Like a swarm of locusts looking for green vegetation to feast on, oil tankers swoop on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway from the east, west, north and south, taking over one or two lanes, waiting for weeks on end for their turn to load petroleum products from the tank farms scattered along the expressway. Lagos accounts for 90 percent of Nigeria’s petroleum products needs. In the process of going about their legitimate duty, these tankers constitute a great danger to the general public because apart from worsening the perennial gridlock in the area, they create other problems like fire outbreaks, accidents, spillage, noise pollution, and contribute in no small measure to deterioration of infrastructure like roads and bridges, shortening their life span. In this report, EBELE ORAKPO sought the views of experts on the issue of parking such heavy duty vehicles on our roads and bridges and the impact on the infrastructure.
IN a chat with VF in Lagos, Dr. Chris Uwaje, President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), had noted that one of the problems with Nigeria is not lack of infrastructure but misuse of same. Reacting to the allegation that the Nigerian government has neglected infrastructure development, he said: “We waste infrastructure. We have it but we waste it because we don’t plan. Look at our roads. Ikorodu road for example has 10 good lanes, you can count just few nations in the world that have intercity ten-lanes. Los Angeles in the US has 16 lanes, New York City has eight. What we are saying, within the 10 lanes, how many are effectively used? Not more than five or six. One lane is occupied by used vehicles, one and half lanes are used by those selling roasted plantain, cocoyam, peanut; one is used by pure water sellers, shoe menders are on one lane. In Apapa, one lane is permanently parked with tankers waiting to load petroleum products.”
For Engr. Kunle Adebajo, Director, Ove Arup & Partners Nigeria and former President of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, once the structures are well designed and built, then structurally, there is no cause for alarm, but noted that the tankers could pose other dangers to the public and environment.
“I think one of the most important things to note is that even in its normal state, tankers are generally vehicles that pose hazards. In developed countries, they would usually have signs saying things like: ‘Caution, inflammable items, beware etc’. So generally speaking, the parking issue that we have, poses its own problems in terms of things that are likely to accompany these tankers as they park, like engine oil and fuel which can affect whatever they are parked on. We know very well from research that concrete doesn’t do very well when seriously subjected to things like engine oil and diesel, that is the basic thing,” he said.
The Chairman, Western Zone of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade Tokunbo Korodo, blamed the problem on the concentration of tank farms in the Apapa area of Lagos with no holding bays for trucks coming to load petroleum products, and also on the nation’s refineries which are not producing optimally, saying that as long as our refineries are not functioning optimally, the problem will continue. He noted that if the refineries were functioning as they should, there would be no need for tankers to come from the North and East to load products from Lagos as the Kaduna, and Port Harcourt refineries would serve them. But because we import most of the products through the Lagos ports, most of the tank farms are sited close to the ports, adding that once these tankers come, and the products have been exhausted, the other tankers would continue to wait until products are made available as they cannot return to their destinations empty.
On the structural implication due to weight of the tankers, Engr. Adebajo said: “ First, anything that is designed properly like the bridge or road would have been done by structural engineers and they would have designed these structures for various forms of loading. The loading they are designed for are usually moving loads and moving loads tend to introduce both static and dynamic loads so you get what would be called a sliding higher loading than just regular static. So if you assume that the structure is perfectly well designed, then if those tankers are lined up from Lagos to Ijebu Ode, generally, that is not a problem because those loads should have been allowed for and in fact, they are usually stationery. The problem comes when either the structure is starting to deteriorate and therefore unable to withstand everything it has been designed for and the only way you can tell is for a structural engineer to go and do a full assessment of the structure. The other thing is that sometimes when they are in that form, that is parked, then in moving them (the vehicles) or starting them up, you sometimes get loading which may be a little bit higher or approaching what it was designed for. As a structural engineer, I will not be worried to see tankers parked because of loading. I would be more worried because of everything that comes out of the tanker. For instance, one of those tankers could go up in flames, we could actually have a situation where that flame will spread to other tankers and the fire cannot be contained and then the structure gets under such heavy temperature which leads to stresses that impact the structure and if the structure fails, it can be catastrophic and that is why as a structural engineer, we will still be concerned about having them on the roads like that. Of course, we also know that from the point of road safety considerations, it is not the best to have them there. Vehicles driving by sometimes, due to poor lighting, (these things don’t have good reflectors) and from time to time, may be during rainfall, you may have cars smashing into them which is usually fatal. You can also have children who may be crossing roads, moving in-between tankers and cannot see but they go out and as soon as they do, they are hit by oncoming vehicles. A lot of dangers.”
He stated that the tanker drivers themselves are not safe as they sometimes sleep under the vehicles and something could crush them. “So there are hazards. But from a purely structural point of view, as long as the road or bridge has been sufficiently designed and maintained, then there is no problem.”
Little drops, they say, make a mighty ocean, so according to the consummate structural engineer, although the salt and oil poured carelessly on tarred roads by roadside food vendors may not have a drastic effect on the structures, but they may help them deteriorate faster. Said he: “Everything definitely has effect on structures and materials. You see, everything reacts to chemicals. It’s just a matter of how long does it take if it is something that is done continuously. But I would also say again that well built structures are able to accommodate quite a bit of harsh weather, after all, these structures are out there for 25, 30, 40 years under sun and rain continuously. But if it is well built and that is why when you design bridges and roads, a proper structural engineer needs to design them and they need to be built well. Example, the third Mainland Bridge, if ever so often you have to go and repair it, that would be so disruptive. For those who pour salt water and oil on the roads, I mean it is advisable they don’t but it is not again likely to be relating to the issue of collapse. It’s just from the point of view of hygiene and faster degeneration. What also I should say is that if you go to some buildings or bridges, particularly older ones, over the years, they have started deteriorating a little bit so sometimes you even see the reinforcing bars that is iron bars inside it, they are exposed and when they are in that situation, it becomes even more threatened by these sorts of things because you can imagine if you have a sore on your body, it will be easier and faster for germs and other things to attack it, so sometimes, that is what happens.”
On the way forward, Adebajo said proper maintenance culture and professionalism is the way to go.
“One of the things we as structural engineers always recommend is that all public infrastructure should be regularly maintained. We wait until the structure almost collapses. The minute we can do that regularly, like the white man says, ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’ So if you do maintenance with N1.00 now, you will save yourself N9.00 of having to do a whole new big thing because you have arrested it early. Again, it is not every project that government gives to professionals. That is one big problem and that is why you find that many things are not being done the proper way.”
For Comrade Korodo, the way forward is to provide adequate parking space for these tankers and their drivers, repair our refineries, establish tank farms in other parts of the country instead of concentrating in Lagos. He praised the Lagos State Government for providing the union a parking lot but said though it is not enough but a step in the right direction which should be emulated by other governments, noting that Ogun State tried to do same but instead of handing over to the union, the park was handed over to the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) who are harassing their members.