Nigeria: How Indiscriminate Location of Oil Facilities, Regulatory Failure Endanger Nigerian Lives

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Refinery (file photo).
16 January 2020
analysis

The streets leading into Tipper Garage axis of Abule-egba area of Lagos are usually crowded. At an end of one of the streets, a group of shirtless kids played football on a dusty field. Behind them stood a make-shift football viewing centre, built with bamboo sticks. Adjacent the football pitch are makeshift mechanic workshops, occupied by numerous apprentices. Some metres away from the workshop stood the crowded tipper garage itself, buzzing with activities.

The clumsy nature of the neighbourhood, however, bellies the danger that lies underground. Beneath the ground in major streets in the neighbourhood are petroleum pipelines operated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). There are signposts erected by the NNPC in strategic parts of the neighbourhood warning residents of the danger of tampering with the NNPC pipelines. But, as PREMIUM TIMES found out, the inscriptions have become obscure and the warnings are barely adhered to by residents.

Similarly, PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that the various warning signs erected in strategic parts of the neighbourhood have done little to scare away daredevil pipeline vandals from the oil facilities, thus endangering the lives of residents. The indiscriminate location of oil facilities and petroleum stations are largely caused by regulatory failure and outright violation of extant laws.

According to the Department of Petroleum Resources’ (DPR) guide on filling station, the procedure and conditions for granting approval for the construction and operation of Petrol Station include guidelines that must be in compliance with the Petroleum Amendment decree no. 37 of 1977.

The guideline, tagged “DPR guidelines for approval to construct and operate petroleum products filling station”, also spells out safety rules and regulations in petrol stations.

Some of the preconditions, which the DPR categorized as “Suitability Inspection”, decree that regulators must ensure that the site of the proposed station does not lie within a pipeline or PHCN high tension cable Right Of Way (ROW); the distance from the edge of the road to the nearest pump must not be less than 15 meters; the 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 (four hundred) meters, among other safety rules.

But investigations in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Abia and Kwara States revealed that most of these rules are barely adhered to as Nigerians are exposed to dangers, and indeed death, due to indiscriminate location of oil facilities and violation of safety rules governing petrol station use.

Petrol Stations as ‘motor parks’ in Oyo, Ogun states

In the fifth section of the DPR guide on operation of petrol station, the agency places emphasis on sound Environmental Impact Assessment and adherence to other basic safety rules within the premises of the petrol station.

The rules state clearly that operators must ensure that vehicle engines are switched off before fueling; there must be sound crowd control mechanism with strategic and conspicuous display of warning signs on “NO SMOKING and NO USE OF CELLPHONE” within the station; and stations must always maintain good housekeeping. But PREMIUM TIMES investigation showed that these rules are grossly violated.

In Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that many of the petroleum stations are used as motor parks and makeshift bus-stops by commercial vehicles and tricycle operators in the city, in gross violation of rules on crowd control. Many passengers and drivers, perhaps unaware of the rules, make phone calls in the filling station, thus endangering lives.

Checks across places in strategic areas in the Oyo State capital including Apata, Apete, Odo-Ona Elewe, Molete, Oja’ba, Challenge and Oje revealed that many fuel stations are occupied by commercial transport workers. Most of them often lurk around the stations to pick passengers and sometimes drop others.

At Apata Junction, a filling station is popular among residents not because of its products but its use by commercial transport workers as a bus-stop. When this reporter visited in September, the congested space was filled with commercial vehicles scouting for passengers.

“Many residents would tell you it is a bus-stop because that’s what we know it as,” Adebayo Bukky, a resident, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Similarly, in Oje-Gate area, a Mobil petrol station was occupied by commercial tricycle riders on the three occasions this reporter visited in the same month. “Many of them (Okada riders) are not buying fuel; they just lurk around to look for passengers,” said an attendant who declined to have her name in print. “We try to chase them away for safety purpose but they are stubborn. Besides, we have to be cautious because they are also our customers and we need their patronage.”

In the crowded part of Agbeni market, PREMIUM TIMES observed that a filling station that has been a source of worry for most traders because of congestion and indiscriminate violation of safety rules has however been relocated. The plot of land which housed the station now hosts a trading complex, residents confirmed.

“We cried for years and God answered our prayer over the dangerous location of this petrol station,” Tirimisiyu Akano, a tricycle rider, told PREMIUM TIMES. Mr Akano explained that the station was relocated on safety grounds and residents expressed joy when it was relocated.

In Ilaro, Ogun State, many of the filling stations are sited at a distance less than 5m from residential areas. This makes the houses vulnerable to fire outbreak in a situation of inferno, residents say. Similarly, in Oju-Ore, along Atan Road, Otta, also in Ogun State, many of the stations had less than 5m setback from a major road.

At Tipper area of Ketu in Lagos, a Conoil filling station is popular among road users and commercial drivers as it served as a bus-stop for pedestrians. When PREMIUM TIMES monitored activities at the station in October, commuters and commercial drivers occupied the entire space at peak hours, causing vehicular congestion, in gross violation of DPR rules.

Another filling station in Ojota, Lagos, had its premises congested by numerous passers-by and commercial drivers scouting for passengers, including Ibadan-bound commercial buses.

In the same vein, according to the DPR rule, pump attendants must be trained and dressed in safety wears while in the petrol stations. This newspaper observed, however, that in major parts of Oyo and Ogun, fuel attendants were not ‘properly dressed’ in safety wears as some simply put on casual traditional dresses in gross violation of DPR rules.

Oil vandals as “harbinger of death”

In Baruwa area of Lagos, residents of Peace Estate live in perpetual fear of fire incident due to the activities of oil vandals. Residents told PREMIUM TIMES that there had been multiple explosion in the area since January as vandals often cause pipeline explosions and endanger citizens’ lives.

Apart from Baruwa, residents of Abule-egba area also live under same atmosphere of fear due to activities of pipeline vandals.

“We live here in fear because vandals operate anytime and put everyone at risk,” Ajadi, an auto-mechanic, told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview at his workshop in September.

“Last year, my friend’s entire life was almost ruined after vandals scooped fuel from here and set the neighbourhood on fire. He lost a few vehicles put under his care for repair by our clients,” Mr Ajadi said of the pipeline explosion of December 2018.

The Explosion

In the early hours of Wednesday, December 18, 2018, residents of the neighbourhood scampered for safety after a massive pipeline fire engulfed the neighbourhood.

The inferno, which took no life, destroyed no fewer than 63 vehicles, 98 shops, a church, houses and other valuables. About 11 streets, including Arowolo, Shobowale, Iyalode, Taiwo Adewole, Adepegba, Taofeek, Santo and Adewole, were affected by the inferno.

The inferno was triggered by an explosion arising from oil theft after some vandals scooped petrol from some of the pipelines in the neighbourhood. Findings showed that the oil thieves did not close the pipe after scooping fuel and the product flowed into parts of the neighbourhood.

The incident occurred about 14 years after more than 260 people were burned alive when a ruptured oil pipeline burst into flames in the same neighbourhood.

“The number of dead is confirmed at 269,” said Red Cross secretary-general, Abiodun Orebiyi, according to The Guradian (UK) report of the incident, which occurred in December 2006.

Crowds of local residents had gone to scoop petrol using plastic containers after an armed gang punctured an underground pipeline to illegally siphon off fuel.

Both incidents have raised concerns among stakeholders, with experts calling on government to beef up security in places where oil pipelines are located.

“Apart from security, there is need for government to locate dangerous facilities like this away from where people reside,” said Abayomi Johnson, a resident. Mr Abayomi added that residents often complain of the hazards such facility poses for their health and well-being.

Clustered, Unfenced Stations in Lagos, Kwara, Oyo, Abia

According to the DPR’s regulation on “Requirements for issuance of storage and sales licence”, a petrol station must have a well concreted forecourt, “IN/OUT” driveway inclusive. Similarly, a wall fence demarcating the station must be constructed, with a minimum height of 1.5m high.

But in Kwara, Oyo, Lagos and other states visited, many of the stations are unfenced with no clear drive-way sign. Others have broken, dilapidated wall fences.

In Ilorin, many of the filling stations are located in and around residential areas while others are congested and highly clustered, in gross violation of DPR rules. The petrol stations sampled are located in places like Saw-Mill, Oja-Oba, Odota, Surulere and Osere parts of the emirate city.

Daud Adebayo, a resident of Ilorin, noted that the “siting of most filling stations in Ilorin metropolis within residential areas is a big concern, not to mention how they are CLUSTERED in areas like Geri-Alimi and Saw-Mill.”

Mr Adebayo warned that the highly inflammable nature of petroleum products means residents are living day-to-day on kegs of gun powder.

“There’s a dire need for a policy to eradicate clustering of filling stations in residential areas on one hand and stipulating a minimum of 200 metres distance between residential areas and filling stations on the other hand,” he said.

In Aba, Abia State, a filling station at the congested school road area also had numerous commercial drivers lurking around the vicinity, scouting for passengers. When PREMIUM TIMES visited in the first half of October, the entire premises of the filling station had numerous vehicles owned by commercial drivers awaiting passengers. “There is nothing we can do (about the congestion); they are our customers”, said an attendant who identified herself simply as Adaobi.

A few distances away from Awori bus-stop, in Ijaiye-Ojokoro area of Lagos, there are two filling stations located directly opposite one another. In Ahmadiyyah area, also in Ijaiye axis, there are clustered filing stations sited within the same location.

PREMIUM TIMES observes that the practice is in gross contravention of the DPR guideline. According to the DPR guideline, the distance between existing between petrol stations on approved sites and the proposed one should be at least 400m apart.

The proximities between some of the petrol stations and the nearest one to them revealed that many did not adhere to the 400m distance. PREMIUM TIMES found that some of these petrol stations located at close proximity only to be separated by a narrow path.

In some parts of Ibadan, like Oje, there are also unfenced filling stations. In Apata, a filling station only had its structure separated from a residential building by a tiny, broken fence.

All efforts to speak to the DPR on the regulatory failure were unsuccessful. For more than eight weeks, Paul Osuh, the spokesperson of the agency, did not reply PREMIUM TIMES’ text message and did not pick calls placed to his known telephone number.

Timothy Dare, a Lagos-based environmentalist, said the indiscriminate location exposes resident of the area to danger and other environmental hazards. He also attributed the serial breach of extant rules to regulatory failure.

“If there are serious sanctions against these practices, many of them will sit up,” he said. “Until then, we may keep repeating the same thing over and over, thus endangering the lives of innocent Nigerians.”

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