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Petrol tanker fire triggers old safety concerns on Nigerian roads

Saturday, February 16 2019, will remain a day to forget for some residents of Awka, capital of Anambra State, South-East Nigeria. It was around 10.30 pm, the serene city had almost entirely gone to bed with the road getting dried up of vehicular and human movements, when a tanker laden fully with premium motor spirit (PMS) suddenly fell as it negotiated through the famous Amawbia roundabout, one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Almost immediately, this ignited an explosion that instantly engulfed the surrounding in what has become a catastrophic inferno. The situation was not helped by the prevailing harmattan season as the dry cold wind blowing southwards from the Sahara ensured that the fire quickly spread further on all sides.
At the last count, casualty figures were just tragic; tens of dead and critically injured humans, completely or partially charred valuables including residential and commercial houses as well as cars were all on the list of the losses. The Anambra State Police Commissioner, Mohammed Garba, very close to whose office the tragedy occurred, describe it as “completely unfortunate.”

While the pain of the deadly tragedy will undoubtedly linger, the incident and all that came with it is a sad reality check for the country regarding what has become a recurring failure of the system to address the perennial problem of road safety in the context of the petrol tankers ubiquitously plying all categories of roads around the country. Earlier in the year, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) put the number of petrol tanker falls across the country in 2018 at 73 amounting to an average of two per state of the federation. This represents a 28 per cent increase from 2017 figures.

The Corps Marshal of the FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, while announcing the figures at a press briefing, noted that “in almost all of these cases recorded last year, fire incidents resulted, leading to losses in lives and property.” He regretted what he termed the “largely ineffectual response of the relevant agencies” to these emergencies. “A lot of lives would have been saved and a lot of property salvaged had the response been a little bit more rapid and more efficient,” Mr Oyeyemi said.

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