A few months ago, passing through Tafa, along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway was as good as the biblical proverb of “passing through the valley of the shadow of death”. The highway is notorious for ghastly accidents caused frequently by tankers regularly parked on both sides of the highway at Tafa Village, blocking passageway for vehicles plying the road. Michael Oche and MIDAT jOSEPH write on government’s efforts to decongest the highway.
Hundreds have lost their lives and countless their limbs. For some, their lives may never return to normal again. Indeed, this highway has been a nightmare to motorists who ply it. And as one Musa told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, “my heart skips each time I get to this point while travelling to Abuja.”
The Abuja-Kaduna Highway has become one of the most important highways in the country connecting the northern part of the country to the Federal Capital Terrirory (FCT).
It is normal to see more than 100 tankers and trailers stretching several kilometres parked on both sides of the highway at Tafa, forcing other road users to dangerously manoeuvre their way through a small portion of the highway. And if one of the tankers is making a U-turn, which they do majestically, then a long queue must be formed behind it by impatient travellers.
This unfortunate scenario has sent many to their early graves and has drawn wild criticisms from motorists who ply the highway. Yet for many years, it seems the government was not interested.
Danladi Ishaya, a resident of Tafa said that the presence of these articulated trucks posed a lot of danger to the community, as it had become a dangerous spot and death trap, causing serious traffic congestion to other road users.
According to him, the indiscriminate parking of trucks at Tafa Village along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway had been the major cause of avoidable accidents and posing serious threat to lives and property.
Last December, the House of Representatives directed the Federal Ministry of Works, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the traffic department of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to immediately carry out regular traffic management on Nigerian highways and to relocate trucks to designated trailer parks.
The police was directed to among other areas sanitise Tafa Village, where parking of petroleum and other highly inflammable products trucks obstruct free flow of traffic daily.
Consequently, the House mandated its Committee on legislative Compliance to ensure strict compliance of the directive, as members further urged the FRSC and other related agencies of government to take adequate measures against motorists to ensure strict compliance to traffic regulations and effective maintenance of the vehicles.
The resolution was upon a motion sponsored by the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Suleiman Abdulrrahman Kawu Sumaila (ANPP, Kano), in which he drew the attention of the House to the ugly situation on Nigerian roads, with specific reference to the Suleja-Kaduna Highway where innocent people had become accident victims on account of the indiscriminate parking of articulated trucks.
He stated that, “the possibility of fire outbreak is very high due to the presence of the articulated trucks and, most especially, the inflammable nature of the load they convey, mainly petroleum products.
“It should also be noted that several accidents and fire incidents reported nationwide involved articulated trucks conveying petroleum products and other heavy vehicles parked along the highways in the cities of Enugu, Lagos, Warri, and Makurdi.
Though, it appears succour is on the way finally after several years of foot dragging, the government has decided to decongest the highway. Recently, government decided to clear one portion of the highway, allowing the tankers to only park on one side, instead of both sides.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY visited the scene, works were ongoing as the edge of the highway was being cleared. Though there was no government official on site to clarify if the tankers were being evacuated because of the works needed to be done on the highway, it was gathered that the move was to relocate the tanker drivers to a permanent trailer park.
Besides, it was learnt that a trailer park was under construction and once completed, the trailers and tankers would be forced to leave the highway.
Speaking to leadership Sunday, the Kaduna State Commissioner of Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. Zakariya Shamaki, confirmed that the state government had been working tirelessly to ensure that the tankers were evacuated from the highway.
“We have evacuated trucks at Tafa Village. We spent eight days evacuating them, and for the past three months, we have been working there. Considering that Tafa is on the highway to Abuja, it has therefore become of great concerned to the government.
When the attention of the governor was drawn to the need to change and sanitise Tafa, he gave an approval. We hired three pay-loaders and some tippers for eight days. We even had to do the picking of polythene bags where the evacuations took place,” he said.
“Now, Tafa Village is beautiful and neat. The people at Tafa and Nigerians in general are happy because we met the Minister of Works and went to see His Excellency together and the project was approved immediately by the governor,” he added.
“The Federal Ministry of Works is also working there. They wanted us to evacuate the refuse, and they have now started building the shoulders to expand the roads and we have organised the trailers that used to park double lane into one single lane. They park by the right hand side and no trailer parks on the left hand side again. There is now free flow of traffic and there is control.
We have not even finished what we are doing, but the place is highly sanitised now.
“We have put our signboard there, ‘No Dumping of Refuse’, and we have provided six big metal refuse containers, the type used in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT); three at each side of the road, so that people dump their wastes there. The metals have tires when they are filled as we have arranged with the local government to come with a tractor and pull it to the dump sites.”
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 she was happy their efforts were finally yielding fruits.
“As you can see, the tankers are now parking on only one side of the road. Formally, it used to be on both sides and this has led to numerous deaths on the road,” she said, adding that a trailer park was under construction and when completed, the tankers would be removed from the highway.
“The trailer park is almost completed. It is just the access road to the park that needs to be done and they will be moved permanently ,” she assured. According to her, accidents on that spot had become a daily occurrence and something had to be done urgently.
However, tanker drivers said they were not the problem. They blamed it on what they called inconsistent government policies.
The problem, the drivers said, degenerated to this level because government had failed to provide an alternative.
One of the drivers, Abdul Mustapha, said he hoped the park being proposed by the government would be completed soon so that they could move in. “We hope to move out of this place immediately the trailer park is completed. I think it is the government that has been delaying the construction of the park. None of us is happy about the situation because I am aware that people have lost lives, and it should be a thing of concern to everyone. Besides, when these accidents occur, we also suffer losses and we are not happy,” he stated.
Another driver, who simply called himself Sani, said they were not against the decision to restore sanity to the expressway, but the interest of truck drivers should be considered when formulating government policies.
“They must understand that we are Nigerians too. We are working for our daily needs. I hope this is taken care of once and for all. The road looks okay now and we are also happy about it,” he said.
A village head, Malam Danjuma Bagudu, stated that he was happy the tankers were being evacuated. He said most of the locals have lost their lives to tanker accidents. He added that the trailer park should be quickly completed so that the trucks do not come back under the guise of lifting petroleum products.
According to him, though most of the local boys are employed as motor boys and the presence of the tankers has opened up the area, there was no substitution for safety of lives.
“You can see this town is very busy due to the presence of the tanker drivers. Our boys are benefiting because they are being engaged either as motor boys or car washers. But I must tell you that we have seen numerous deaths on this highways caused by the tanker drivers. And I pray this evacuation is final,” he stated.
A resident, who simply identified himself as Baba, recalled that a tanker had exploded on that road with only a few vehicles away from the one carrying him. He narrated that scores of people lost their lives in the mayhem. He said the traffic situation occasioned by the conduct of the truck owners constituted a major problem, not to motorists alone but also to residents.
He stated that “I have not seen anywhere in the world where truck owners will park on the access roads to disrupt other people in the process of doing their own business. The government should please come to our rescue.”
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 have to lodge in small guest houses.
For owners of small businesses, such as food vendors, the presence of the tanker drivers has been a blessing.
A trader, Abdullahi Musa who deals on gas, said that he had experienced boom in his business due to the presence of the tanker drivers and was already thinking of securing a space at the new park. “Tafa used to be a very quiet town, but since the coming of tanker drivers business has been good,” he confirmed.
Also, another food vendor, Hajia Maimuna Abdullahi, said most of her patrons are either drivers or motor boys. “As you can see, I sell food and most of the drivers and their conductors come here to eat. But I think it is a nice thing they are being relocated. I hope I get a shop at the new place. The place looks neat now compared to the past, and even those travelling on this express now stop to eat at my shop,” she confirmed.