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Abule Egba pipeline explosion: Victims yearn for government assistance

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Like many others, 53-year-old lady, Mrs. Christiana Ogundemi, and her family got their dreams well laid out as they coasted into 2020, but only three weeks into the New Year, all that went up in flames at their No. 7 Musa Eromon Street residence, Abule Egba, Lagos. She did not only return from church last Sunday to see the facility razed down by fire, caused by an explosion from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) vandalised pipeline, her business outfit, where she sells plastic chairs and also operates chair rental services, was also gutted.

Right now, having lost all personal belongings to the fire incident, and 17 dozens of plastic chairs at her shop, all she and members of her family are looking for is a place to lay their heads. The Ogundemis are among the over 150 residents displaced by the incident, which also led to the death of five persons, and the burning of 71 shops, 30 houses, as church auditorium and 39 vehicles.

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In the monthly financial and operations reports released by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Federal Government between January 2015 and June 2019, spent over N556b on oil pipeline repairs and maintenance across the country after they were vandalised a total of 8, 353 times.The pipelines were vandalized in Ogun, Kaduna, Rivers, Delta, Lagos, Gombe, and Bayelsa State, with the Nembe Creek Trunk Line in Bayelsa being the worst hit in 2019.

While the vandalism continued, over 204 million barrels of oil valued at N4.075 trillion was lost to vandalism and oil theft from 2015 to 2019, according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). While thanking God for sparing her life and that of her children, the mother of two said: “I sell plastic chairs, and I had about 17 dozens of it in the shop, where I keep the ones that are for rent. But everything was burnt down, including the house where I resided. For now, I, and my family are homeless and are calling on the Lagos State government to come to our aid and that of others affected.

Ogundemi, who has been residing at the place for three years added: “I did not know that this kind of incident would occur when I moved into the place, even though I heard of a past one after I had moved in already.”Recounting how it all happened, she said: “At 1 a.m. on Sunday, we heard the night guard calling on everyone to come out. When we came out, we noticed that petrol was flowing everywhere, but it later stopped.

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“At dawn, most residents got dressed and headed for church. And as we were returning from church, and were close to Oar Medical Centre, which is located on the same street (Musa Eromon Street) that we heard people screaming and shouting. We also perceived a mixture of smoke and petrol, and before long, it dawned on us that the pipeline had caught fire.” She said even though no life was lost on the street, there were many casualties and this was because the fire service did not come on time.”

When asked why he elected to settle in a facility considered unsafe and so close to NNPC pipeline, another victim of the fire incident, Dr. Ojifemi Olade responded thus: “Are you aware that NNPC says that the setback that is safe from the pipeline is 50 meters, and this is 300 metres from the pipeline. So we are unsafe? Have we done anything that is wrong? That question you can only ask people that their setback is not up to 50 metres because we are located in a safe distance from the pipelines. Or are we going to say that since there is a pipeline everybody should abandon the area? No. It is the irresponsibility of our government that is causing all these because I have a certification that my house is located well beyond the approved setback from the pipeline. So I don’t know how the explosion should extend to my house.

He added: “Assuming the area is unsafe, let me ask, even when the government knew the area is unsafe, why did it issue certificate of occupancy to people? The government is supposed to protect the pipelines area very well. Now that this incident that has happened, who is going to pay for the damages? Is it the state government or the Federal Government?

“The vandals that are destroying the pipelines are Nigerians, who are not responsible to us, neither are we responsible to them. Pipelines anywhere in the world are supposed to be securely protected, even if they are in the bushes. It is the job of the government to secure them and not that of the community. And we all know that pipelines are not supposed to be on the surface. So, I think this is the only area in the whole world that you see pipeline on the surface,” Olade added.

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While recalling that a similar incident had happened in the area in 2006 even though not at the same spot, he added: “We told the NNPC officials that came that these things are not supposed to be on the surface and they agreed with us. But you know that in Nigeria, unless lives are lost, and property destroyed no one takes the issue of safety seriously.”

The medical doctor, who owns Oar Medical Centre while also calling on government to come to their aid, charged security agencies that make up the task force to be alert to their responsibilities in order to spare residents of areas where pipelines criss-cross, the tragedy of losing their lives and property at regular intervals.

“The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies are usually in that location, where the pipeline has been vandalised and they could not do apprehend the vandals despite being on duty for 24 hours. It is time for them all to brace up. A member of World Overcomer Church (located at Bolatito Street, within the neighbourhood), Mr. Oladele Esan, also advised the government to monitor the activities of security agencies posted to guard oil pipelines in the community, to contain the excesses of vandals and sundry criminal elements.

A staff of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Soji, told The Guardian that displaced persons were being moved to the agency’s Igando Camp for internally displaced persons, in compliance with the directive of the state governor, Babajide Sanwo–Olu.

According to him, after the vandals had a successful operation, “they did not know that the pipe had broken at some point. That was how the fuel started leaking and flooding five streets in the neighbourhood before the explosion on Sunday. But none of the vandals were caught.”He also informed The Guardian that victims of the inferno would be housed, and taken care of for a while at government expense. “We will also take care of those who will go to work, and when they return in the evening, they would be taken back to the camp. This will happen pending when the government will answer them,” the official said.

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