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Lagos gas explosions: Operators’ negligence, sloppy regulation instigating avoidable deaths

By Gbenga Salau
04 July 2021   |   3:10 am
When the President of the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Niyi Odetoye, left home on June 17, 2021, no one had the premonition he was bidding his wife and children farewell.

[files] A fireman sprays water after a gas tanker caught fire, triggering explosions.<br />Ruth McDowall / AFP

When the President of the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Niyi Odetoye, left home on June 17, 2021, no one had the premonition he was bidding his wife and children farewell. He never returned home alive.

In keeping with the promise of returning home with some goodies for his family, he stopped at a mall in Maryland, after the close of work on that faithful day. But minutes after picking some goodies for his family, Odetoye, a 1993 graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, got caught up in the gas explosion on Mobalaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja. He was unlucky as he got consumed in the accident like eight others that died in the explosion.

Odetoye is one of the about 24 residents who have died from gas explosions in the last 12 months in Lagos. After each incident, the government would issue a statement about the incident being a product of negligence, yet nobody has been brought to book for such failures in the last year.

So, it was not surprising when two days after the gas explosion on Mobalaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja, which claimed nine lives and destroyed 24 vehicles, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), in its tradition, issued a preliminary report on the incident, instructing trucks conveying gases to be roadworthy certified before embarking on any journey.

LASEMA also said all commercial buildings should develop an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) and Fire Preventive Plan (FPP) in the event of an emergency.

Commenting on the accident, the Director-General, Lagos State Safety Commission, Lanre Majola, said the investigation was already ongoing on the actual cause of the explosion.

Majola said: “At the end of the day, we will publish our report, and if we find out that anyone is liable, we will prosecute the person. We believe that bad practices cannot just continue in this country.”

In the last year, there have not been fewer than six cases of gas explosion in Lagos State. In April 2021, a gas explosion occurred at a gas dispensing shop in Agboju area of Oriade Local Council Development Area. Some residents suffered minor injuries while trying to put out the fire. In October 2020, around Baruwa area of Ipaja, there was a gas explosion that claimed eight lives, got many injured and destroyed 89 shops and 44 buildings, among others.

Before the Baruwa accident, there was a gas explosion in Ajuwon, Iju-Ishaga area of Ifako-Ijaye Local Council where about 30 persons got injured. There was also a case at Orile-Iganmu in August 2020 where two people died and five got injured and another incident in Ajao Estate, Isolo Local Council Development Area in July 2020 where five deaths were recorded.

After each incident, there is usually a statement on how the government would ensure sanity in the sector. But that is as far as it gets. Nothing concrete is done. One of such statements was the one issued after the Baruwa incident, where Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, expressed shock at the explosion, stating that the cause suggested negligence on the part of the gas plant operators. He promised the government would take stiffer measures against operators of gas plants and any combustible items to avoid future recurrence.

According to LASEMA preliminary report, the latest incident clearly shows negligence on the part of the truck company. In the report, it said: “On arrival at the scene of the incident, it was discovered that a gas tanker 13.5 Tons LPG truck in motion was leaking its content and as a result of wind action, the whole area of OPIC structure was engulfed with fire.

“Close investigation further revealed that the LPG gas was ignited by the exposed fire from the kitchen of the New Chinese restaurant, which followed the trail of the LPG gas, resulting in the combustion of the gas tanker outside the compound. The inferno of explosion resulted in several damages to the OPIC Plaza building structure.”

Despite the Lagos State governor identifying negligence in the Baruwa gas explosion where eight people died, the government has not prosecuted anyone for dereliction of duties to date, whether on the side of the regulator or the operators.

It is the reason some residents have argued that the gas explosion on Bank Anthony Way would not draw any punishment to those whose negligence led to the disaster, where properties were damaged and lives lost.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Lead HSE consultant, Tadafort Consulting, Gbenga Fisher, speaking on what could be done to curb the trend of gas explosions in Lagos, said the first step is for all stakeholders to understand what gas is and how dangerous it is, especially as it is underclass two in the list of the nine classes of dangerous goods in Nigeria.

“Lagos State government through Lagos State Safety Commission needs to create more awareness on all media platforms on the safe gas bottle/cylinder handling. At home, education and awareness must be provided to the people on storage, handling, inspection and location. Gas bottles must always be placed outside the house in the event of leakage which could lead to an explosion.”

He suggested regular check of the cylinder for leakages with soapy water poured on edges, bottle heads and suspected areas to detect leakages, just as gas bottles should be capped when not in use and must be placed vertically away from sources of ignition.

Fisher stated that though the state government through the safety commission recently started an audit of gas dispensing facilities and roadside retail outlets, it should ensure that when major non-compliances are found, such stations should be shut until the required safety measures are upheld.

According to him, some of the safety measures that operators of gas stations ought to put in place are installation and effective water suppression system for gas skids, strong barriers by tank farm, pressure relief valve on pope work, emergency response management, leak detection band control system, adequate and appropriate fire extinguishers, and emergency shutoff valve.

For retailers on the streets, he said the safety commission should conduct regular safety audit and inspections of the outlets, and shut them down if they do not meet the legal safety standard

At the gas station, he said personnel offloading must be competent, meaning they must have the knowledge, ability, must have undergone training, and have sufficient experience.

Also commenting, Principal Consultant, Monotech HSE Services, Akpobaro Onome Moses said there is a need to deliberately return to the transporting of gas by pipelines, as using vehicles to move gas from one point to another is not ideal.

He also suggested raising the standard of safety education among practitioners, operators and the residents. “Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has accredited some training centres to train staff of gas operators before the companies are issued a certificate to operate. But surprisingly the DPR is not making the guidelines popular and enforcing that vendors’ staff get trained before they are issued certificates to operate. Many of them are going through the back door to get permits to operate without ensuring that safety measures are put in place, the staff are trained on safety and safety officers are constantly on duty.

“Many of the employed are not key professionals, the facilities ought to have two safety officers on duty to give instructions and monitor. Gas are linked to homes in developed climes, just like we have electricity linked to homes. Nobody carries cylinders around for refilling. However, if we cannot fully meet up transporting gas through pipelines, we should improve safety standards to prevent explosions, through policy, advocacy and enforcement,” Moses said.

But is the state government failing in its duties? The Director-General, Lagos State Safety Commission, Mr. Lanre Mojola, said oil and gas are on the exclusive list, so the regulations lie with the DPR and other related Federal Government agencies.

“Having said that, as a responsible government, we cannot fold hands and watch lives of citizens being taken due to negligence by some operators. A week before this latest incident, we called all the operators and discussed extensive training for them. We also discussed regulations of gas cylinder handling. But beyond that, one of the challenges we have identified is the fact that some of the operators do modify their trucks. When you look at the latest incident, it is very obvious that it was a modified truck.

“So, we are looking at a situation where we can establish a certification process to monitor these LGP tanks and trucks. At the point of loading, DPR has a ‘safe to load’ initiative, which requires that these trucks are certified to load before they leave the depot. But when they leave these depots, a lot of them engage in all kinds of illegality, trying to cut corners. That is where we want to come in to ensure that we have a task force to monitor and step up safety.”

Mojola said the agency, on behalf of the state government, has carried out the audit, and since December 2020, has inspected over 650 gas and skid plants locations across the state and decommissioned 25 stations operating below standard. He added that the agency has commenced training for operators in the downstream sector and identified over 1000 locations where dispensing is ongoing, with its report forwarded to the relevant authorities for enforcement. “These are some of the things we have done but we need collective effort to ensure that this kind of disaster does not occur again.”

When the Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Oluwafemi Damilola Oke-Osanyitolu, was asked if the state is unperturbed by the explosions, given that operators involved in past incidents have not been penalised even when an investigation revealed the explosion was due to negligence, he declared that concluding no one has been punished is erroneous.

“The judicial process is a long and tedious one and the result does not come quick. Like the explosion that occurred in the Iju-Ajuwon area is not within the Lagos State jurisdiction. However, we are collaborating with our Ogun State counterpart on how to unravel and sort out the case. If you look at the one that occurred recently, the investigation is ongoing. We have discovered a lot of unprofessional adjustments to the vehicle. It is clear recklessness, carelessness and insensitive on the part of the owner of that vehicle and the driver,” he said.