FIRE disasters associated with the impairment of petroleum product facilities have more or less become a recurring decimal in Ijegun community, Lagos State. While some were accidental, a lot more were self-inflicted and patently avoidable. The incident that happened in the same area few days ago reportedly culminated in the loss of lives. Twenty-one persons sustained varying degrees of injury, about 30 vehicles were destroyed and scores of lock-up shops were ravaged in the conflagration. The fire, which started in the wee hours of the day and raged till 3p.m., reportedly followed the trail of spilled Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in drainage channels, wreaking havoc in about seven streets in the neighbourhood.
Sadly, the catastrophe was clearly avoidable because if the vandals had not tampered with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) product pipelines, the inferno and the accompanying damage to life and property would not have happened. It is rather unfortunate that this is always happening in Ijegun and many are asking what exactly the problem is. Is there collusion between the security operatives officially assigned to secure the pipelines and the vandals? Why is it that the criminals are seldom apprehended before they compromise the facility when it actually takes long hours to impair the pipelines in order to steal PMS? And why is it that no one seems to have learnt any lessons from fatal and disastrous precedents?
The usual narrative is that some dyed-in-the-wool criminals break the pipelines, steal products with tankers and leave the facilities in a state of disrepair after having their fill. They abandon the facilities, leaving the valves opened while escaping from security agents. Oftentimes, disaster occurs when innocent but obviously undisciplined persons go to scoop petroleum products from the compromised pipelines. The same scenario is usually replicated whenever a petroleum tanker is involved in an accident spilling its contents: it is common to see ordinary Nigerians scooping inflammable products from the scenes of such accidents, even though they have seen or heard about the tragedy that struck elsewhere in similar situations. Such is the precipitate steps that many Nigerians take to tide over the hardship and misery in the land and, in the process, they completely throw caution to the wind and put their lives at needless risk.
Yes, government may have fallen short in the delivery of good governance that is capable of alleviating the suffering of the people, but that cannot be sufficient justification for engaging in criminal actions that approximate suicide. And in the real sense of it, pipeline vandals could hardly be described as poor because the fairly huge cost of the technology and equipment they deploy in breaking pipelines and evacuating their loot are such that the poor cannot afford. It is the secondary thieves who steal the leftovers of the vandals that fit the description of the underprivileged. And even at that, no reasonable person, no matter how deprived, should gravely endanger his or her life in the course of trying to eke out an existence. After all, only the living can enjoy any improvement in their economic situation. Also, because of the inflammable nature of the products the vandals spill into the environment while engaging in larceny, innocent people who did not in any way partake in the heinous activities but are in proximate area of the scene of the crime often lose their lives and property to fire. This is most unfortunate and intolerable.
Beyond the panic they generate in the people living in the neighbourhood, the regular fires cause environmental, economic and human losses that should not be tolerated in any civilised clime. It has, therefore, become imperative that residents of Ijegun community be safety-conscious because even though the incident under reference affected seven streets in the area, such explosions can actually wipe out the entire community. For instance, on October 18, 1998, there was a vandalism-induced fire disaster in Jesse, near Mosorga, in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. The whole community was almost wiped out as over a thousand lives were lost, many of them innocent citizens. It is rather unsettling that some who had witnessed, read or heard about this monumental tragedy and scores of others thereafter are still engaging in the nefarious activity of pipeline vandalism, while others seem to tolerate the vandals by pretending not to notice their activities. Those vandals are not spirits; they live among the people and must have insiders who give them information on when to strike and when not to.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that Ijegun community has a responsibility to protect government facilities sited within its domain. This, it should carry out by cooperating with the security agents charged with securing the facilities by availing them of useful information that can help the security to ambush and arrest criminals before they strike. We urge the security agencies to stand up to be counted by reining in vandalism-related fire incidents. The alleged inter-agency rivalry which reportedly reared its ugly head at the scene of the crime must not be allowed to vitiate the official handling of this grievous incident. This is one fire incident too many and it must be thoroughly investigated and the culprits brought to book.