In this report, CHIKA IZUORA captures the fear of Baruwa community in Lagos, a place becoming synonymous with frequent fire arising from pipeline and gas explosions in the country.
Within a fortnight, both local and international media were filled with gory stories of how about eight people were burnt to death following an explosion at a gas station in Baruwa, a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub. Many others were injured and rescued by responders in Baruwa, a densely populated area in the Ipaja axis of Lagos.
The head of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, in a brief statement, said, the devastation was massive but rescue operations made frantic efforts to stop escalation of the fire.
The explosion was heard at 6:00 am local time when most residents in the area were preparing to go out for the day's work. Many buildings were seen burning down as rescuers worked to save lives and properties.
Oke-Osanyintolu said 25 houses, mostly bungalows, 16 shops, and one primary school were affected by the explosion, as the rescue operation in the area is still ongoing. The exact cause of the explosion could not be ascertained immediately, LASEMA said in an earlier statement.
However, an investigation has been launched into the incident. The gas station, owned by a private operator, was known for trading cooking gas. Baruwa is known to be hosting high pressure petroleum products pipelines.
The pipelines have been severally breached causing fire and leakages and reportedly contaminated underground water in the community.
Vandalisation of petroleum pipelines is a major cause of pipeline fire disasters. However, except the number of deaths recorded, little information of the effects of such disasters on the environment is often reported and post-disaster remediation process is thus usually unmonitored or ineffective.
Over the years, crude oil spillage through pipeline vandalism is considered one of the major problems in Baruwa. Rising cases of pipeline vandalism by unknown persons have significantly affected sources of revenues of government and oil companies operating in Nigeria. This has resulted in significant negative socioeconomic and environmental problems in the community with serious effects on human lives and farm lands.
Although factors such as institutional weakness, lack of effective implementation of environmental laws were hypothesized as the causes of vandalism in Nigeria, and they are considered neither exhaustive nor confirmed as no available empirical evidences can be found confirming the asserted causes of vandalism.
However, a number of empirical researches claimed that institutional weakness, injustices, marginalisation and corruption, force people to fight for justice in a negative way.
In June this year, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), blamed pipeline vandalism, crude oil and petroleum products theft for the not-too-impressive performance of some of its subsidiaries and division as recorded in its recently-released audited financial statements.
In a note to the audited financial statements obtained from the NNPC, the corporation, however, noted that the significant increase in crude oil price in 2018, impacted positively on the financial performance of majority of its subsidiaries.
The release of the 2018 Audited Financial Statements (AFS) of its 19 Strategic Business Units (SBUs) and a Corporate Services Unit (CSU), made it the first time in its history that the NNPC is making public its audited financial statement.
However, the NNPC said: "The continuous vandalism of NNPC pipelines resulted in an increased cost of pipelines maintenance alongside loss of crude oil and petroleum products."
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that vandalism of NNPC pipelines across the country, rose by a phenomenal spike of 50 per cent in January 2020.
This information is part of the monthly financial and operations report, which was released in April this year.
According to the general manager, group public affairs division for NNPC, Dr Kennie Obateru, 60 pipeline points were vandalized compared to 40 incidents recorded in December 2019. Atlas Cove-Mosimi and Mosimi-Ibadan axis pipelines accounted for 50 per cent and 17 per cent of the breaks respectively, with the remaining 33 per cent being accounted for by all other routes.
The NNPC is already collaborating with the local communities and other stakeholders to curtail this menace.
The group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, also decries the activities of pipeline vandals whose nefarious act torched parts of the corporation's pipeline network, especially, in Abule Egba area of Lagos State which has claimed lives and properties of innocent Nigerians.
The NNPC GMD also regrets the recent incident in Lagos, saying it was perpetrated in an open arena, even as he urged Nigerians to always report miscreants who indulge in such nefarious activities to the security agencies.
He said NNPC was collaborating with all security agencies in the country to curb the occurrences of pipeline vandalism across the country.
He stated that, as part of measures to mitigate the incidences of pipeline vandalism, NNPC planned to deplore Horizontal Directional Drilling Technology (HDDT) as a check on the unwholesome incidences,
Kyari, disclosed that HDD technology would make it difficult for the vandals to easily vandalize the pipelines.
"We are having a syndicated approach to the pipeline challenge. First, there is the security aspect of it, over which we are getting the optimum support and cooperation of the entire security network spearheaded by the Chief of Defence Staff. This is working already. Another is at the level of the National Assembly which has stepped into this, with an Ad hoc Committee working on how to assist us to stem the menace of pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft," he stressed.
Mallam Kyari explained that the minister of state for petroleum resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, was equally engaging stakeholders to bring everybody on the table to arrest the situation.
He added that, even President Muhammadu Buhari, had taken the matter up as he considered it as of national urgency in order to guarantee energy security in the country.
He said curtailing the spate of vandalism would also ensure that resources do not end up in the hands of wrong people to prevent collateral damage that might be apparent in the phenomenon.
He stated that whenever incidences of crude oil or petroleum products spill happened in communities due to activities of vandals or age of the pipelines, the corporation as a routine, restored such lines, cleaned the environment and contained the likely effects of the leaks.
The NNPC GMD informed that there was massive stealing of the country's crude and petroleum products as a result of a ready market for the illicit business, adding that collaboration with the security agencies could put a stop it.
Kyari explained that the illegal activities of pipeline vandals have rendered most of NNPC depots inactive, necessitating long distance transportation of products, with its attendant heavy impacts on road infrastructure across the country.
He averred that if NNPC depots were allowed to function as designed, the regular congestion of tankers at Apapa, Lagos, would be prevented, hinting that NNPC would not despair, but would continue to synergize with all relevant agencies and stakeholders across the country to find a lasting solution to the pipeline vandalism menace ravaging the nation's downstream infrastructure.
Flash Flood And Current Pipeline Explosion
The community is presently exposed to possible pipeline breach by thieves as a result of incessant rainfall, which has brought the buried pipes on the surface.
Our correspondent who visited the community reports that most of the pipes are now exposed. Baruwa, a sprawling Lagos community already battling with underground water contamination that has constrained residents efforts in managing COVID-19 spread without potable water, is now living in fear.
With over 300 boreholes and wells contaminated with various petroleum products, there is no doubt that there is fire in the mountain for Baruwa community. In Baruwa, serial fire outbreaks have further complicated environmental challenges in that community hosting high pressure petroleum products conveyor infrastructure.
The community has expressed serious worry about new wave of vandalism of oil assets following alleged impotence of the contractor engaged by government to secure about 151 kilometers of pipelines stretching from Atlas Cove bypassing Baruwa to Mosimi in Ogun state.
LEADERSHIP Sunday has in the past reported a serial fire outbursts on major petroleum products artery operated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in Lagos.
Oil theft along that corridor has remained unabated raising fundamental questions about alleged conspiracy between private security outfits engaged by government and the vandals in the impermissible business.
In a letter dated 6th October, 2020, and signed by the Baale of the community, Alhaji Halid Baruwa, Pa J.O Oyewole, chairman Baruwa Water Pollution Committee and Prof. J.A Ogungbangbe, and addressed to the Senator representing the area, Senator Solomon Adeola Olamilekan, complained about devastating effects of petroleum products leakage on plants and other micros because of the change in the balance of ecology in the environment.
The letter complained that Places Of Worship, factories, schools, hotels and every social and economic activities are not spared.
On incessant pipeline attack in the area, Baale of Baruwa, Alhaji Baruwa, said: "We held a crucial meeting with other stakeholders after I reported several infringements on the pipeline.
Between May last year and now, I can count about five cases of third party infringement on the pipeline which I promptly reported to the authorities. About two weeks ago, a truck used by the vandals got stuck on the muddy terrain and I informed the commandant of the Lagos State NSCDC, and he arrived the scene and we took photographs and they took the truck away."
Continuing, he said, the PPMC representatives introduced the new security firm to the community and requested that we nominate ten young men to serve as security support personnel on a monthly pay of N35,000.
"I decided to nominate members of the O'odua Peoples Congress, and during the meeting of June 15, they reduced the number to eight, and when we got to the pipeline area, we encountered a set of security men who advised that we should reschedule the resumption date of the new security operatives, and we left only to notice ball of smoke billowing from the pipeline on Monday June 17," he stressed.
He said the PPMC and NSCDC were notified and the Lagos State fire service was mobilized to put off the fire. According to him, the fire was finally quenched on Tuesday June 18, following the intervention of the state fire service.
However, again, the community was alerted of fresh fire emanating from the pipeline.
Chief Baruwa, told our Correspondent who visited the scene, that security situation in the area is now tense as the vandals are becoming more daring, because of plans initiated by the community to strengthen surveillance around the pipelines.
When contacted, spokesman of the NNPC, Kenny Obateru, could not immediately respond on measures to address the exposed pipelines in the community.
However, stakeholders are of the opinion that poor management, legal factors, poor governance, and environmental degradation, are the major factors that cause and influence crude oil pipeline vandalism.