A 46-year-old Delta-based tanker driver, Ejiro Otarigho, drove a burning petrol-laden tanker from Agharho town in Ughelli North, Delta State, to the bank of Agbarho River to avert an explosion which would have killed thousands of people in that community.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Ejiro Otarigho. I am from Delta State. I am a professional tanker driver. I was born in 1976. I am married with four children.
For how long have you been a tanker driver?
I started working as a tanker driver since 2010. This should make it 12 years now.
A video trending online showed how you drove a burning tanker laden with petrol around a community in Delta State. How exactly did this happen?
It happened on Friday, June 10, 2022, in a town called Agbarho in Ughelli North, Delta State. I had gone out to load my tanker with petrol (Premium Motor Spirit) for supply and was headed out. When I got to the Five Junctions area, my apprentice drew my attention to a flame that had erupted from the back of the tanker. He just started shouting, “Oga, see fire. See fire!” I checked through the side mirror and saw that the tanker was really on fire and it was burning fast. I thought about it for a quick second and decided that he should jump off the tanker and let me battle this (the fire) alone.
What informed this decision?
I have had many apprentices who had worked with me and are now on their own as bosses themselves and I didn’t want this young apprentice to lose his life while working with me. I knew it was the best thing to do at this time. We hadn’t driven for even 20 minutes before this incident happened. I also considered that if I didn’t drive the tanker out of the residential area to a lonely road, many people would lose their lives, so I decided to drive the burning tanker. I slowed down for my apprentice to jump down to get help.
What time of the day did the incident happen?
It was around 7.30pm and there was a lot of traffic at the time. I was just so scared not to hurt anybody.
As you drove the burning tanker, what thoughts ran through your mind?
I kept telling myself, “Ejiro, you no go kill any person. You must drive this tanker comot for here first!” I knew that if I left the tanker there and ran away, the result would be disastrous. The tanker would have exploded and the damage would be better left imagined. I remembered that there was a river around the expressway. That was what was ringing in my head. I kept driving. As I drove, people left their cars in the middle of the road and scampered to safety. Others managed to park well before running. There was heavy traffic, so it was a battle but God almighty helped me. The more people ran, the more I tried to reduce the speed so I wouldn’t hurt anybody. The back tyres of the tanker were beginning to catch fire but I just kept saying to myself: “Agbarho River! Agharho River!” For me, it was better that I die with the tanker than endanger the lives of over 5,000 people.
How far away was Agharho River from where the tanker caught fire?
Weren’t you scared even for a moment?
I have to be honest with you, I was scared but I don’t know what gave me so much courage. I was not seeing the danger; I was looking at the damage that would happen if I cowered and jumped off the tanker. Thousands of people would have died.
When I got to a junction before the river, I met a heavy traffic. A particular woman, who had seen me coming, just left her car and ran away. I made sure I dodged the car so it didn’t result in another fire as I drove past it. When I got to a tiny street where a bus from a popular transporter in Delta State was parked, I was really scared. It was a tiny street that would only fit one car at a time, so it was a dilemma for me. I also didn’t have time on my side but I kept telling myself, “People will die if you jump off! Agharho River!” Honestly, I cannot tell how I managed to escape that place because it was so narrow. I was so confused. I told myself that: “If I didn’t kill anybody in the town, is it when I was almost at my destination that I would now kill people?” I summoned courage and moved on. The bus never had a scratch. When I passed that place, I knew it was no longer me that was driving but God almighty was driving through me. I was just acting the scene; God was in charge.
Did you eventually make it to Agharho River?
I got there after all the struggles and was then faced with another dilemma: Do I try save the tanker or let everything burn altogether with the petrol-laden? I tried to uncouple the head from the tanker and push it inside the river so the fire would go out but it didn’t work. So, I left it to fate. The entire tanker got burnt.
I felt relieved and it didn’t even matter that I lost my tanker to the incident. I was fulfilled. Even though my tanker got burnt, no one was killed; no property was lost. It was risky but I had to do it for the greater good.
Does the tanker belong to you or you drove it for someone?
It doesn’t belong to me; I work for a director who owns the tanker.
Will you describe yourself as someone who has always been brave? Are there other examples of brave actions you’ve taken in the past?
My belief is that whatever situation you find yourself in, make the best of the situation. I took that decision because I don’t want to be described as a “killer”; I don’t want to be called a name that is not mine.
How did your family receive the news?
My friends blasted me, my wife wasn’t really cool with me but I had to apologise and explain things to her. I just got married months ago and my wife is due to be delivered of a baby soon. When she saw the video and was told I was the one inside, she said she almost fainted. When I saw her, she said I didn’t put her and our unborn baby into consideration. It was a war trying to convince her that all I did was for the greater good. It was not just me; it was the situation I found myself in at that time that made me take that decision. I was not born here but this place is my community. I am a well-known person in the town. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Na Ejiro tanker kill people the other day.” I didn’t want that for myself. She later understood.
In your 12 years of being a tanker driver, had you experienced something like that before?
I had never experienced that in my 12 years of being a tanker driver. I have never been involved even in one road accident.
What exactly can you say caused the fire?
It was such a surprise to me. I cannot say what actually was responsible. I filled the tanker as I always did and left for the place where it would be supplied.
You mentioned that you were a professional tanker driver. Are there any training and certifications for people like you who do this job?
We attend training. There was one I attended two years ago or so but it’s really not a certificate course, it’s more about skills development. We do a very risky but essential job yet we are neglected. The government needs to look into this and help us get proper training.
Was there any training you had to prepare you for an experience like this?
What I was taught was that whenever there is a fire on a tanker, we should jump down and save ourselves first. So, what I did was not a skill I learnt. Besides, there is no functional fire service in the area, so if I left that tanker that day before the fire service guys would come, the entire place would have been gutted.
Has the Delta State Government reached out to you?
Yes, they have. I have received calls from them but I am not interested in any national honour of any sort right now. I know God has brought me to a good place where my story is now being told. All I want is a replacement for my burnt tanker so I can go back to my job. I have just been at home and truck driving was the only way I fed. It has not been easy for me since I lost my tanker.
If you have an opportunity to quit this job, will you?
Of course, I will. It is a risky job. Imagine if I had died that day, nothing would have been said of me. If the government has something better for me, I will do it without looking back. All I want is to be able to take care of myself and my family legitimately.