Residents of Niger State are still counting losses from the action of tanker and trailer drivers who, recently, used their vehicles to block all major roads leading to Minna, the state capital. The roads include the Lambata-Lapai-Agaie-Bida road, Lambata-Minna road, and the Bida-Zungeru-Minna road. Several states in the northern part of the country, including Abuja, became inaccessible to travellers from Minna and Bida axis. The blockade which started on Thursday, September 23, 2021 through Monday, September 27, 2021, did not only hinder free movement of goods and services for days but also brought economic activities in the affected areas to a halt. The experience was indeed traumatic for road users on this route.
The drivers, according to media reports, said they blocked the roads to protest what they called the failed state of the Lambata-Lapai-Agaie-Bida road. They said the road, which links the northern part of the country with South-west, is no longer passable for tankers and trailers. The Tegina-Bokani-Mokwa road which could have served as an alternative route to the Lambata-Bida road is also in a dilapidated state. A spokesman for the Petroleum Tanker Drivers Association (PTDA) in Bida, Alhaji Alhassan Salisu, told journalists when the protest started that they would not withdraw their vehicles from the blockade until government opened the Bida-Minna road, which is the only alternative route to Lambata-Bida road. The Niger State government had since barred tankers and trailers from using the state-owned Bida-Minna road and the Paiko-Lapai road, which was why they could not ply the Lambata-Paiko axis of the Suleja-Minna road.
Discussions between the protesting tanker drivers and the Niger State government ended in an interim pact, which allowed tankers and trailers to ply the Lambata-Paiko-Lapai road for a few days in order to ease the gridlock created by the blockade. Thereafter, the Secretary to Niger State Government (SSG), Alhaji Ahmed Matane, led a delegation of some senior state officials to present a set of demands on the Lambata-Agaie-Lapai-Bida road to the Federal Ministry of Works (FMW) in Abuja. As a short-term measure, the SSG appealed to the FMW to urgently begin the repair of all bad portions on the road. While presenting the long-term plan, the SSG emphasised the reconstruction of all the failed roads in the state. Responding on behalf of the permanent secretary in the FMW, the Director of Highways in the FMW, Engr Folorunsho Essan, said preparations for repair works on Lambata-Bida road had commenced.
So many things were wrong with the action of the trailer drivers. It was not only criminal to block a highway, a public infrastructure, for whatever reason but also a breach of the fundamental human right of other road users. The gridlock that ensued from the blockade was better imagined as many perishable items were wasted. Patients in critical conditions who required further medical attention outside of Niger State were denied access; thereby worsening their conditions. Unless the perpetrators are punished, blockade of highways shall remain the cheapest threat used by tanker drivers each time they have a demand to be fulfilled by government. In fact the current image of the tanker drivers union leaves much to be desired. We call on the leadership of the tanker drivers union to change the narrative about the organisation. The members must be known as citizens who comport themselves appropriately at all times.
The failed state of the Lambata-Lapai-Agaie-Bida road which led to the outrageous protest by tanker and trailer drivers is a national embarrassment. It was reckless of government to have allowed federal roads linking major towns and cities in a country that depends largely on road transportation to deteriorate to such an appalling state. It is also irresponsible and criminal of government to award road contracts without adequately funding them. Appropriation Act is a law that should not be breached. Besides, dozens of lives and properties worth billions of naira in communities situated along this highway have been lost in explosions from petrol tanker accidents caused by deep pot-holes on the road.
With the longest distance of federal roads in the country, Niger State yet has the longest portions of federal roads in a state of disrepair. To forestall recurrence of blockade, we urge government to immediately declare a state of emergency on Niger roads and source for funds to mobilise contractors back to site. This will save lives and properties.