Recently, the nation was plunged into mourning over yet another pipeline fire tragedy that claimed about 40 lives in Ijegun, a settlement on the outskirts of Lagos on Thursday, May 15, 2008. The fuel pipeline fire, unlike others before it that were caused by pipeline vandals engaged in oil theft, occurred following the unintended rupture of a petroleum pipeline by an earth-moving equipment deployed by a road construction company that was engaged in the widening of the access road to the community. About six school children were reported to have died from injuries sustained in the inferno, which also left several people injured, and about 15 houses and 20 vehicles, razed.The Lagos State government and the authorities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which owns the pipelines, have since the incident been engaged in a war of words over responsibility for the dreadful incident. While the NNPC insists that the state authorities violated its right–of– way over pipeline areas, and only requested for a map of the underground pipelines in the area on the day of tragedy, the state government says the NNPC failed to provide the map after requests made by it over a month ago, and also accused the corporation of failure to properly secure its pipelines.The latest pipeline fire disaster is a sad reflection of the scant regard for human life and safety in Nigeria. It has brought to the fore, reminiscences of the tragic pipeline fires in Jesse, Delta State, which claimed over 1000 lives in 1998; the Abule Egba, Lagos pipeline fire which claimed about 500 lives and the Ilado pipeline inferno, which engulfed 100 souls, all as a result of the vandalization of pipelines.What the latest fire incident points to is the failure of the NNPC to secure its pipelines in a way that will make them inaccessible to those who could tamper with them, either knowingly or unknowingly. It is worrisome, however, to note that the Lagos State government does not have an underground map of the 125 kilometres of pipelines that are reported to be buried under the ground in the state.
In the latest incident, NNPC warning signs on the presence of underground pipelines in the area are reported to have been obscured by all manner of houses and items in the area, as is the case in many other areas of Lagos harbouring the pipes and warning signs, contrary to the rights of NNPC to all land bordering them.The latest pipeline rupture and fire could therefore be described as a disaster waiting to happen, and could be repeated in other parts of Lagos harbouring the pipes like Abule Egba, Ijedodo, Mosimi, Ilado and Takwa Bay, if the NNPC does not immediately move to secure them.It is gratifying to note that the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Abubakar Yar’Adua, has agreed that the depth of the oil pipelines is shallow and has promised that modalities for laying the pipes are to be reviewed to ensure that they are encased and deeply embedded in the soil. He also promised a map of the route of the pipelines in the state.We regret the sad and avoidable loss of lives in the Ijegun incident. The loss of so many lives in the attempt by the government to ease the transportation problems of the people on this very important access road is unfortunate, and calls for appropriate measures to avert a recurrence. The uncontrolled encroachment on NNPC’s right–of–way in places harbouring these pipelines should be immediately addressed while frequent excavation of roads in all parts of Lagos, for all manner of reasons, which has become the norm, should be taken more seriously and strictly controlled by appropriate government agenciesWe commend the state government and the emergency services for the prompt response to the calamity, the care for the injured and the promise to compensate for losses. Our advice is that action on the compensation should be expedited.We also commiserate with the government and people of Lagos state on this heart-rending incident. The NNPC should begin to see the protection of its pipelines as a national security issue. The pipes should be adequately protected against all forms of vandalism, erosion and stress, whether advertent or inadvertent.