We can already anticipate the blame-the-victim chorus that will be raised by the oil companies, Nigeria’s rulers and the global media. But when resource hyper-exploitation co-exists with dire poverty, such incidents are absolutely inevitable. From the Lagos Vanguard, May 13, via AllAfrica:
TRAGEDY struck in Lagos yesterday in Sanki Ilado village, a Lagos suburb, when a 16-inch petroleum products pipeline exploded, killing over 200 people apparently engaged in siphoning fuel from the pipeline, sinking three big boats, and two speed boats with all the occupants and stolen cargo.
Eyewitness accounts claim the explosion occurred at about 3:00am Friday morning, sending columns of black smoke billowing into the air.
Mr. Silas Amaigwe of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Command who said he arrived the site of the incident much earlier and was well abreast of developments regarding pipeline vandalism in the Lagos area, disclosed that it was the umpteenth time this would be occurring on the affected pipeline.
He said the fire was still raging when he and his colleagues arrived the scene of the incident, adding that after the fire was put out by fire fighters from NNPC [Nigerian National Petroleum Company], it was discovered that the pipeline was pierced in eight different spots.
“The NNPC staff have covered up all the spots now, but there were at least eight punctured spots on the 16-inch pipeline.”
On how many bodies have been recovered, he said while there was no accurate figure yet, it could number well over five hundred by the time final figures are tallied.
“At this spot alone we have about 50 bodies. These are all skulls, over there (he gestured) we have several hundreds. We are estimating that it is over 200. If you go into the water you will find quite a lot of bodies also. Maybe, between today and tomorrow, they would come up,” he said. He also disclosed that there were three big boats carrying several jerry cans and some crew who were affected by the explosion.
“They were affected by the explosion and they all went down with all on board. We also recovered some outboard engines from two speed boats in the water earlier in the day when the tide was low,” he said.
He pointed out that this year alone there has been four incidents of pipeline vandalism within the Lagos area alone, noting that one occurred at old Ota road last month.
Tears flowed freely as residents within the neighbourhood thronged to the scene to have a glimpse of one of the most tragic incidents that has hit Lagos State in recent times.
The Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone II, Adebayo Adeoye and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Adebayo, were among the first callers at the pathetic scene. They merely shook their heads in pity when they beheld the sight of the charred remains of the victims. One of the female sympathisers cried uncontrollably, rolling on the ground when she saw the charred remains of a woman who was apparently running with a baby strapped to her back. Officials from NNPC , Red Cross and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency were seen battling to put out the fire.
The Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mr Femi Pedro who was also at the scene to have first hand information on what has happened was taken aback when he was told that there were no survivors. He bent his head for a while, raised it again, and confessed that he had never in his life seen any thing like that.
He therefore used the opportunity to warn those who still indulge in scooping petroleum products from broken pipelines to desist from such and expressed hope that with what had happened at Illado, others would learn a lesson.
Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Olubode Ojajuni who was also present at the scene with some reporters, said 70 empty jerricans were recovered including pipeline breaking instrument. He also could not give the exact number of those who were burnt beyond recognition, noting however, that they were over one hundred.
In a swift reaction, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, General Manager, NNPC Group Public Affairs said the incident was very regrettable, noting that pipeline vandals have been warned in the past to leave the pipelines alone. He said the development underlines the fact that whenever pipelines are vandalised the risk of tragedy is very high.
“We want to assure the general public that the pipeline has been repaired and re-pressurised. Everything is back to normal and supply of petroleum products is guaranteed. We appeal to Nigerians to respect the pipeline ‘right of way’,” he said.
Also reacting, Mr Ralph Ugwu, the Public Affairs Manager of the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), an NNPC subsidiary , when contacted, confirmed that his company was on top of the situation and that the integrity of the line has been restored.
He assured that management was working with the various security agencies and doing everything possible to stem the incidence of pipeline vandalism in its areas of operation. On the number of lives lost in the incident, he explained that it was difficult to ascertain at the moment since bodies were still being tallied, adding however, that it was in excess of 100 lives.
It would be recalled that the last time an incident of this magnitude occurred was in the Jesse area of Delta State where over 1,000 lives were lost in year 2000 and in Imore village, a suburb of Lagos State where over 200 lives were lost. Sociologist are yet to ascertain the motive behind the large scale involvement in the illegal siphoning of petroleum products, considering the risks.
The motive? Economic desperation. A no-brainer.
See our last post on Nigeria.