TEN days after the oil pipeline explosion that shattered the Abule Ado community in Lagos, the country is still nonplussed. While victims who suffered severe burns are groaning in pains, relations of the more than 20 persons killed during the incident are ruing their misfortunes. Since the tragedy on March 15, more gory details have emerged regarding the severity of the losses. Apart from the many victims with varying degrees of injuries and burns battling to survive in hospitals, many others are at a loss regarding how to rescue their lives from economic ruination. The gallant principal of Bethlehem Girls High School, Henrietta Alokha, who was caught in the explosion, eventually died due to the injuries she sustained while rescuing students from one of the dormitories. She had however succeeded in shepherding all the students to safety.
Medical workers and personnel of ancillary services were overstretched during the rescue operation because of the magnitude of the disaster, and it took more than six hours to contain the inferno. Charred bodies reportedly littered the scene days after the explosion which ripped off rooftops, with people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Houses, vehicles, and other personal effects, not to mention the businesses of persons living in, or plying their trade in the community, were consumed in the explosion. Parents and guardians of the students of three schools within the vicinity seriously affected by the explosion are asphyxiated by the horrendous incident. The material losses estimated at more than N2 billion include 170 burnt-down buildings. Over 276 persons have been displaced while a number of persons have been reported missing.
In fact, the humanitarian crisis occasioned by the disaster necessitated the Lagos State government’s initiation of a N2 billion special relief fund to alleviate the suffering of the people and complement rescue operations by agencies responsible for disaster management in the country. The government released the sum of N250 million, in the first instance, to quickly ameliorate the situation. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has also come to the aid of the victims by donating N200 million, while the Federal Government has, on its part, promised all necessary assistance. The Minister of Humanitarian Services, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Sadiya Farouk, described the incident as devastating beyond description.
Sadly, the circumstances surrounding the explosion and consequent inferno are mired in controversy. Authorities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) claimed that the incident was as a result of a loaded fuel tanker hitting an oil pipeline, and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) quickly dispelled the notion that it resulted from a bomb blast. But some residents of the area attributed the explosion to a faulty pipeline, just as a few prominent persons insinuated that it was the product of sabotage by unscrupulous elements. The authorities must not foreclose any of these hypotheses in ascertaining the remote and immediate causes of the calamity. All the major stakeholders, including the NNPC, security agencies, local council authority, community leaders and stakeholders in the oil sector should be involved in the investigation in order to arrest the trend of disasters. Only in January, a similar disaster occurred in Abule Egba, also in Lagos, with no evidence of punitive actions by the authorities so far.
Indeed, the management of the NNPC must review its policies on surveillance, as well as the condition of its pipelines across the country. It should deploy modern technology for easy detection of faults on the pipelines and take proactive measures to prevent such calamities in the future. Again, since increased urbanization has led to encroachment on lands around the routes of the pipelines, the extant laws in respect of such sites should be enforced in the interest of the country at large. Where such laws are found to have been compromised and undermined, the authorities should not hesitate to apply appropriate sanctions regardless of who is involved. Officials of government departments and agencies with the responsibility to ensure compliance with town planning rules and regulations found culpable of complicity in the current tragedy should be fished out and prosecuted as appropriate.
We sympathise with the relations of those who lost their lives during the explosion and pray that the Almighty God grants them the strength with which to survive this ordeal. We also stand by those who suffered burns, those who were displaced, and those who lost invaluable properties to the inferno and urge that they be speedily provided with medical and financial reliefs. We salute the gallantry of the personnel of the various agencies that participated in the rescue operation. In particular, the courage displayed by Henrietta Alokha, for which she paid the ultimate price, should never be forgotten.