*Says mvmt of tankers on highways now restricted from 7 am to 7 pm
Stories by Victor Young
National Chairman of Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, branch of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Salimon Oladiti, in this chat with Vanguard speaks on the protracted Oshodi/Apapa gridlock, tanker accidents on high ways among others. Excerpts
The driving tanker is our profession. Before you can become anything in life such as a lawyer, a journalist even in white collar jobs, you have to start from somewhere. What you should know is that tanker drivers are people from a poor background. Even if you are very brilliant in your elementary school, by the time you want to advance to the secondary and higher level of education, your parents may not be able to afford it. You do not have anybody to take up the responsibility of training you or funding your education, but you have to do something in life. This scenario is not peculiar to tanker drivers. Other people like bricklayers, carpenters, artisans and so on, got there because of their poor background. But some of us have been able to educate ourselves to the university level that today, there are tanker drivers that are BSc. holders and we have continued to do whatever we can to educate ourselves. People who think tanker drivers are irresponsible are the ones that are irresponsible.
When I became the national chairman of Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, a few years ago, part of my programmes was to ensure that cases of road accidents involving tanker drivers were brought to the barest minimum. I set up a committee to do a research to find out the major causes of road accidents involving tankers. What we transport is highly inflammable products and we need to take safety as a very serious business. Before, hardly would a day pass without you hearing about tanker accident with loss of lives and property. After the research, we discovered that up to 70 per cent of the tanker accidents happened at night. We decided to restrict the movement of tankers at night and ensure they only move from 7 am to 7 pm. That has helped to reduce the frequency of tanker accidents. We have a good working relationship with the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC. The partnership has been yielding results. Today, any sincere Nigerian can confirm that the rate of accidents involving tankers has gone down drastically.
The training of tanker drivers is a continuous exercise and we have been training our members since I became national chairman of PTD. Three years ago, we trained over 5000, two years ago, over 6000 and last year, we trained almost 8000 tanker drivers. This year, we have done the training for the Lagos zone comprising all the states in the South-West and Ilorin; we have done the training for Kaduna zonal council comprising the old 19 states of northern Nigeria. We have equally done the Warri and Port Harcourt zonal councils. I do not have the total number that we have trained since the exercise started, but most of the drivers have been trained. For the leaders of the Union, we have been having oversea training. Most of us have been peer educators. Three years ago, we were in the United States, last year, we were in Italy. The overseas training is mainly for training and re-training on how to handle equipment, how to behave on the roads, respect for other road users. We thank God that our members have been seeing the results of the training.
Tanker drivers do not have any business staying in a particular place and parking for more than one of two days. If the product is available, a tanker driver does not need to stay more than one day to load the product and go to his destination. But articulated trucks especially the containerized truck drivers can afford to stay on the road and in one place for days, weeks or months. They can afford to park for days or months in a place. Maybe they want to return their containers and there is no place because the port is congested. All the parking slots in the port have been given to different kinds of people and organisations that have nothing to do in the ports. They have taken over the places meant for these containers. But for tanker drivers, when the product is available, they will call you to come and load at the loading depot and after loading, you go to your destination.
For the gridlock on the Apapa- Oshodi Expressway, the security agents should be held responsible, especially the officials of the task force. They know that the tanker driver will not want to waste time, they have taken the opportunity to extort the tanker drivers and other truck drivers. However, I am aware the government is doing something about the situation. Recently, the government set up a committee through the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN to address the complaints of stakeholders and other Nigerians over this issue. I could not attend the meeting but I sent somebody to represent PTD because I am not based in Lagos. They can call for a meeting at any time. The plan is to withdraw all the security agencies especially Naval personnel and soldiers because they are the ones causing the gridlocks on that road. They are looking for money and not to see the free flow of traffic. They deliberately cause gridlock to force truck drivers who want to escape the gridlock to pay. Our members are suffering seriously because of this. It has been very frustrating for our members. To stay at a particular place for three, four or more days, is frustrating. It means you take your bath, wash, eat and so on at the place. It has a very serious health implication. However, as I said, the government is trying to do something on the issue of gridlock in Lagos
I commend the present government. About seven or eight years ago, it was very difficult to transport products across the country. But since this government took over, all the depots including in the South-West are working. I mean system 2B of NNPC is working and we have a good working relationship with PPMC. They have been doing very good work. Recently, they sent our leaders for training in Dubai. This has encouraged us to have a better relationship with them. At present, no part of this country can complain of a shortage of products. We take products to every nook and cranny of the country.
It is not true that we like a strike. We also have families. I told you that many of us are university graduates. It is only in Nigeria that people believe that because you are a graduate, you must look for white collar jobs. In other parts of the world especially in advanced countries, even if you want to be a barber, you must be educated.
These artisans we talk about are those that make money in advanced countries than people in white collar jobs. Their pay is in hours. Tanker drivers are responsible people and do not go on strike for the fun of it. It is when it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable that we go on strike.
Education is very important to any human being. Do not allow your poor background to deny your education. I educated myself. If you can express yourself well, you are educated. You have God’s wisdom and native intelligence, if you can combine both, you are more than a professor. However, I want to use this medium to tell tanker drivers to continue to educate themselves because they do not know where they may find themselves in future.