analysisBy Michael Oche and Ahmed Usman
Tafa highway connects Abuja and most northern and southern states, while Mararrabar-Jos highway links the far North to Kaduna and most southern states. It is expected that these roads would get very busy this yuletide period, as Nigerians will be travelling from these parts of the country. The presence of tankers and trucks on the roads also makes these roads a dangerous adventure to travel on. Several efforts by government in the past to relocate them have proved abortive. MICHAEL OCHE, Abuja, and USMAN AHMED, Kaduna, write.
A few months ago, the Kaduna State Government attempted to decongest the tankers at Tafa Village. Many Nigerians who travel along that highway heaved a sigh of relief when the annoying presence of the tankers reduced in their numbers.
But the relief was short lived as the tankers have returned. Tafa village serves as a kind of rendezvous for tanker drivers, and is notorious for tanker accidents because drivers making stopovers usually park their tankers along the highway.
For motorists travelling through Tafa this yuletide, the need to be vigilant on the road could be the beginning of wisdom. This is because, apart from dashing across the road by inhabitants of the small town, which could confuse a speeding vehicle, the roadside is always choked with petrol tankers that park their vehicles carelessly on both sides of the road. This has resulted in many accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives.
Accidents on the nation's highways have been a daily phenomenon. Recently, an accident involving a fuel tanker and a Volkswagen Golf along the Tafa expressway led to the burning of 17 houses and scores of fuel tankers parked along the highway in Tafa village.
The accident was caused by the tanker driver's attempt to escape a head-on collision with the Golf car. He also tried to avoid other tankers packed by the roadside.
In the past few years, the government has promised to relocate the tanker drivers from the highways and build a trailer park. Yet, this has not materialised and the tankers are back on the highways.
A tanker driver, who simply gave his name as Musa, told our reporter that "earlier, the government said it was going to relocate us to a tanker park; but up till now, the place has not been completed. So, while we wait for the government to ensure that everything is okay, we will continue to park on the highways.
"The danger, which trucks pose here, is known to everyone," says a resident, "yet, Nigerians have come to accept them, and many have died as a result. Many people actually believe that no government can do anything about the drivers who have turned our highways in Tafa, Mararrabar-Jos and other places into death traps.
They block highways, leaving barely enough space for one vehicle to pass, and when they park or drive out, everyone must wait while they manoeuvre their dangerous vehicles around. In many instances, the drivers themselves merely leave these vehicles to young touts to park and maintain, while they retire to their long-term sex workers in these towns. No one dares touch these people, because at the slightest provocation, their unions threaten strike, or they use one or two trucks to block our highways for hours or days."
Another resident, Alhaji Abdu Sani, laments that "it is a great pity that the situation has been allowed to develop to its present state, where it is not even certain that the construction of these parks will make these drivers stop parking their dangerous vehicles on our roads. Why do we need to wait for years for these parks to be ready when the Federal Government can enforce regulations on the use of our roads, and in particular, the illegal parking on highway shoulders by trucks, which deprives other road-users the use of this important safety facility?"
Speaking further, he said: "Why shouldn't the Federal Road Safety Commission collaborate with the Police, the National Road Transport Owners and Workers, and traditional authorities in these towns to force these trucks and trailers to leave the highways? Why won't the government penalise major distributors of petroleum, gas and other products for the action of their drivers? Is it because everyone who can stop this dangerous practice is benefitting from it, and Nigerians die daily because of it?"
Also speaking, a Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) official, who pleaded anonymity, said the corps had carried out several enlightenment campaigns to sensitise the truck drivers on the dangers of parking on the highway. She added that in this yuletide season, they have carried out more sensitisation.
"Even for us road safety officers, this highway is a nightmare to us. We are not in charge of relocating the tankers. We are sad that after the last attempt to relocate them, they have returned. But the sector commander has deployed more men to that area because of the yuletide."
Of course, petty traders and owners of small guest houses have been the major beneficiaries of the presence of the tanker drivers. Usually, the tankers are parked for several days and the drivers lodge in these small guest houses.
For owners of small businesses, such as food vendors, the presence of the tanker drivers has been a blessing as well.
Also, Mararrabar-Jos is a suburb area along Kaduna-Kano Express Road in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
This section of the road is quite dangerous for motorists plying it for some reasons.
Tanker drivers, carrying goods from the North to the South, and vice-versa, usually park on the edges of the highway in this area causing serious obstruction. However, their action poses danger for both motorists and the people living in the area.
The simple fact that they have turned the sides of the highway into garages is a major concern. Consequently, people are being crushed by moving vehicles, due to the obstruction that these parked trucks and tankers cause daily.
It is in records that many people have lost their lives, apart from the accidents that occur almost everyday around the Mararrabar-Jos as a result of double parking, overspeeding and recklessness on the part of some drivers. People living in the area have to cross the double lane express road, which has no pedestal flyover bridge.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that these tanker and truck drivers were not officially allowed to park in the new site provided by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA).
As a matter of urgency, there is also the need to stop these tankers and trucks from parking on the edges on the express way, and be moved to a particular site even if it may be temporary, before FERMA completes its work on the new proposed site, because they are causing serious obstruction, resulting to many accidents.
Similarly, it would also give clear visibility to vehicles moving along the road, especially from a reasonable distance. Although the government in the past had provided a parking garage in order to relocate these drivers and to eliminate the problems of road accidents around the area, the moves had been all impossible to achieve.
In the same vein, the tanker drivers complained that the work in the said garages were yet to be completed, thereby forcing them to turn the highways into their parking lots.
When Leadership SUNDAY contacted some of the drivers, they all complained that up till now, no parking space had been provided.
Ahmed Maijama'a, Secretary of the Tanker Drivers Union, in an interview, said the ongoing works at the new proposed site were yet to be completed. He said no serious driver would want to park his vehicle in an unconducive place, informing that work in the site had stopped. He said nothing was going on there for almost a year now. "As a union, we are doing our best to ensure that we don't see a double parking, but some drivers are not complying."
Also, when we contacted the new head of the village of Sabon Garin, Mararrabar-Jos, Idris Mustapha, for comments, he said they have been calling on government, particularly Kaduna State Government, to do something about the state of the road, also claiming that the work in the proposed site had stopped.
He therefore appealed to the government to kindly compensate some of the farmers whose land were collected to build the site.
He alleged that many people's lands were acquired for the purpose of building the site with no compensation given to them.
When the Kaduna State Commissioner of Environment, Mr. Shamaki, was contacted, he admitted that the state government had already set up a committee on the area, saying that the issues of refuse disposal and double parking along the road were among the consideration of the committee. He assured that the committe would soon swing into action to alleviate the problems confronting the area.