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Published On: Tue, Sep 1st, 2020

Container accidents and the imperatives of enforceable regulatory frameworks

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Life is both precious and sacred. A glance through Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reveals that every individual has the right to life, liberty and security. The strategic implication of this provision is that the Government should take appropriate measures to safeguard life by making laws to protect you and, in some circumstances, by taking steps to protect you if your life is at risk. And public authorities should also consider your right to life when making decisions that might put you in danger or that affect your life expectancy.
Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), in a similar provision stated that every person has a right to live, and no one shall be deprived internationally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
However, as exciting as these laws that promote the sacredness/sanctity of live are, in this part of the world, it appears to only but exists in frames. As the failure of the Nigerian elected and appointed officials to protect, and provide enabling environment that promotes healthy living and life chances of her citizens has in the past, led to untimely death of uncountable number of innocent Nigerians.
Regrettably, what is in some ways an even more ‘brazen’ and a troubling manifestation of how seriously off track these failures has taken us as a nation is that most of these deaths of innocent Nigerians orchestrated by such failures seamlessly qualify as avoidable in a society with responsive leadership. Such accounts of failures and failings has become more pronounced in Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve where trucks, containers and tanker trailers lay siege to almost all the roads that have connection with the seaports.
Supporting the above assertion is the incessant accident involving tankers and unlatched containers- large metal box used for shipment, storage and movement of goods- falling off the flatbed trailers conveying such, causing permanent disabilities or deaths to Nigerians and leaving in its trails sorrows, tears and blood.
Separate from the new awareness that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a reoccuring circle, but rather the beginning of something new and strange, there are strong indications to believe that such accidents could not have been in the first instance if the state government had provided motorable roads, created cloud of opinion that projects determination to deal with all transgressors of traffic rules in the state without exception, support security/traffic officers in the state to enforce these laws and when they run into problems securing conviction in prosecutions,the government assist to strengthen such weak regulatory framework that provides escape route for offenders.
More particularly, the relatively recent occurrences and how the state allowed the inherent lessons go with political winds calls for emphasis.
On the 8th of July, 2020, a Snow-like Chemical Surge flowing profusely in volume and intensity along Anthony Village area of Ikorodu road towards Maryland/Harbour Works axis caused Panic in Lagos. And, Gbenga Omotoso, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, going by reports clarified the event stating; that it was an outcome of a chemical reaction resulting from actions that were deliberately undertaken to avert a fire incident. Adding that a truck approaching from the Lagos Sea Port fell due to an accident along the Anthony Village axis of Ikorodu Road, he explained that the truck was conveying an inflammable material, so the Lagos State Fire Service was deployed to intervene. The firefighters reportedly sprayed Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) on the spilled content to avoid fire incident.
While a large proportion of Lagos residents who reside on that axis and rely on water supplies from wells and boreholes that obtain water from shallow aquifers that are vulnerable and susceptible to pollution are waiting for clarification from relevant authorities as to; what the name and the grade of such inflammable, and what precisely are the chemical constituents of the inflammable material that was discharged, as the official statement by the state was particularly devoid of follow up procedures for clean up and associated investigations, tragedy struck yet again late on Friday night at Odo-Olowu bus stop, Ijesha, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, when a container fell off a truck and crushed two young women to death. This happened just before the dust raised by similar accident near the same spot where 27-year-old Chidinma Ajoku and her colleague were also killed in a similar style on July 26 after an unlatched container fell on a vehicle they were travelling in.
Further clarifying fundamental reason why this trend should be a reality to worry about is a data captured by a research firm, SBM Intelligence which stated that there have been no fewer than 95 fallen tanker incidents in Lagos since mid-August 2010. The report does not include fallen container incidents and according to a researcher involved in compiling the data, many incidents involving trucks are hardly reported except when they claim casualties.
“On September 2, 2015, a 40-foot container-laden articulated vehicle fell off the Ojuelegba Bridge, flattening a car under the bridge and killing the three occupants in it. In June 2018, a container fell off a trailer on the same bridge, crushing three commercial buses and a saloon car. Three persons died in the incident, with many others injured. On September 16, 2019, a container also fell off a trailer onto a car at Agric Bus Stop, Ikorodu, killing two persons’.
This tragedy is compounded by the fact that there is no record pointing to a situation where the family of the victims was compensated or those responsible for the accident prosecuted for criminal negligence and gross dereliction of responsibility.
The above reality in many ways brings to mind the questions as to; if there is no legislative framework to regulate the activities of the operators of these articulated vehicles? If such, why is such laws/framework not providing a strong source of protection/remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by the reckless activities of these operators? Why is it not effective and enforceable? Are these frameworks comprehensive as a legal solution to such reckless accidents? And what is the government doing to reverse this narrative?
Another single but most surprising concern judging by various reports is the news that latching of containers is usually done in the port under the supervision of terminal operators and the NPA. But some truck drivers upon leaving the port now unlatch their containers because they are concerned about the truck overturning with the container when it enters a pothole or trying to traverse a corner when the container is latched onto the truck, it can overturn with their trucks, so they will rather allow the container overturn itself rather. If this account is anything to go by, it again generate the poser; what is the government doing to prevent such heinous act by the operators?
While this piece leaves these questions for the state/and other relevant agencies to provide answers to, the truth must be told to the effect that the Lagos State Government have not religiously ensured strict enforcement of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012, which restricts articulated vehicles from plying the metropolis between the hours of 6am and 9pm or handed down penalties/ sanctions for noncompliance.
Apart from developing sustainable framework that will make other sea ports in Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt, viable, succeeding on this job will require the state and of course the entire nation to jointly find out nations that have met with the problem we face, how they had tackled it. Particularly as it is obvious that for more than three decades, the nation has serially neglected as well as viewed road and rail transport sector in a unitary form- forgetting that each has its own laws and principles.
FG must also understand that operating passenger trains from Abuja to Kaduna, cannot be the critical role of the railway in a country but to help move bulky goods/commodities like containers and petroleum products in such a way that reduces stress/pressure daily mounted on Nigerian roads by articulated/haulage vehicles and drastically reduce road accidents on our major highways.
Finally, as Nigerians await the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), special operational outfit tagged “Operation Scorpion III” aimed at impounding trucks with unlatched containers in Lagos State, as recently declared by the Sector Commander, Mr Olusegun Ogungbemide, it’s important to submit that ‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be’. Likewise, for the nation Nigeria to be free from articulated vehicles induced threats without first creatively articulating laws that hold operators accountable; else, any other thought can only end in frustrations.

Jerome-Mario Utomi writes in from Lagos, Nigeria

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