DPR and fire on the roof tops: When petrol stations cause death in neighbourhoods

In this report, TADE MAKINDE and SAM NWAOKO report on why petrol stations are now increasingly being located in residential areas, and how the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and unscrupulous Nigerians circumvent the rules and regulations involved in locating the stations.

IN Ado Ekiti, just like most of the major towns and cities  in the country, petrol stations dot the landscape. Some of the stations are found in awkward locations. A popular petrol station in the Adebayo area is tucked between a church and residential homes in the Ekiti State capital. It shares fences with two churches and only an entrance to one of the churches separates it from a large compound with residential buildings. In Isato, another area of Ado Ekiti, a petrol station is presently doing business at a location where it is squeezed into a residential area, a few metres from a primary school. The Isato case is looking hopeless as yet another petrol station is being constructed there. The station adjoins a primary school thereby restricting the school’s compound, as well as the already beleaguered neighbourhood.

Soon after Governor Ayodele Fayose assumed office in October 2014, one of the battles he fought was against the siting of petrol stations, especially in the state capital. Weeks after assuming office, Governor Fayose promised to close down filling stations located in residential areas in the state. This drew mixed reactions from various stakeholders. While the residents of the affected areas expressed joy, the station owners kicked, saying that they got the required licenses to operate in such areas.

The state government, in a statement by the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr Idowu Adelusi, explained that anyone who had issues with the decision should visit the state Ministry of Environment with relevant documents to lodge their complaints.

“Some fillingstations were sited in public institutions or residential areas and everybody knows the danger it can cause if there is a fire outbreak, which happened in some towns where lives were lost and properties destroyed,” he had said in the statement.

On January 8, 2017, fire broke out at a station located in the state capital, with sources claiming that it commenced with a spark from a tanker that was discharging diesel in the station. The fire burnt everything in its wake. Apart from the agony inflicted on business owners and landlords through millions of Naira in lost properties, reports from communities such as Mugbagba, Odo Ado, Oke Ureje and the Poly Road stretch in the town, said that they lost electric poles and wires in the fire, which has caused outage in the mentioned areas.

However, the devastating fire incident in Ado Ekiti has got many querying the activities of DPR in regulating the citing of filling stations anywhere in the country.

 

Corruption

Away from Ekiti State, in one of the cities in the North-Central zone, anxiety has mounted between members of two of the biggest churches in the area. Their fear is clear: in between the two churches is a filling station that was controversially approved by a former DPR boss in the state. Now that a new boss has arrived, and discovered that more than 70 per cent of the approvals were not in accordance with DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) regulations, pressure has been mounting on the new boss to revoke the licences of all the affected stations.

Before the transfer to Lagos State of the former DPR boss for his ‘successes’ in the zone, he was said to have been inundated with queries from concerned church members, especially asking if he would have approved the citing of a station between two mosques in the state. Sunday Tribune investigation revealed that the man did not bother to resolve the matter and is now comfortablly sitting in his vast office in Lagos at the DPR management level, leaving the present manager to bear the burden.

In another South-West capital city, a controversial filling station that passed the first approval stage has been denied approval at the second stage. “The owner later came with a waiver letter from the governor, which the DPR boss in that area refused to consider, only for him (the DPR boss) to be transfered to the Eastern part of the country for doing what was expected of him. The station has been approved, contrary to set guidelines of the pertoleum department,” the source at the DPR, Victoria Island office, said.

 

Guidelines

For once, Nigerians have been complaining about the siting of such stations in residential areas and nothing has been done to stem the ugly trend. Yet, many know the dangers of setting up such in areas where people live, taking the Ekiti outbreak which destroyed properties worth millions with many suffering varying degrees of injury as an example. According to Sunday Tribune source, there are guidelines to be adhered to before approval could be given to applicants to site petrol stations anywhere in the country is explicit. From the dpr.gov.ng of the organisation, the guidelines, in compliance with Petroleum (Amendment decree no. 37 of 1977 safety rules and regulations), are:

 

Suitability inspection

The intending marketer must submit an application to DPR for site suitability inspection. The inspection shall report on the following basic requirements:- size of the proposed land site; The site does not lie within pipeline or PHCN high tension cable Right Of Way (ROW); the distance from the edge of the road to the nearest pump will not be less than 15 meters; total number of petrol stations within 2km stretch of the site on both sides of the road will not be more than four including the one under consideration; The distance between an existing station and the proposed one will not be less than 400 meters; In some instances, where site is along Federal Highway, a letter of consent from the Federal Highway is required; DPR guided/supervised EIA study of the site by DPR accredited consultant..

 

Approval to construct

If suitability report on the above preliminary issues is favourable, the underlisted documents shall be required for submission to DPR office for review without any obligation on DPR to grant ATC if any negative change to the suitability situation of the site occurs before the grant.

 

Documents required

Application letter to the Operations Controller of the DPR  Zonal/Field office nearest to where the location of the proposed station site; Certificate of Incorporation; two photocopies of Memorandum and Article of Association; two photocopies of current tax clearance; original and photocopy of Police report; original and photocopy of Fire report and Certificate; of Approved building plan; of letter from Land & Survey; two photocopies of Deed of conveyance; Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) etc.

 

Politics

On October 22, 2014, the Ekiti State government joined issues with a former speaker of the state House of Assembly, Dr Adewale Omirin, following the sealing off of filling station sited on a location in the Ajilosun area of the state capital. Omirin said he had done all that were required by law to site and open the station at the location. For him, the sealing was uncalled for. The matter fizzled out with the conclusion of the tenure of the Omirin-led Assembly in June 2015.

Following the Ado Ekiti incident, Governor Fayose renewed his threat to shut filling stations located in residential areas in the state capital. He announced that all the station owners in the state should visit the relevant government agency to decertify their stations or risk their premises being shut within seven days. But as expected, politics was read into the governor’s action.

“Politics is what is killing DPR,” a source who spoke with Sunday Tribune said., dding that, most Nigerians circumvent the rules and flaunt their connections. He said: “Many would have begun constructing filling stations without informing DPR. When they now need to come, they bring pictures and say they are political or corporate office holders. By the time we disapprove of their applications, they start begging that it is a loan from a bank ; that they indebted to one bank or the other. Before we know what is happening, a phone call from a commissioner, minister, or a governor is harassing us to turn a blind eye. Somebody should look well into the activities of DPR, not just NNPC. This is because many officials of DPR, despite the fat salaries they earn, still engage in shady deals,” he said.

Speaking further, the source said he had seen serious DPR bosses, who wanted to serve the nation, but were saddled with corrupt staff, just as corrupt bosses who would not allow clean staff members, to work with him.

“I know a guy who was transferred out of Lagos, because he wouldn’t play the corrupt ball game. He should have been promoted by now, but they have refused to promote him. That is how bad things are at DPR,” he further told Sunday Tribune.

Apart from corruption, DPR and other agencies also fail to perform other oversight in ensuring that petrol stations are duly insured. In the case of the Ekiti petrol station, the government indeed, the Ekiti confirmed that there was no insurance cover for the affected station.

A statement by the Mr Adelusi, said: “The owner of the filling station gutted by fire (on Sunday) would be sued for criminal negligence, because it was discovered that he only insured his pumps, not the whole premises leading to a situation whereby innocent victims of the incident could not benefit from any insurance cover.”

The state government has, however, inaugurated a committee to oversee recertification of petrol station in the state, with the mandate to verify the locations of various stations and to report to the government within seven days.

A member of the committee looking into the recertification of the stations, Dr. Samuel Omotoso, said the body was basically “to find out the remote and immediate causes of the fire incident at the filling station, Ijigbo, and to look at why did we get to this point and also the how to avoid such in the future.”

He added that the committee was also mandated to look at the laws regulating the establishment of stations “vis a vis the criteria from the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning, if the petrol station is in a commercial area and if it is in a residential area, because naturally, they are not supposed to be in a residential area.”

The Ekiti State government initiative though an isolated case, if well carried out could end incidence of petrol station fire in neighbourhood and prevent loss of lives.

According to him,  they would also look at fire compliance and they had the certificate to establish filling stations as given by the Fire Service and if they they had the relevant fire extinguishers. He said it was also part of their duty to verify if the attendants working at the filling stations are capable of using fire extinguishers “because we learnt from a witness that at the Ijigbo fire incident, the fire extinguisher was thrown at the fire rather than the appropriate thing being done. One of the attendants, we were told threw the extinguisher into the fire with the belief that that’s how it will work.”

Among other things, Omotoso also said the committee will verify if people at the stations are psychologically prepared for incidents such as this “because the belief is that once fire breaks at the petrol station it will quickly spread and just explode. It is not like that.” He said they would also look at lands and the approvals because some stations are in such small spaces as half a standard plot of land which is “30X60 which is so chocked”while “some are in front of nursery and primary schools where there are many young people. Some rather than having two pumps, they put six that makes it difficult for even cars to maneuver.”

He said: “Those that meet the minimum conditions to operate will be allowed while those that don’t will be shut down.” He explained that government might magnanimous enough to leave some to sell kerosene and diesel, which are less flammable than petrol. He said the action is purely based on public interest because “the last incident affected so many shops, including a printing press and many other businesses.” He also said that “we realised that that petrol station does not have insurance, they only insured their vehicle and not the station. The owner of the burnt station told the Governor when he asked, that the place has no insurance and you can imagine someone running a petrol filling station beside your house without insurance. That is alarming.”

He said the committee had started work on Thursday and explained that the members found out that most of the stations were not prepared and “we give them till Monday (tomorrow) to go and put things in order because after coming for re-certification, the committee will go and inspect what they have on site. The committee will also ensure that all the staff are retrained. Irrespective of whatever training they’ve had before: they would be retrained by the Fire Service.”

His directive that the stations must be insured fuelled the rumour that had been in the town that the burnt station and its tanker were not insured. “We gathered that it was only the product in the tanker that was insured. The insurance of the station has expired, the tanker was not insured and, with this development we do not know the fate that awaits those affected in fire incident,” a source told Sunday Tribune.