Last Wednesday morning, a tanker loaded with premium motor spirit (PMS) descending from the Okene end of the Felele settlement on the outskirts of Lokoja collided with other vehicles before barreling into pedestrians, school children and roadside shops. By the time the tanker came to a halt, a total of 25 people had lost their lives in the ensuing inferno.
According to police investigation, the driver lost control of the vehicle as a result of brake failure. The latest tragedy has once again exposed the danger the location poses to the residents of the area. Its notoriety for heavy duty vehicular accidents can be traced to March 2010, when a truck ploughed into the Felele Market, leaving over 100 casualties that included roadside traders and school children.
Also in 2010, a petrol tanker on high speed went out of control, somersaulted and burst into flames at the popular Madalla Market along Zuba-Kaduna road. The driver was among those killed, while several others were injured in the ensuing conflagration. The disaster would have been more serious if it had happened on a Thursday, the normal market day at Madalla.
Within the same period, a trailer snuffed lives out of 90 people at a roadside market in Dekina, Kogi state. A few days later, another trailer overran four roadside traders at Uselu Market along Ugbowo-Lagos road in Benin City.
Few days earlier, another tragic incident had occurred at Umuchi in Aguata Local Government Area also in Anambra state involving a tipper lorry that claimed six lives.
In the build-up to the 2018 Christmas season, the popular Swali Market in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, became a theatre of death when a truck rammed into a crowd of roadside traders, killing an unspecified number of women and injuring several other people.
The truck was conveying sand to an undisclosed location in the densely-populated Swali community when the incident occurred.
According to an eyewitness, the tipper was descending the Ekole Bridge when the brakes failed, forcing the vehicle to career into the busy roadside market traders.
In August 2017, a tipper driver lost control of the truck and overran eight people at the Oka Market located by the roadside in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of Edo state. Among those killed were the driver as well as women and children. Angry youths reacted by razing down the truck.
A couple of weeks earlier, no fewer than four people reportedly lost their lives, while 10 others sustained various degrees of injuries when a tipper loaded with sand crashed into the Moniya Butcher Market situated along Iseyin road in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. The driver of the tipper was said to have escaped from the scene of the incident unhurt.
There is no doubt that road accidents in this country are caused by human error: negligence on the part of motorists, reckless driving, drunk-driving, driving under the influence of illicit drugs, putting faulty vehicles on the highways and embezzlement of funds meant for highway maintenance, among others. These are some of the reasons that make it very risky to have markets near roads which such road users ply.
The rampancy of the roadside market killings became so worrisome that the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) under the immediate past corps marshal, Osita Chidoka, took up the gauntlet along with other stakeholders to join the call for the relocation of markets situated along the highways to avoid unnecessary deaths from reckless driving.
The FRSC has the mandate to ensure the safety of lives and properties along our highways. So, it ought to have gone beyond a mere appeal way back then. Had the commission moved to make roadside trading illegal, the recurring tragedies would have been averted. In the immediate, the commission should make the presence of its marshals felt at such marketplaces.
The culture of roadside trading was informed by travellers’ propensity to park their vehicles and shop quickly without going through the hassles of navigating through crowded marketplaces. But, as can be seen, that culture of convenient shopping has been endangered.
Majority of commercial drivers are ill-trained, illiterate and chronic drug users whose sense of judgement is warped and could easily turn roadside markets into killing fields.
Nigeria has found itself in a sorry situation where heavy-duty vehicles are doing the work of trains across the country, no thanks to the collapse of rail transportation.
While working towards making roadside market trading illegal in order to reduce the avoidable tragedies, we urge various market operators at the local government level to ensure that adequate provision is made to accommodate traders who cannot afford to pay for shops and stalls to market their wares.
The Kogi state Government in collaboration with relevant agencies should find a permanent solution to the recurring tragedies at the Felele location. It would amount to a tragic irony for innocent people to be getting killed while going about toiling to survive.