 20 of the crashes, representing 24.40 per cent, were caused by dangerous driving while bad tyres accounted for 13 of the crashes, which represents 17.81 per cent. 10 of the accidents were caused by drivers who drove against traffic. That is 13.7 percent while the remaining 7 crashes, representing 9.5 per cent can be attributed to other causes.”

Corroborating Akinbiyi’s view, the General Manager of LASEMA blamed the incessant crashes on the road on recklessness and speeding on the part of drivers. “One pro­found observation we have made is that most accidents that have occurred on this road happened either on Sundays or at night. This is an indication that some drivers tend to be reckless when the road is free,” he said.

Akinbiyi and Akindele seem to opine that the government is not as guilty as reckless motorists as far as the carnage on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is concerned but not a few motorists plying the road are quick to point at government’s failings. Mr. Femi Osunrayi, a commercial driver who plies the road regularly said the failure of the government to ensure timely completion of the stalled construc­tion works on the road accounts for the frequency of road crashes along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

Osunrayi who spoke in Yoruba said a number of accidents recorded on the road would have been averted if the government had ensured timely completion of the project. “Anytime there is an accident people are always quick to accuse the driver of the vehicle. While the driver may not be entirely free from blame, people should know that the inability of the government to put the road in proper shape is the major reason for the frequency of accidents. Occasionally, we experience situ­ations where drivers, while trying to dodge bad portions on the road, collide with oncoming vehicles. We have witnessed a number of accidents like these severally. A number of the accidents would have been avoided had the road been completed,” he said.

The zonal commander of Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC Zone 2, Nseobong Akpabio echoed a similar view after the June 19 accident that claimed 19 lives at Fidiwo/Ajebo end of the road. Akpabio who would not absolve drivers of blame said, “Indiscipline is the major cause of most of the accidents. For instance, between the Ogunmakin and Ogere end of the expressway, drivers speed because construction work had just been concluded and the road is smooth. The same is applicable between the Mowe and Sagamu end of the road.

“There are also failed portions in some parts. If any vehicle runs into some of the bad portions at full speed, it would veer off the road and the vehicle would end up in the bush. We wrote a report on the failed portions of the expressway and that informed the ongoing con­struction works, which will cover several kilometres.

“However, we noticed that where there is a diversion on the road due to the ongoing construc­tion works, drivers tend to be involved in dangerous overtaking. They turn the road to a racetrack. Many times, we notice that the head-on collisions were caused by poor judgment on the part of the drivers,” Akpabio said.

Tales of woe from commu­nities along the road

Although at inception, the La­gos-Ibadan Expressway was con­ceived with the primary purpose of linking Lagos and Ibadan, the cap­ital of Oyo State as well as to serve as a major route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of Nige­ria, the road now hosts a number of communities, a development many belief has added to the volume of traffic on the road. These new com­munities, Sunday Sun gathered, have always been at the receiving end of frequent crashes along the highway. From Kara to Magboro, Mowe to Ibafo it is a similar story of frustration and regrets anytime there is an accident along this axis. Mrs. Stella Odikpo, a resident of Mowe said the unpredictable nature of the road is one challenge many residents of the area have to contend with on a daily basis. Mrs. Odikpo who works at Ikeja told Sunday Sun that leaving home for her office or going back at the close of work daily is governed by fear and uncertainty: 

“I have this feeling of uneasiness anytime I am about to leave for office or return home because you don’t know what the state of the road would be. There was a time I couldn’t go to the office because the road was blocked due to a midnight accident that happened along the way. Not long after that incident, I was also trapped in a serious traffic jam on my way home due to the same reason. That day I got home around midnight. I left Ikeja some minutes after 6.00pm that day,” she lamented.

Not every gridlock along the road is caused by road crashes. Activities of religious organiza­tions along the expressway often constitute a major source of worry for the residents of communities along the road. Many residents said incessant traffic snarl along the road impact negatively on socio-economic life of the people in the area. Sunday Sun gathered that the unpredictable state of the road is sometimes a factor to be considered by people when planning social events. A resident in Ibafo, Mr. Sola Fadahunsi told Sunday Sun how a road accident along the road almost marred the wedding of a relation two years ago. He said: “The wedding recep­tion was initially planned to hold here but when the invitation came out I discovered that the reception had been moved to another venue in Ogba where the church service was billed to hold. It was just as if the family saw a vision. Around 11.00 am when I was preparing to go, I received information that the road had become impassable due traffic snarl. Now imagine if the people had not changed their plans, the couple could have been trapped in traffic jam on their way back to the venue of the reception,” he said.

Contract controversies

Timely completion of the ongoing construction works on the road is seen by many as one major way of ending the frequent crashes along the road. The contract for the reconstruction of the road has been dogged by series of controversies to the detriment of motorists and commuters plying the road since it was awarded by the administration of the late President Musa Yar’Ad­ua in 2009.

The Yar’Adua administration had entered into a 25-year conces­sion agreement with Bi-Courtney Highway Services to reconstruct, operate and transfer at the end of the lease period. The company initially announced that it would spend N80 billion, but later said it would need over N300 billion. Three years after the agreement, the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan revoked the contract on the ground that Bi-Courtney failed to live up to expectation in the delivery of the project as agreed.

The contract would later be awarded to Julius Berger and Reynolds Construction Company for the sum of N167 billion.

The contract later suffered an­other setback. Apart from the issue of funding, the Infrastructure Con­cession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) faulted the re-concession of the road to Julius Berger Plc and Reynolds Construction Company (RCC), despite a pending legal suit instituted by Bi-Courtney.

The Jonathan administration pledged to release N50 billion for the project in 2013 and 2014, while private investors would provide NII7 billion. While Bi-Courtney was still contesting the revocation of the contract, the government surreptitiously entered into another concession agreement with Motor­ways Asset Limited.

The legal tussle and the outcry over the failure of the government to make public the bidding process before the re-concession was done, are believed to have accounted for the inability of the construction companies to raise the needed funds for the project, which ana­lysts said was unattractive to banks seeking to limit their risk exposure.

The ICRC maintained that the government ought to have conclud­ed the termination of the contract with Bi-Courtney Consortium before awarding the new contract.

Expectations from govern­ment

Although the government has mobilized contractors back to site, not a few analysts have hinged the success of the Buhari administration to rehabilitate the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on the government’s ingenuity to navigate out of the inherited legal quagmire. Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola while disclosing government’s intention to complete the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway insisted that there was no injunction against government’s decision to complete the project.

“The Lagos-Ibadan road as you know is now the subject of a court case. Injunctions have been obtained to stop the arrangement put in by the last administration to finance the road with the private sector. In addition, an injunction was granted by a court in Nigeria saying that nobody should raise money or finance the development of the road,” Fashola said.

He added: “Thankfully, there’s no injunction against the govern­ment building its road yet, and I hope there will be none. So, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is part of what we put in the budget this year. However, I got a message from one of the lawyers suggesting to me that the action had been dis­missed. So, these are some of the problems that we see, when people write and get court orders to stop development.

“At the end of the day, in a con­tract, the main remedy that the law recognises is damaged for breach of contract; of course, you know I am a lawyer. But why should the developmental process of Nigeria and the lives of Nigerians be held in abeyance because you are in court?”

Fashola reiterated that the amount needed to complete the over 200 roads that had been awarded was about N2tn, adding that the government would make sure that every road gets some level of attention.

Meanwhile, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has declared war against motorists who drive against traffic along the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. The announcement was made by Dr. Kayode Olagunju, the Assistant Corps Marshal in charge of Policy, Research and Statistics.

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