Sunday May 9, 2021
An event planner based in Abeokuta, Ogun State identified only as Bola went for a routine tyre change in the state capital sometime in 2016. She noticed the previous day that one of the tyres of her car was bad and needed replacement. Her aged but reliable Toyota Sienna never gave her any problems before then.
On getting to her regular vulcaniser’s shop, she requested a used tyre. Someone told her about what she termed the durability and safety of used tyres compared to inferior ones sold as new tyres.
The vulcaniser assured her that the tyre he would get for her from a nearby tyre dealer was a used but durable one and that she had nothing to fear. It took less than 15 minutes of leaving the vulcaniser’s place when the newly fixed tyre suddenly burst on the highway.
She told our correspondent during an interview, “I have never been so scared in all my life. I struggled with my vehicle’s steering wheel to stabilise the car. I panted like a deer by the riverside and was happy to be alive when I regained composure,’’ she said.
Bola recalled that her car swerved many times and almost hit the car ahead of her. She added that she was able to control the car and reached out to the vulcaniser on the phone to meet her at the spot she parked.
Describing herself as one of the lucky ones, Bola stated, “I was lucky. Other people lost their lives to such an accident caused by substandard tyres.’’
Accidents on risky roads
On the dusty tracks of the Abuja-Kaduna road in September 2017, an 18-seater bus snaked through the still northern night. In the chilly night with birds chirping across the dark skies, the passengers were awake. One of them was a corps member, Precious Igho, returning to his place of assignment in Katsina State.
He travelled briefly to Delta State after posting to collect his transcript from his alma mater, after which he went to Benin City, Edo State from Delta State to board a bus to Katsina State. He eventually decided to move through Kaduna State en route Katsina State.
He dozed off several times and woke up intermittently as the thought of his destination engaged his mind. At about 11:45pm, the unexpected happened.
He stated, “All of a sudden, one of the tyres of the bus burst and the driver lost control. The driver tried to ensure stability of the vehicle but it was too late. The bus somersaulted several times, rested on its roof and stopped. There was blood everywhere. The driver and another passenger died instantly, while some other passengers sustained varying degrees of injury. It was God who saved me on that journey. I came out through the damaged windscreen and my phone screen didn’t even crack. I was not hurt in anyway.’’ Precious said the driver fixed new tyres before the journey as he said he wanted a smooth ride on the deplorable roads.
It was not a smooth ride for Miss Ese Obie when she set out by road to Calabar, Cross River State from Warri, Delta State, in 2016. She boarded a bus at the park for the roughly eight-hour journey. She had made this trip in the past and planned to sleep as usual throughout the journey as she hated road trips.
She said, “We just got to Bayelsa State when one of the tyres of the bus started burning. I didn’t even notice because I was fast asleep. It was a passenger that tapped me and I heard screams upon opening my eyes. Passengers panicked and tried to jump out of the moving bus through the windows. The bus driver tried his best to control the bus but it seemed like the brakes had stopped working.
“He eventually got the bus off the road and screeched it to a halt. When we alighted, we saw that the tyre had burst and burnt. The tube was burnt and only the rim was left. I sometimes wonder what might have happened to me and the other passengers if the bus had caught on fire as a result of a bad tyre which the unsuspecting driver said he bought a few days before the incident.’’
A worker with an automotive company, Annette Umar, took a private-hire car in 2020 during the last Sallah celebration to her workplace at Lekki, Lagos. She stated that the journey was pleasing until they got to the Ikoyi-Dolphin Estate road where the driver noticed that his tyre had burst and he was losing control of the vehicle.
Umar said despite his efforts to steady it, the car veered off the highway and rammed into a commercial bike driver. She noted that before her driver could stabilise, another vehicle from behind hit their car.
She added, “As if that wasn’t enough, another bus coming at high speed pushed the car. It was a multiple collision on the highway. The car got compressed and its glasses broke. I used my legs to protect my face, so my legs withstood the impact of the crash. Luckily, some motorists and passersby stopped and helped the driver and me out of the wreck.
“I was treated but I couldn’t stand well for a while. I also sprained my neck. My ears let out sounds for a while and I was disoriented for a long time. The driver said afterwards that he bought two used tyres three days before that day. Unknown to him, they were inferior tyres. Up until now, I still have fears of being in a car, whether in a private or commercial car. I guess I have yet to get over the trauma of the accident.’’
Disturbing accident cases
Bola, Precious, Ese and Umar are among the many motorists and passengers who have had nasty experiences caused by substandard tyres. They are, however, lucky to be alive while many others lost their lives. The deplorable state of roads in the country worsens the situation. Substandard or inferior tyre business still thrives in Nigeria as many motorists are unable to buy new tyres with the worsening economy
Statistics from the Federal Road Safety Corps showed that between 2012 and 2017, tyres were responsible for 5,562 vehicle road crashes in the country. Also, the National Bureau of Statistics noted that in the second quarter of 2020 there were 2,113 road accidents across the country and 109 accidents linked to tyre burst.
Data from the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency indicated that Nigeria has a road network of 200,000km, out of which 35,000km is gazetted as federal roads. State governments are responsible for 32,000km of roads, with the remaining 133,000km under the purview of local governments. According to FERMA, only about 10,000km of federal roads are in a ‘good’ state while about 13,300km and 11,700km are in ‘fair’ and ‘bad’ states, respectively.
The country is said to have spent millions of dollars on road maintenance since 1999. But despite this whopping sum, many of them still remain deadly traps, exposing motorists and commuters to danger.
The moribund Nigerian tyre Industry
The country’s tyre industry took off some time in 1960 when Michelin and Dunlop established factories. Their combined capacity as giant tyre manufacturers at the time was about 2.25m units. Sunday PUNCH gathered that the figure signified 75 per cent of the country’s tyre market then.
Both companies met the needs of the motoring public for over four decades before they left due to the country’s harsh economic climate. Several issues which included incessant outages, tough tariff structure, bad roads and infrastructural decay combined to hasten the exit of the two giant tyre manufacturers.
The oil boom later opened a new vista for some citizens and more Nigerians bought cars with fresh demands for tyres across the country. The exit of the twin tyre makers and the harsh economic climate made the tyre market all-comers.
Online sources note that premium and budget tyre markets are currently the two types in Nigeria. They add that many Nigerians patronise the budget tyres which account for about 80 per cent of the nation’s total tyre market. This situation is predictable because the budget tyres are affordable and available. The tyre type is said to be mostly imported, of inferior quality and risky. Thus, the poor economic climate makes it a regular choice for most Nigerian motorists.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, with over 200 million population entered its second recession in five years last November as official figures showed that the economy shrank again in the third quarter of last year. This recession, caused by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, was worse than that of 2016. The NBS in its Gross Domestic Product report for Q3, said the GDP, the broadest measure of economic prosperity, fell by 3.62 in the three months to September last year.
Economy, greed drive inferior tyre trade
Greedy dealers in substandard tyres have been having a field with little or no efforts by the federal agencies empowered to curb importation of substandard products into the country. Some seizures of inferior tyres have been made by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria after the tyres had left the ports. The SON is mandated to enforce standards and quality control of products including entering seaports, airports and borders where industrial or commercial activities take place to perform its functions. In 2018, the organisation embarked on a nationwide mopping up of substandard tyres with the aim of destroying them in an operation it codenamed, ‘Operation Gbale.’
In 2017, the SON’s surveillance, intelligence and monitoring operatives swooped on a warehouse in Lagos where over 21 containers of stuffed imported tyres were being wrapped and labelled before being dispatched to markets across the country. Same year, the organisation said it had in its warehouses substandard tyres worth about N400m awaiting destruction. Substandard goods worth N300m comprising cylinders and tyres were also destroyed by the SON in January this year. Last week, it announced that it seized substandard tyres worth over N600m. The tyres were reportedly seized from a warehouse.
The Director-General of the SON, Mallam Farouk Salim said the tyres were imported into the country by a foreigner. He noted that they were stuffed into over 100 containers, an act that made the treads of the tyres lose integrity. He said, “Substandard tyres pose a dangerous situation; people’s lives are at stake and the roads are not safe because of something like this.”
Officers of the Nigerian Customs Service are ever-present at the ports and those of the Federal Road Safety Corps are always on roads to educate the motoring public on the proper use of the highways. But despite this, the influx of substandard tyres into the country continues.
Efforts to get the comment of the spokesperson for the NCS, Joseph Attah on the matter was futile as he had yet to reply to enquiries as of the time of filing this report.
But the Public Relations Officer of the SON, Mr Bola Fashina, said the organisation was doing all it could to justify why it needed to be at the country’s entry points, noting that the best way to stop substandard products into the country was to intercept them at the ports.
He said, “Since 2011, we have not had access to the ports and men of the customs are not responsible for identifying substandard goods. We currently have a good working relationship with the high command of the customs and some of our men were even trained by them. The Nigerian customs and the ports are large, so the synergy between both organisations might not necessarily be felt everywhere. Any officer can look the other way and the substandard goods might have passed before one knows it.
“We understand that the government wants optimum operation at the ports, so what we have done in Lagos is to establish an examination facility close to the port to avoid delays. We now have a facility in Amuwo-Odofin, Lagos. Anything we suspect, we take it to the facility and do a thorough examination there to check if it is substandard.”
Besides, the spokesperson for the FRSC, Bisi Kazeem, said the corps was doing a lot to curb the use of expired tyres.
He stated, “In 2015, our records revealed that tyre burst, occasioned by continuous use of fake or expired tyres, contributed largely to road traffic crashes. We launched a sensitisation programme to enlighten road users about our findings.”In 2016, we began full force enforcement to reduce carnages caused by bad tyres. We use our national traffic radio and other advocacy platforms to complement enforcement.”
According to him, substandard tyres still pervade Nigerian roads because of various reasons.
He added, “Most vehicle owners prefer to buy used tyres whether local or foreign used. All they’re concerned about is that the tyre looks good. Some other motorists get cheated when they purchase new tyres but sometimes, those tyres are close to the expiry date or already expired.’’
A Lagos-based 45-year-old teacher, Bose Oyindamola, said she preferred used tyres to new ones. She said, “I prefer to buy fairly used tyres. This is because everything is expensive in Nigeria, so I will rather buy cheap tyres that will last me for some time.’’
Also, a commercial bus driver along the Oshodi-Mile2 axis in Lagos who gave his name only as Suleiman, said, “Me na tokunbo I dey buy o, you no know say na tokunbo dey last pass original? How much I dey make wey I go dey buy N20,000 new tyre. When I pay agbero (money collector) money for loading every day, how much remain to buy better tyre? At least with N8,000 I go see better secondhand tryre buy.’’
In his comment, an entrepreneur, Nwachukwu Williams, said he usually tried to buy brand new tyres. Williams stated, “I always buy brand new tyres. Nigerian roads are not safe and ridden with portholes. I’d rather be sure that I’m getting good ones without fear of having an unnecessary accident linked to inferior tyres.’’
A tyre dealer, Mr John Onochie, told our correspondent that new tyres, depending on the brand, cost between N15,000 and N70,000. He stated, “These ones are the non-Chinese type. For the secondhand tyre type, they range from N5,000 to N10,000 depending on the tyre quality. Some secondhand tyres are in a better condition than others and cost more.”
Tyre dealers speak
According to Onochie, the low purchasing power of buyers is the major reason most of them buy inferior tyres which they can afford.
He added that most experienced vulcanisers could easily identify good tyres from substandard ones. He further stated, “Some tyres are not meant to be used for long distances. They burst within a few distance.’’
Another tyre dealer, Mr Onu Nwigwe, who runs his business in the Ijesa area of Lagos State, lamented that the dearth of tyre factories in the country, was responsible for the dubious activities regarding tyre sales and purchases.
He said, “The absence of manufacturing plants in Nigeria is a major setback for the tyre market. Many people prefer used tyres to new ones because they are affordable compared to new ones. There are people in this country who for years have been taking advantage of this gap. In Ijora, there currently exists a thriving business where tyres are remoulded. When old tyres start to wear out, losing treads, the criminal elements recoat them and they pass them off easily as new ones.’’
Nwigwe added that most of the so-called new tyres being sold in the country were substandard ones that usually wore out in a few months.
He added, “The fairly used tyres imported into the country last longer than the so-called new ones. The reason for this is that most of the new tyres in the country have a recent date on them. But in truth, the tyres have been remoulded by criminals and the dates of manufacture changed.
“Most of the good tyres in Nigeria were made in Thailand. The best ones though are the ones made in Europe. Unfortunately, only the rich can afford this kind of tyres. The average Nigerian due to the country’s harsh economic situation has to buy what they can afford. They buy what is available without bothering to find out if the tyres are substandard or expired.”
According to him, the problems of substandard and expired tyres have been worsened by the dubious acts of some tyre dealers.
Nwigwe noted, “Some Nigerian tyre dealers are said to always tell manufacturers in China to make cheap and substandard tyres for them. The tyres are then imported into the country and sold to unwitting consumers, endangering their lives and that of other road users,”.
A vulcaniser in the Ijesa area, Folarin Wasiu, said his late father handed over the business to him.
The graduate of Insurance from a polytechnic in Ibadan, Oyo State, said some greedy tyre dealers in the country remould tyres by taking worn-out tyres, peeling off their surface and placing another tyre surface on the tyres.
He added, “The remoulded tyres are dangerous because when they get hot, their surface peels and they pull off from the car, causing accidents that can lead to injuries or even loss of life. Remoulded tyres have a rough surface compared to the original ones which are smooth.’’
Wasiu told our correspondent that most of the new tyres in Nigeria were either substandard tyres or old tyres approaching maturity and some criminals return them to hidden factories to clean them up, use an industrial machine and change their dates of manufacture.
He said, “I have been in this business for over 23 years. I can identify most of the expired and substandard tyres. For the inferior imported ones, I always advise my customers to avoid them. I tell them instead to buy the ones made in Thailand since they are more durable. Identifying tyres whose manufacturing dates have been altered is a little tricky. But I can spot such tyres easily. The original tyres are thicker in the area where their dates of manufacture are written, whereas, for the altered ones, they are flat and look like a stamp. As if that is not enough, these dubious individuals use a blade to trim the date stamp and make the tyres even more dangerous to road users.”
Identifying inferior, genuine tyres
Experts noted that before buying car tyres, the buyer has to carry out checks to know if they are expired or not. The checks, they added, include checking the manufacturing dates usually on the sidewall of the tyre in the form of four numbers preceded by the letters ‘DOT.’
They stated that the numbers represent the week and year of manufacture. According to them, 1321 will mean the 13th week in 2021.
Onu stated, “This information is useful to ensure that consumers buy tyres with the longest shelf life possible and hopefully prevent accidents through tyre burst. Nigeria needs to establish tyre factories. That’s the easiest way to stop importation of inferior tyres into the country.”
In his comment, the public education officer of the FRSC, Badagry Unit Command, Mr Abdullahi Oladimeji, said the date of manufacture is printed on tyres and it’s easy to know.
Oladimeji said, “We also expect that after using a tyre for three or four years, there is a need to change it, especially the worn-out ones. If you notice the treads of the car coming out, then change it. Some car owners use worn-out tyres to the extent that their treads get exposed. What we do is arrest them and ensure that they change the tyres immediately. This is to prevent accidents that could be caused by tyre burst. It’s risky.”