Six months after the explosion at Abule Ado, a Lagos suburb, fresh evidence has emerged faulting official claim over cause of the explosion. The explosion, which occurred on March 15, 2020 at the Soba community in Abule Ado, killed 23 persons and left many properties damaged. The site of Bethlehem Girls College, one of the major properties hit by the explosion, remains in rubles. The school lost its administrator, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha to the inferno. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC then claimed that a truck hit a gas processing plant in the area causing the explosion that claimed lives and properties.
But the BBC in a story on Monday exposed that the explosion was the outcome of a leak from the ageing pipelines carrying petroleum products by the NNPC through the neighbourhood.
The BBC Africa Eye in its investigative report says the claim by the NNPC that the explosion was caused by collision of a truck with a gas plant is false. First, it confirmed that there was no gas plant in the area and that, with the exception of one, all the 14 gas cylinders scattered around the place were virtually undamaged. It added that the cylinders were found about 80 metres away from the epicentre and within 10 metres of one another. Thus, had they been at the source of the explosion the damage might have made them almost unrecognissable. Besides, BBC Africa Eye reports the experts as saying that the ‘profile, intensity, and volume of vapourised products seen in the video rules out gas cylinders.’
Therefore, BBC Africa Eye, instead of the claim by NNPC, insists that the explosion could have been from ageing pipeline. Working on a video recorded shortly before the explosion
and the accounts of eyewitnesses, the BBC concludes that the rain of a few hours before the incident may have softened the ground atop the pipeline. This, it believed, would have exposed the pipelines to pressure from the weight of the “heavily loaded truck”, which was parked on an “eroded, unsurfaced road” already softened by rainwater. According to BBC, “This could have pressured the pipeline to breaking point, releasing a cloud of vapourised flammable petroleum product that ignited (the explosion).” So, using visual evidence taken from the site it was able to determine that the road’s surface had been eroded prior to the explosion. Now, it did not just rely on its findings at the site of the explosion, the BBC Africa Eye sought the opinions of relevant experts.
It says that the verdict of three engineers who specialized in LPG gas safety, petroleum pipeline safety and explosion analysis is that the “huge leak of vapourised liquid could not have come from gas cylinders.”
Dr. Ambisis Ambituuni, petroleum pipeline safety expert told the BBC that “(the pipeline has) been in existence for way over the lifespan of the pipeline.” He then wondered why the relevant authorities had found it “difficult” to maintain the pipelines. It is not certain if the NNPC is planning to maintain the pipelines in order to prevent a re-occurrence. But what is certain is that the corporation has not admitted responsibility for the explosion and the calamities that followed. This is because the BBC quoted the corporation of insisting that “NNPC pipelines comply with safety and regulatory guidelines.” What this implies is that it would not accept blame for the explosion. That stance was accepted by the populace, at least until the revelation by the BBC. With the development, there is a call for further probe into the incident, and similar explosions in the past. Another question that is being asked is are the victims of the explosion not qualified for compensation by the authorities?
Nnaemeka Amaechina, a Legal Practitioner, told TELL, “if it is established that the inferno was due to negligence of NNPC in carrying out their operations, definitely they are liable to compensate all those that suffer losses [as a result of the explosion].” Though it has not accepted responsibility for the explosion, the corporation claimed to have “worked closely with the Lagos State Government in providing a N2bn relief fund for the victims of the explosion”. But residents of the area said the support from Lagos State government was for families of the deceased. So, Francis Duru, secretary of Soba Community Development Association, CDA said members of the community were still waiting for the NNPC to compensate them. According to him, they had made several calls to officials of NNPC but the only thing they got were promises. Duru told TELL that after the initial repairs of the pipelines staff of NNPC were yet to fulfil the promise to return for a comprehensive repair work on their facilities in the area. He said the officials have also failed to visit to meet with residents. When our reporter was at the site on Tuesday the carcasses of some of the trucks were still there, while some property owners have started repairs on their buildings. But Duru said that those whose properties were damaged were yet to get support from any government agency. Amaechina has some advice for them. He said they should start a legal process on the issue now, lest the time permitted by law expires.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, environmental rights activist and executive Director, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa is asking for a probe into the incident. He wants government to “set up an independent panel on pipelines explosion in Nigeria and use this as a case study.” Oluwafemi is right, because a full disclosure of what led to such a calamity should help in preventing similar accidents in future. He also wants Lagos State government to look at ways of protecting “the people these serial explosions.”
Started in April 2018 the BBC Africa Eye, a bi-weekly TV and Online investigations broadcast series has uncovered hidden stories across Africa. It is broadcast not only in English but also in French, Hausa and Swahili.