For two years now, no respite for residents and motorists in Minna after articulated vehicles seized the major roads in the heart of ancient city along Minna – Suleja–Abuja road. In this report AIDELOJE OJO writes on the pulse of the residents.
At about 7am on Monday October 14, 2019, an articulated vehicle heavily loaded with goods attempted to overtake a fuel tanker filled with petroleum products at the heart of the ancient city of Minna along Minna – Suleja road. The drivers of both trucks not wanting to give way for the other, embarked on competition which ended in catastrophe.
The trucks reportedly had a damaging contact with each other, resulting in the spillage of fuel products which flowed more distance from the scene of the accident. Motorists and other road users, it was learnt, rushed for safety while fire fighters got engaged in the struggle to avert outbreak of disaster. However, moments later, traffic build up from the scene of the accident culminated in a gridlock that crippled the city.
Blueprint learnt that as soon as motorists and residents got to know about it and the danger it posed in terms of likely fire outbreak due to the flowing fuel on the road, pandemonium broke out as everyone ran for their lives. They reportedly took to alternative routes in panic to escape the scene thereby causing serious gridlocks, a development witnesses said failed to ease.
Checks revealed that as a result of this, the city centre was cut off from other parts of Minna particularly Chanchaga and Tunga Goro areas while residents were kept incommunicado with the main city. As the hardship grew harder, students and workers residing in the affected areas could be seen trekking long distances of not less than five kilometres to get to their destinations.
A JSS III student who does not want the name of his school mentioned, in a chat with Blueprint lamented that since the built up, he has been getting to school very late because he has to trek the long distance. According to him, “I have complained to my parents about the hardship on this road, but they said I just have to go to school hoping that the situation would improve. They told me that government would soon do something about the road.” In the same vein, a commercial driver, Clement Festus, who plies Suleja – Minna daily, lamented that he spends more hours on the road these days due to constant breakdown of articulated vehicles. According to him, “We drivers of cars and other utility vehicles are daily subjected to intimidation of trailers on this road going to Lagos or coming back to the north. He explained that instances abound whereby cars are intimidated out of the road into the bush by trailers without remorse. He appealed to the state and federal governments to consider the sufferings of the people along the road, especially residents of Minna who are daily subjected to dangers as a result of the activities of articulated vehicles.
In corroborating the assertions of Festus, a concerned citizen who did not want his name mentioned said the condition of the road is getting worse by the day.
“It is unfortunate that the federal and state governments have not given desired attention to this portion of the road.” According to him, the government of Niger state has been singing about its interventions in failed portions of the road without commensurate results. He said, “Every day we see firms patching failed portions of the road within the town but as soon as the workers leave, trailers run over the portions and return them to worst conditions.”
According to him, it now takes almost 90 minutes to drive from one part of Minna to another due to the menace of trailers and fallen trucks.
Spilling of petrol, one accident too many
Residents of Minna may not have been keeping records of the number of times articulated vehicles have been involved in accidents inside the town; however, they would not forget the recent ones. A student of the Niger state College of Education in Minna, Haruna Abu, told Blueprint that the crushing of a pregnant student of the college nearly led to revolt last year.
He argued that the construction of speed limits close to the college gate has not solved the problem. However, residents are becoming more worried about the reoccurring spillage of fuel by trailers. Musa Ahmed residing in Tunga area of the city told Blueprint that a similar incident occurred about two weeks ago in which a trailer involved fell and spew its content. According to him, it took the intervention of fire fighters and officials of Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) to put out the fire emanating from the incident under control.
“This is the second time such incident is occurring inside Minna in less than two weeks. We have heard of what happened in Diko last month whereby several lives were lost and 20 vehicles burnt when a trailer fell and caught fire. We are praying that this type of disaster should not happen in Minna again but I am afraid we are drawing closer”.
State government officials speak
The state government has, however, continued to shift blame to the federal government for not fixing its roads in the state. The administration of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, it was learnt, has recently claimed to have spent over four billion naira on repairs on the road. It also insisted that the articulated drivers have not given the road the chance to recover from damages they inflicted on it since they diverted to it few years ago.
Commenting on the situation, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Works, Balarebe Abubakar Sadiq, told Blueprint that the only solution is the quick completion of the Lapai – Agaie–Bida road as well as Mokwa-Makera -Tegna road. He explained that the completion would save the Minna-Suleja road from the articulated vehicles and also improve security of the roads.
According to him, “As we speak, the state government through our ministry is busy with the fixing of failed portions of the road but the these trailers are also busy rubbishing our efforts.” Speaking in the same line of thought, the chief press secretary to the governor, Madam Marry Noel Barje, told Blueprint in an interview that articulated vehicles have made life uncomfortable for motorists and residents of the city and the state in general.
She said, “The government has been doing its bid to ensure that the road is motorable and it has spent lots of money on repairs of bad portions of the road. In fact major road works have been reconstructed along Suleja – Minna road but it’s like nothing is being done because of the number of trailers and other articulated vehicles plying the road. This is due to the fact that other federal roads in the state have broken down and the effect is weighing down on everyone.
The CPS said the state government is however aware of the social economic angle to the situation since the articulated vehicles convey goods and services to and from south to the north. She argued that the problem is that most of the trucks carry overload which almost double their capacity thereby crashing the state roads that do not have the capacity for such loads.
Speaking further, she said, “If you are expected to take 35,000 litres and you took 65,000 to 70,000 litres, it is a problem. The same goes for the articulated vehicles loading in tons. This has affected our roads and now it has come down to the state capital. Let me make it clear that in the past three, four, five days, residents of Minna have not had it easy because of the activities of articulated and other heavy trucks; it is so sad.”
She lamented that economic activities have paralysed in the city while children cannot go to schools from the affected areas.
Gov’t to enact law to regulate movement of articulated vehicles
Blueprint gathered that plan by the state government to enact laws regulating the movement of articulated vehicles on its roads has reached advance stage. It was learnt that this had become necessary because of the persistent disregard to executive order restricting the movement of such vehicles on the roads.
Checks revealed that the latest of such order restricting movement of articulated vehicles and trailers to 9pm and 6am in some areas including Minna has been fragrantly ignored. The CPS argued that if the heavy trailer drivers had abided by the regulations, there would have been ease and respite for cars and other smaller vehicles as well as residents of the city. He said instead of adhering to the regulations, truck drivers take to the road before 5am and stay till noon creating unpleasant situations for cars and other motorists.
She confirmed that the law to regulate movement of such vehicles would soon be promulgated, adding that it would also provide for the construction of weigh bridges to check overloading.