Again, hell descends upon Kara Bridge

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•Tears, sorrow as tanker explosion causes death, carnage on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

Since the weekend, Kara Bridge, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, has been in the news, again, not for a noble reason.

No fewer than two persons were killed in an early morning tanker explosion on Saturday, November 7. After the massive inferno was curtailed by emergency responders, 29 vehicles were completely burnt, according to the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC).

It was a lone crash that occurred on the outward Lagos lane of the major highway, involving a tanker fully laden with premium motor spirit (PMS.) The explosion, as gathered, spread fast and caught other vehicles even before their drivers and owners could take them off the scene.

Those living in the area said, in spite of the prompt arrival of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) and other emergency responders, the damage was already done.

It was learnt that the explosion made many people to run in all directions and scamper for safety. The thick smoke from the fire was seen several kilometres away by residents of Lagos and Ogun states, as it billowed into the sky. It was one incident too many, many noted.

The bridge has become notorious for maiming and claiming lives. Property worth billions of naira have been burnt and destroyed in the perennial accidents that have characterised that part of the busy highway.

The bridge has been claiming lives for decades and its thirst for blood appears insatiable. When and how soon such explosions and crashes might stop in that axis has remained a big poser that no one seems to have a direct answer for.

In fact, many people are of the opinion that some mysterious supernatural powers were behind the frequent crashes around the spot. This category of people believe that these forces needed to be appeased on a periodic basis to stop them from feeding on human blood and flesh.

However, safety and transportation experts have countered such positions and linked most of the accidents to vehicles that are not roadworthy, drivers’ recklessness, over-speeding and inexperience on the part of motorists, especially commercial drivers.

A resident who had a bookshop in the Ojodu Berger area of Lagos State, Mr. Ugo Udenwa, told the reporter on the telephone that carelessness on the part of the drivers was responsible for most of the accidents around the spot.

Said he: “Maybe it is out of excitement of completing their journey, which has lasted for hours, that makes many of the drivers to become absent-minded. You would observe that that stretch of the road is pothole-free. There is a median that completely separates both lanes from oncoming vehicles. Yet, accidents still occur there every time.

“It is sad because a lot of lives have been lost and property worth billions of naira has perished on this Kara Bridge. Accidents happen on the bridge day and night. It is only the ones with high number of fatalities or huge destruction that are widely reported.

“Most of the accidents always involve vehicles that are coming to Lagos, except on a few instances. And the fact that more of the accidents happen at night shows that the drivers must have been carried away at night. I can’t count how many accidents I have witnessed on Otedola and Kara bridges in the last eight years that I have been doing business in this place.”

Confirming last Saturday’s accident that left commuters spending hours in the attendant gridlock, FRSC Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, said the crash was unfortunate yet avoidable.

In a statement issued in Abuja by the Corps Public Education Officer, Assistant Corps Marshal Bisi Kazeem, Oyeyemi said the crash investigation by the FRSC revealed that the driver lost control of the vehicle as a result of a tyre blow-out. He said the loss of control caused the tanker to skid on the expressway. It later exploded, resulting in a wild inferno.

“From the crash investigation report submitted, a total of two male adults were killed and burnt beyond recognition. Destruction of property caused by the fire also left 29 vehicles, parked by the roadside, burnt down completely, ” he said.

Oyeyemi and the director-general/CEO of LASEMA, Olufemi Damilola Oke-Osanyintolu, lamented the actions of some hoodlums who they said prevented the combined rescue teams of the fire service men and the FRSC from approaching the scene of the crash.

“When our personnel got to the scene, they met teams of the Lagos State Fire Service who advised our men against approaching the scene of the crash. The firefighters said they were equally deployed to the scene for the same reason but on arrival they were chased away by some hoodlums, carrying dangerous weapons. Both teams had to run to the Isheri Division of the Nigeria Police for cover, ” Oyeyemi said.

On the way out of recurring tanker explosions across the country, the Corps Marshal said the FRSC was seriously engaging stakeholders to find a lasting solution to tanker explosions on the road, including enforcing the use of safety valves to prevent spillage after falls by tankers.

He called on government at all levels to expedite action towards working out modalities that would support and hasten efforts on fleet renewal, as most articulated vehicles on Nigerian roads were aged.

Oke-Osanyintolu said his men were able to return to the scene to prevent further spread of the fire, having been given cover by security personnel. He corroborated Oyeyemi’s narration that the explosion was caused by an overturned petrol tanker containing 45,000 litres of PMS.

He said that the two fatalities were the driver of tanker and his motor boy, while 10 other persons who sustained mild injuries received treatment on the spot.

The bridge, as viewed by many, has been a harbinger of tears, sorrow and death. These perturbed Nigerians are calling on the relevant authorities to stop the spilling of blood on Kara Bridge.

By its strategic location, Kara Bridge is an unavoidable access route for motorists coming into or travelling out of Lagos. It stands around the boundary between Lagos and Ogun states. Day and night, the highway remains busy.

Indeed, many accidents have taken place around Kara Bridge that cannot be forgotten in a hurry.

In the midnight of July 17, LASEMA’s response team put out a monstrous fire as a tanker loaded to capacity with 46,000 litres of fuel exploded and burnt at Secretariat Bus Stop, beside the pedestrian bridge.

On June 21, two persons were burnt to death, four trucks razed, while two other persons were rescued on the same bridge. The explosion that fateful Sunday involved four articulated trucks, which resulted in a gridlock that lasted well over 24 hours in virtually all parts of Lagos and some parts of Ogun State.

The incident occurred on the bridge outward Lagos at about 2.18am. One of the bodies was recovered intact while the other had been mutilated. Also, one of those rescued alive sustained serious injuries, while the other sustained minor injuries. The four articulated trucks were burnt beyond recognition.

The incident of January 31, 2018, in which a three-year-old baby and three adults lost their lives when the cabin of a container-laden truck got detached from its mount and rammed into a motorcyclist and his two passengers is still fresh in the minds of many people.

On November 16, 2016, three persons were killed in similar multiple accidents that involved six vehicles, a car, three container-trucks and two tankers. The accident was said to have been caused by a speeding trailer loaded with petroleum products, which ran into other vehicles, spilling its contents on the road. This led to an explosion and the fire extended to other vehicles.

Also, on July 23, 2017, a multiple accident claimed the lives of several people when an articulated truck experienced brake failure, had a burst tyre and ran into two commercial buses dropping off passengers at a bus stop

On November 20, 2017, several people were injured when a BRT bus hit a commercial bus from behind on Kara Bridge, outbound Berger bus stop. The site of the incident, which flooded the media, was gory as blood could be seen splattered on the road.

Concerned Nigerians have called on the government to deploy men of the FRSC, traffic managers and police operatives to the area in a bid to caution and control erring drivers and to also provide security for the many innocent Nigerians who have fallen prey to criminals who, from time to time, lay ambush for unsuspecting victims during emergency situations on Kara Bridge.