The gas explosion in Lagos on Sunday, March 15, 2020 which led to the death of 25 persons, among them Reverend Sister Henrietta Alokha, has re-ignited the debate on the state of the country’s national assets, our poor maintenance culture and the avoidable deadly price Nigerians have had to pay for them. The gas explosion was aggravated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline at Abule Ado area of Lagos, which engulfed in the fire, leading to multiple deaths and the destruction of over 50 houses, among them Bethlehem Girls College.
The Public Affairs Manager of NNPC, Kennie Obateru, told Nigerians that the corporation’s preliminary findings showed that the impact of the explosion was huge and led to damage to NNPC pipeline, saying that “the [gas] cylinders were stacked in a gas processing plant located near the corporation’s system 2B pipeline right of way.”As an immediate measure to forestall the spread of the accident, he added that the organization had temporarily shut down the petroleum products pipeline.
The Lagos gas explosion came about two months after a similar explosion in Kaduna, which led to the death of high-placed Nigerian, Professor Simon P. Mallam of the Nigeria Energy Commission and 19 other victims. At the time, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) promised to prevent such disaster in future. The North West Zonal Operations Controller, Mr. Isa Tafida, had said, “The outcome of our preliminary investigations reveal that the facility is an illegal gas retailing vendor that engages in illegal storage, decanting and sales of LPG (cooking) and acetylene (industrial gases).The operator of that illegal facility is unknown to the department and the facility is not licensed by DPR,“ Tafida said. He promised that such tragedy would be averted by curtailing unlicensed gas retailers.
From these fatal incidents, it is evident that officials in the oil and gas industry are not taking environmental safety seriously, though they are aware of the hazards to the sector. Over the years, the Right of Way of NNPC facilities have been violated, either through pipeline vandalism or the construction of illegal properties. But these Rights of Way have not been clearly demarcated, and where they are marked out, they are never seriously enforced. No doubt, this complacency may be as a result of corruption, as those who violate Rights of Way may be in bed with corrupt industry officials who look the other way when the illegalities are committed.
In order to forestall future occurrences, we call on government and NNPC to set up a judicial commission of inquiry into Abule Ado pipeline explosion. It is now time to fish out those who, through commission or omission, allowed illegal activities on the NNPC property, an action that caused deaths and destructions. Secondly, it is imperative for the country to come up with a legal framework to regulate the establishment of cooking gas plants. Government has continued to encourage Nigerians to switch from charcoal and kerosene to cooking gas for their domestic use. However, because of the hazards involved in dispensing the product, government must provide a clear code that would guide cooking gas business.
Furthermore, we call on government to immortalize Rev. Sr. Henrietta Alokha, the Principal of Bethlehem Girls College, Abule Ado, who died in the process of rescuing her students.The students were caught in the fire that engulfed Abule Ado area due to gas and pipeline explosion. The college was completely razed down and some 60 students of the college were injured and hospitalized, but no death was recorded among them. Rev Sister Henrietta was the heroine who rescued the students from death. She lost her own life in that operation. She gave her life to save her students. It is necessary for government to accord her a national recognition, as Henrietta demonstrated rare self-sacrifice.
Government and regulatory agencies must put all hands on deck to prevent such tragedies in future.