The school bus

•Many injured, 10 trucks burnt as tanker explodes in Lagos
•Truck, bus crashes kill nine in Ekiti, Jigawa

It was a black Wednesday in Mgbowo, Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State, as 21 persons, many of whom were pupils of Presentation Nursery and Primary School, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Awgu, died in a road crash.

The accident put many families in mourning, as a family is reported to have lost three of their children in the incident.

It was gathered that the fully loaded 608 Mercedes Benz bus conveying the pupils had 64 occupants, which included 61 students, two teachers, and the driver.

It was also learnt that the incident, which involved a low-bed trailer belonging to a construction company, occurred about 4:30 p.m. while the pupils were being conveyed home.

The trailer reportedly developed brake problems and lost control, hurtling down from the Mmaku slope of Oji River-Awgu Road into Nkwo Junction linking Old Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway and rammed into the school bus, and then into a welder’s shop, where the welder and his apprentice were working.

Also killed in the accident were some members of the school staff, a vulcaniser, a commercial motorcyclist, and an auto mechanic.

It was gathered that some pupils and other road users at the scene also sustained injuries and were rushed to nearby hospitals by sympathisers, just as parents besieged the scene and sought to verify bodies from the ill-fated bus.

The driver of the bus and that of the low-bed reportedly survived the accident. “The driver of the heavy-duty trailer ran away from the scene after forcing the vehicle to a halt inside the bush,’’ an eyewitness said.

The Enugu Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Ogbonnaya Kalu, who confirmed the incident, said it was caused by a brake failure and reckless driving.

“As we speak, the confirmed number of death is 21. Of note is that not all the deaths were school children. Those working on the roadside were part of the casualties. There were a lot of artisans where the crash happened. Information reaching me also has it that the low-bed has a problem,” he added.

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Efforts to reach the Awgu Council Chairman, Pedro Nwankwo, proved abortive. The school belongs to the Catholic Diocese of Awgu and is run by sisters from the Daughters of Divine Love (DDL) congregation.

In Lagos State, a truck driver was confirmed dead yesterday, while his assistant escaped unhurt after their truck fell sideways at Owode-Elede, inward Mile 12, around 5:30 a.m. The victims were heading from Ikorodu to Lagos in a truck laden with iron rods.

Eyewitnesses’ account said the incident occurred when the truck miscalculated and ran into a bump at Owode-Elede, where it thereafter fell sideways, discharging its contents on the road. A car, which ran into the scene, got trapped, but sympathisers were said to have immediately rescued its two occupants.

Officials of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) arrived at the scene as the accident had resulted in gridlock in the axis, which stretched as far as Itowolo, such that many road users had to cancel their journey and return home.

An eyewitness, Mr Sarafadeen Aileru, said the incident would have claimed more lives if not for the prompt arrival of emergency responders. LASEMA Director-General, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, attributed the incident to overloading and reckless driving on the part of the truck driver.

In another incident, many sustained varying degrees of injuries in the wee hours of yesterday while articulated vehicles were burnt after a Premium Motor Spirit (PMS)-laden tanker exploded at Mile-Two Oke, on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway.

The explosion occurred around 1:00 a.m. when the tanker, said to have loaded products from a nearby tank farm, upturned while trying to navigate a bad portion of the highway. As soon as it fell, witnesses said it went up in flames with the fire following the trail of spilled PMS even to the other parts of the highway.

Although eyewitnesses claimed no fewer than 10 vehicles were gutted by fire, including a truck belonging to LACASERA with beverages loaded in it, LASEMA said only three vehicles were affected.

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It was gathered that most of the truck drivers were sleeping inside their vehicles when they heard a loud bang that jolted them to reality, leading to a stampede. While some of the drivers were able to speedily take their vehicles off the express, some others waiting to be called into the ports were not fortunate, as the fire, which spread to the other lanes, also affected them.

Giving an eyewitness account, a truck driver, Musa said: “My truck was the fourth in the queue. I was waiting for those in front to pass the failed section when I saw one of them fell. When the fire started, it caught the truck that was beside the affected one.

“The driver of another truck loaded with stationeries that was heading for Kaduna attempted to drive into the LACASERA company, only for the fire to spread to it. The driver and motor boy had to jump down, while the whole goods were burnt. Another truck loaded with beverages was also burnt.

“I tried as much as I could to reverse when I saw the fire because my truck was also loaded with petroleum products and I didn’t want it to explode. But there were other vehicles behind me. At that point, the fire had spread to the front of my truck. The only alternative I had was to jump out.

“People made calls to the fire service stations, but they came around 3 a.m. It was some firemen from LACASERA company that helped put out the fire. If they were not there, it would have been terrible. Those that were injured were rushed to the hospital.”

Motorists, who spoke to journalists, blamed the deplorable state of that portion of the road for the disaster.

A motorist, Saliu Mukaila, who lamented spending over 20 hours in and out of Apapa, said he went to the ports to pick up cleared vehicles. He said he initially spent seven hours to get to Mile Two from First Gate only to be trapped for another 13 hours as a result of the incident.

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“Surviving in Nigeria is a big task. Governments are insensitive to the plight of the commoners. Will lives to perish here before something urgent is done? This road should have been fixed a long time ago, considering the importance of this axis,” he lamented.

Confirming the incident, LASEMA boss said no life was lost, adding that two tankers and a truck got burnt.

Meanwhile, two persons, whose identifies are yet to be known, were yesterday crushed to death by a petrol-laden truck at Ureje, on the Ado-Ijan-Ikare road in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.

Involving a truck and a motorcycle, the accident caused traffic snarls on the road linking the state capital to Kogi and Ondo states. Eyewitnesses said the incident occurred when a bag of corn being conveyed by the victims mistakenly hooked on the edge of the truck while in motion.

They added that the motorcycle instantly fell under the truck and it ran over the two occupants, leading to their death.

Sympathisers in the neighbourhood, who heard the loud bang, rushed to the scene to see if life could be saved, but to no avail.

Also, seven persons died while 11 others sustained injuries in a motor accident at Diggare Village in Kaugama Local Government Area of Jigawa State yesterday.

The incident, which involved a Toyota Hummer bus with registration number ENU 684 EY, driven by one Aliyu Umar, was said to be coming from Lagos to Hadejia Local Government Area.

Spokesman for the Jigawa State Police Command, SP Abdu Jinjiri, confirmed the incident to newsmen. He said the accident happened when the bus driver lost control and hit a tree.

He explained that as a result, seven persons died on the spot, including the driver while 11 others sustained injuries. Jinjiri said the bodies had been released to their relatives for burial.


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