An Unworkable Solution to Deadly Tankers and Trailers in Nigeria by Feyi Fawehinmi

I remember the first time I got caught by a camera for speeding in the UK. I was lucky that I had been caught doing 40mph in a 30mph zone i.e only 10mph above the limit. This qualified me for a fine and attending a speed awareness course. The alternative was of course to get 3 points on your licence (12 points usually means you’re banned from driving). Anyone offered the course would of course grab it with both hands (you’re only allowed to do the course once in 3 years I think — if you get caught a year after doing it, you get the points).

Anyway, one of the things I learnt at the time was that there were rules for installing speed cameras on a particular. In general (go to Appendix 3 of this document):

• If 4 people have been killed in an accident on a particular stretch of road over a period of 3 years. That is, 4 people in total over 3 years and not 4 per year.

• If 8 people have been injured in an accident over a 3 year period on a particular stretch of road.

• If the accidents were speed related. So if investigations show that the road was dangerous and speed was not actually the problem, a speed camera might not be installed.

• If 20% of drivers have been found to be breaking the speed limit on a particular stretch of road

Following the death of 3 people in the recent Ojuelegba Bridge accident, and a as yet unknown number in the Otedola Bridge carnage, a lot of Nigerians have been lamenting about how these exact same accidents have happened in the past and nothing was done to prevent them happening again. Accidents happen all the time everywhere but what adds extra pain to Nigerian accidents is how quickly you are sure things will go back to (ab)normal without anything being done.

I have an idea. Please note that this idea cannot work (I’ll explain why) so this is just a brain exercise and no more.

What is the problem?

For sure, a big part of the problem is trailers and tankers that are in too poor a condition to be on the road. Some of them drive without the required number of tyres, others drive with no brakes (as seems to be the case with the latest carnage). Others are in such visibly bad condition that you wonder how on earth they can be allowed on the roads at all.

So any sensible policy to make the roads safer will have to get rid of these dangerous trailers i.e. remove them from the road permanently and not just restricting them to a particular time slot in the day. And the best way to do this is through a scrappage scheme.

How it will (not) work

In simple terms — every trailer or tanker over say 10 years old will qualify for a scheme where government contributes say 10% of the cost of the cost of a (brand) new trailer and perhaps underwrites a loan for another 40–70% of the cost. The owner contributes 10% of the cost and the value of the old trailer is also taken into account.

The key point of this is that for each new trailer financed through the scheme, one old one is taken off the road. That is, if it works, you should see a noticeable difference in the age and quality of trailers over a short period of time.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is not a new idea. It’s something that has been done in a number of countries very recently.

In Operation

The scheme will be an opportunity to embed new standards in the trucking business. If the terms are generous enough (without being too generous), it should entice people to the point that they are willing to accept some stricter standards. For example, anyone who will drive the new trailers must pass a special test and be given a special licence — if anyone is caught driving the trailer without this special licence, the owner gets to pay a hefty fine to have the trailer released. Every driver with this special licence will be known and the number of licences can be carefully monitored against the number of trucks.

You can add other conditions like each new trailer must have a tracker installed and then each trailer must get a special MOT at special centres every 12 months.

Only one type of trailer should be funded by the scheme. So maybe Iveco or Mercedes Benz or Volvo or DAF. Whichever one is felt to be best for Nigeria, just stick to that one brand. The reason for this is to make it easier for ancillary services to spring up around them — servicing, parts, repairs, quality checks, driver training etc. Working with one brand only makes it a lot easier to do this.

Enforcement

The scheme can be allowed to run for 2 years or a target number of trailers to be financed. If you want to get fancy, you can take a census of the trailers in the country and then work out the average age. You might even work out that 2008 was the year they started really improving the manufacture of trailers. If you census then tells you that the average of trailers in the country is say, 20 years, your goal will then be to lower that average age by maybe 5 over the 2 year period. Thus, by removing a number of told trucks and replacing them with a certain number of new ones, the average age of the entire fleet comes down. Your goal will be to calculate the number of trucks that need to be replaced to bring down the average age.

But that’s the fancy method. There are simpler methods you can use. You can simply target petrol tankers only and seek to replace a certain number of them.

Whatever method you choose, the next step will be to create some type of advantage for the new trucks once the scheme has gone half way. In other words, you systemically start making life hard for old truck owners to encourage them to take advantage of the scheme. Maybe NNPC will favour new trailers in moving stuff around the country or guarantee them business. (Don’t worry, I’m still going ahead with my plans for NNPC come the revolution).

Pretty much it. Nothing particularly complicated. But it won’t work.

Why it won’t work

Even though this type of scheme has worked in different countries across different continents, it will not work in Nigeria because Nigeria is special. A few reasons why

1 The government is broke. This is the most basic obstacle — although it can be surmounted. All the money available is currently used to pay salaries and service debts. A scheme like this will cost $500m at the very least and even though it is technically a loan, the government will expect to lose some of the money.

2 The swapped trailers will not be scrapped and will find their way back on to the roads. This will be the worst of all worlds as the average age won’t come down.

3 The current owners of the trucks won’t like the scheme and they are friends and donors of the politicians. So such a scheme is unlikely to even happen in the first place talk less of being implemented effectively.

4 Too many things requiring enforcement which means that too many points for bribes to enter the system. Also, because it has to be done over a number of years, that introduces all sorts of risks like people agreeing to something today and then disagreeing with the thing they previously agreed to tomorrow. And then they will scatter the whole thing. Even the government might change its mind and not keep its promise.

5 Other Nigerian factors include people getting new trailers even though they don’t have an old one. Trailers might be given to royal fathers or politicians to buy their support for the coming elections. It doesn’t matter when this is done, elections are always coming in Nigeria. The loans won’t be repaid. People will bribe to get the special licences and bribe to pass the special vehicle tests until the certificate can be bought on the open market.

6 NURTW won’t like it. I am not sure why they won’t like it but I am 100% sure they won’t like it.

It’s not like this is a perfect solution. I am sure there are other possible solutions. But all of them will run into the same problems as above. Which is why I think renewing the trucks on the road will go a long way to increase safety. But it won’t happen.

That leaves us with the tried and tested Nigerian solution — do nothing and just wait for the next set of people to die and pray it is not you.

Rest in peace to the future dead.

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