Last Wednesday, a tanker loaded with kerosene and heading for Upper Iweka from Awka lost control and barreled into a market situated along the OnitshaAwka expressway, Onitsha, Anambra state, killing seven hapless petty traders and their patrons on the spot. According to an eyewitness, Chukwudi Obi, the driver of the tanker suddenly veered off the speed lane to the service lane where traders usually display their wares by the roadside.
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.
The incidents of deaths of traders plying their wares by the roadside markets have been recurring despite the assurances by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to curb the phenomenon.
Reports of traders and market goers being sent to their early graves through vehicular accidents emanate from all over the country from time to time. Here are a few past tragedies.
On January 29, last year, five people, including a woman and her two grand kids, were crushed to death at a local roadside market in Akungba in Akungba South Local Government Area of Ondo state.
The traders were believed to have encroached on the road with their wares. In the build-up to the last 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 denselypopulated 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.
It was gathered that the driver of the tipper, who also sustained injuries, was almost lynched by traders. In August, last year, 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.
The accidents became very rampant in 2010. In March of that year, over 100 casualties were recorded at the Felele Market situated along Lokoja Highway when a truck ploughed into the roadside traders and school children. Within the same period, a trailer mowed down 90 people at a roadside market in Dekina, Kogi state.
Another trailer overran four roadside traders at Uselu Market along Ugbowo-Lagos road in Benin City. 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.
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, 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. It would amount to a tragic irony for these traders to get killed while toiling to survive.