Like a dammed river suddenly losing its fetters, a gale of domestic gas accidents has rocked the country, leaving in its wake avoidable fatalities. LUCAS AJANAKU writes.
She sat down under a canopy barley large enough to provide shelter for her and her protruding stomach. She gazed straight into the sky and hot tears dropped from her swollen eyes. Amarachi, a dealer in plastic chairs, buckets and other household utensils, along Apapa Oshodi Expressway, picked her phone and placed a call to Gbagada General Hospital Burns Unit where her childhood friend, Blessing (not real name), mother of three, was receiving treatment from the burns she suffered during a domestic accident in her kitchen.
“Mama Ejima, please be strong. Don’t lose hope. God will heal you. You will not die in Jesus’ name. Cling to your creator,” Amarachi was heard encouraging her.
According to her, the rumour mill had gone berserk that she too had passed on. Since visiting time for visitors at the hospital was still far, she had to call her husband and insisted she spoke with her directly.
“She is my very close friend. She entered her kitchen and lit a stick of matches only for her and her friend to be enveloped in a huge flame. There must have been a leakage in her cooking gas called Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). While her friend died before help could come, she was rushed to Gbagada General Hospital. I am so sad because the family is struggling to make ends meet. The lady has a set of twins that are less than two years old. They had a child already before the twins came,” Amarachi said.
As Nigerians were bracing for Christmas, residents of Ojekunle Street of Ladipo Market, arguably the largest in the country, were thrown into mourning, no thanks to a gas explosion that rocked a shop used by mechanics.
“Four adults, comprising three males and one female, were recovered dead,” Southwest Coordinator, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ibrahim Farinloye said, adding that a 10-year-old boy who was rescued alive died on his way to the hospital.
The fire broke out after a cylinder exploded at a gas shop in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos.
It was put out in about one hour and “we were able to rescue 10 people alive and they have been treated and discharged on the spot,” Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said.
The cause of the explosion is not known yet but authorities are suspecting one of the gas cylinders exploded as a result of a fire close to the gas shop and work being done on one of the cylinders.
“Out of the four bodies (one was) a woman who was said to be frying (food items) while Sodiq (another victim) was operating on a cylinder,” Farinloye said.
At the scene of the explosion, a crowd lined behind a barricade as rescue workers and some residents carried away the gas cylinders left within the premises while remains of the vehicles destroyed were packed at one corner.
Balogun Mubaraq, a resident in the area, said many people with various degrees of burns were rushed to a local hospital.
Johnson Omitola, a mechanic in the area, said one of those killed is a motorcyclist whose head was rudely chopped off as he rode past the scene. “It is sad that people died but the casualty figure would have been more than 50 had people fully opened their shops. Only the woman that sells akara was identified with her full body. There were shredded human parts littering the adjoining streets,” Omitola said, calling for strict regulation of gas retailing in the country.
The fire destroyed three shops, six shanties and about 12 vehicles, said Olajide Ogabi of the Lagos State Fire Service. He faulted the location of the gas shop within a residential area and along a power line and said the shop was once closed by the state government because of its location.
Sometime on June 17, 2021, there was another gas tragedy. At about 10:32 pm precisely when people were returning home from work, an LPG tanker exploded at OPIC Plaza on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, beside the popular Lagos Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja.
This unfortunate incident saw no fewer than 13 persons sustaining various degrees of injuries and about 25 cars destroyed.
Farinloye said the explosion resulted in a fire outbreak that engulfed the premises of Ogun State Property Investment Company (OPIC) Plaza beside Sheraton Hotels, which houses different commercial outfits including a supermarket and a Chinese Restaurant. The fire was put out at about 12.30 am, through the efforts of five fire trucks from the Lagos State Fire Service and two trucks from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency Response Unit. When the dust settled, the fire had considerably damaged both lives and livelihoods in the vicinity.
Between 2016 and 2020 similar incidents happened in Abule-Egba, Ijegun, Ile-Epo, Oke-Odo, Baruwa, and Abule Ado, all in Lagos.
In Baruwa, an LPG plant located along densely populated Candos Road, Baruwa, Ipaja-Ayobo, in Ipaja/Ayobo LCDA, suddenly exploded and engulfed the entire area, killing at least 13 persons. Several other persons were injured, while properties worth millions of naira were destroyed.
There were, however, conflicting figures of casualties as government officials claimed that eight persons died, but an eyewitness claimed he saw about 13 charred bodies recovered from the scene of the fire.
The casualties included women and children. One of the women, identified simply as Mrs. Adebowale, 55, died on the cenotaph of her late husband in front of their house.
She was said to have died while trying to retrieve from the house the money she borrowed as loan from one of the microfinance banks.
Other victims were 39-year old Olushola Adeleke and his two-year-old son, Martial. An official of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Adeleke had escaped the inferno but remembered promising Martial was still in the building. His bold attempt to rescue his beloved son proved futile as both were consumed by a huge pall of fire from the gas accident.
Among survivors were a mother and two children who were taken to Gbagada General Hospital Burns Unit for medical attention.
It was gathered that an LPG tanker was in the process of discharging its content at the Best Roof Gas Plant Station but unfortunately, the station’s generating set was running and in the process sparked which exploded and threw the discharging tanker across the road.
Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, blamed the incident on negligence on the part of the operators.
Giving the post disaster assessment of the explosion, he said a total number of eight bodies were recovered at the scene while 15 victims suffered major burns and have been transferred to Gbagada General Hospital Burns Unit.
Similarly, he said 25 buildings were damaged during the explosion out of which 10 were severely affected.
Also, 16 shops, a private school building and a hotel were razed while a Pentecostal Church, Folem was mildly affected.
He urged residents to report dangerous practices within their neighborhoods to the relevant agencies.
Again, on Christmas Eve, there was pandemonium at the Ayobo Ipaja area of the state over a gas explosion that occurred in the area on Friday.
The explosion, it was gathered, happened around 1 am.
Details of the explosion were sketchy. Unconfirmed report stated that the Chairman of Ayobo-Ipaja Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mrs Bola Shobowale, confirmed the development.
Residents of the area took to social media. One of them, @IamHorlapo, posted, “A year ago, we woke up to a gas explosion in Baruwa. Today, it’s another Pipeline explosion in the same Local Government which has claimed life and property. God has mercy upon us in this community.
@iamoliver_may22 added, “Guys, please. My street in Baruwa is burning. Guys, please send help to Baruwa… There is a gas explosion and there is a power line in that area.”
These explosions and tragic deaths are coming at a time the Federal Government is stepping up campaigns on the need for Nigerians to drop kerosene and charcoal for gas as a cheaper and cleaner cooking fuel.
Nigeria’s per capita consumption of LPG is still low when compared with the population.
It is estimated that the country will be saving about $10billion yearly if 50 per cent of the populace embrace the use of LPG implying that there is correlation between its usage and poverty reduction.
The World Bank Group’s Oil, Gas, and Mining Unit, Sustainable Energy Department, in its study on: The Role of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in Reducing Energy Poverty, said increasing household use of LPG is one of several pathways to meet the goal of universal access to clean cooking and heating solutions by 2030, as stated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
The UN’ Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, launched in 2011, sets as one of its three objectives universal access to modern energy services—electricity and clean cooking and heating systems by 2030.
The group said about three billion people rely on solid biomass or coal for cooking and heating, and smoke from such fuel use is estimated to cause four deaths every minute. Universal access will require a multi-pronged approach: advanced cook stoves for biomass and other solid fuels, natural gas for urban households in countries that have or are developing an extensive gas pipeline network, biogas, and LPG. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that more than 40 per cent of households newly gaining access to modern household energy by 2030 in the universal-access scenario will do so by switching to LPG.
The Federal Government’s priority objective is to attain five million metric tons (Mt) of LPG consumption next year, which puts the national consumption target at 83.33,000 MT monthly from 2018 to 2022 estimates.
The defunct Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) said Nigerians consumed 89,910Mt, of LPG in January 2020, 7.9 per cent above the national consumption target of 83,330Mt.
It said over the past two years, domestic LPG consumption has steadily been on the upward swing.
The World Bank group noted that global LPG prices have more than doubled in real terms in the last decade, increasing at an annual average rate of nine per cent since 2001. This rate of increase is much higher than that for household income in most developing countries. Prices are now sharply higher.
“Even in an efficient market with light tax on LPG, cooking and heating water with LPG would require upwards of $15 every month at today’s LPG prices. As such, LPG is unlikely to be the fuel of the poor,” it said.
The Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers (NALPGAM) blamed the international cost of LPG and the interplay of foreign exchange (forex) for hike in cost and sought full domestication of the product’s market to guard against its volatility like oil prices.
Its Executive Secretary, Mr Bassey Essien, in a statement, said the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) produces four million metric tons of gas yearly, but allocates 350,000Mt for domestic consumption.
He said: “We, as marketers, are saying that NLNG and others producing LPG should domesticate it by dedicating sufficient quantity that will cover our domestic consumption.
“We have watched the continuous spike in the price of cooking gas, moving from N4 million to N5 million for a 20MT truck to the current price of N5.3 million within a month interval.
“The current high price of cooking gas is not traceable to marketers (plant owners) or terminal owners but rather to the vagaries of the international price of the commodity and interplay of foreign exchange rates.
“Nigeria consumes about one million Mt of LPG yearly and 65 per cent of the products are imported by marketers.
LPG retailers explain Ladipo fire
The Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers (LPGAR) branch of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) said the explosion at Ladipo Spare Part Market, Lagos was caused by acetylene gas.
Its National Secretary, Olukayode Solomon, in a statement, commiserated with the families of the victims of the explosion.
He said the incident was not in any way related to LPG which is popularly called cooking gas.
He said: “It is important to state clearly that the outlet in which the explosion occurred was specifically an acetylene gas outlet.
“It is important to state clearly that the outlet in which the explosion occurred was specifically an acetylene gas outlet.
“The explosions of these industrial gasses often cause wide scale destruction similar to military bombs unlike LPG explosion which often causes inferno.”
According to him, damage arising from LPG explosions usually comes as a result of spread of its inferno based on the level of gas leakage and spread.
“On the contrary, industrial gasses such as acetylene and oxygen usually pull down structures around the scene of the explosion because of the high pressure of the industrial gasses as well as the very heavy weight of the industrial gas cylinders.
“Also, acetylene and oxygen gasses do not use the same cylinders used for LPG as exemplified by the type of cylinders that littered around the scene of the explosion yesterday.
“It is equally important to note that acetylene and oxygen gasses are not derived from the same sources as LPG,” he said.
He explained that acetylene was also not regulated by the same agency that regulates LPG.
Mr Solomon noted that LPG was derived from petroleum and natural gas and regulated by the former Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) now replaced with Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA).
“The regulation of acetylene gas, oxygen gas and the other related gasses is presently located within the federal ministry in charge of industry.
“These clarifications have become necessary to forestall further misrepresentation of facts whenever an explosion relating to gas occurs.
“We equally use this opportunity to implore the media as a whole to always seek clarifications before publication.
“This is because this particular misrepresentation has been a regular occurrence in the recent time,” he said.
LPG marketers react
Reacting to the spate of gas tragedies sweeping across the country, NALPGAM has called for improvement in the handling and distribution of LPG to ensure safety.
Essien said there’s need to improve safety in handling and distribution of LPG.
According to him, the frequency of explosions and fatalities was becoming worrisome, which is not good for the image of Nigeria and the gas business itself.
“As an association, we have always tried our best to heighten the awareness on the safe handling of LPG at homes, at retail shops and in transit.
“We have a training centre where we undertake training in collaboration with consultants to the Department of Petroleum Resources on the safe handling and trucking of LPG,” he said.
He said the group was awaiting a comprehensive report of what led to the incident from the relevant authorities and would utilise its recommendations to enhance safety.
Essien said while the Federal Government was working on encouraging more Nigerians to switch to gas as energy of choice, such incidents were capable of thwarting the efforts of the government.
There was, therefore, a need for every operator to adhere to the safety measures put in place to safeguard the usage and distribution of LPG at all times.
Essien said strict regulation and monitoring should be extended to inflammable products such as acetylene and other industrial gases. He warned that filling and retailing of industrial gases have to be strictly monitored.
“Regulators should pay attention to the activities of practitioners dealing in acetylene and other industrial gases so as to check these recurrent incidences. Failure to do this and the frequent misrepresentation in the media attributing acetylene explosions to cooking gas will erode consumers’ confidence in the use of LPG and heighten the fear factor that cooking gas usage is unsafe,” he warned.
Causes of LPG explosion
An expert said an LPG explosion is almost always caused by the accumulation of gas leak in an enclosed space combined with an ignition source, not a propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion). The leak can be from the gas appliance or other source not involving the bottle.
Medswift, a leading First Aid, Fire Safety & Occupational Safety and Health Trainers in Kenya, said gas leakage is fuel in its final stage of ignition and can cause a fire explosion if left unattended.
Detecting gas leak
Medswift said gas cannot be seen, but it can be smelt. However, there are other ways where a gas leak could be detected.
“If your flame is orange or yellow instead of blue and leaves soot on your cooking appliances; listen to identify a hissing sound from your gas connection or the banner.
“If you detect or suspect that there is a gas leak in your home. Take the following measures to mitigate the threat.
“Turn off the gas supply to ensure there are no more leaks; open all doors windows and any ventilation to ensure fresh air circulation in the house.
“Do not use electric devices such as laptops and phones. These things cause a spark which can cause the already leaked gas to ignite.
“Do not smoke, or use any open flames such as a candle because it can cause the leaked gas to explode, hence causing a fire,” the group said.
Averting gas leaks
Prevention, it said, is better and easier than cure. So, conscious action must be taken to prevent gas leaks in homes.
Medswift gives some tips that can be used to ensure that there is no gas leak in homes. Some of them are: ensure your burner is tightly secured; check your appliances for wear and tear and ensure that they are serviced regularly; and inspect the LPG pipes after every refill before using.
Preventing cylinder explosion
Domestic gas cylinder if not well handled can lead to fatal accidents such as explosions. Therefore learning how to prevent gas cylinder explosion is important. The following are safety tips that you can apply when handling gas cylinders.
“Keep the gas knob out of reach for children when not using,; make sure that the kitchen or cooking area is well ventilated for a good flow of air in case of a gas leak; educate people around you on gas cylinder safety measures and how to use and handle gas cylinders; do not use Meko for long hours while cooking; LPG cylinders should be bought from authorized dealers only.
“It’s vital to follow the guidelines and educate the elders and kids about the handling of LPG cylinders, preventive measures and do’s and don’ts in case of an emergency. However, there’s no need to be fearful of LPG cylinders as they are of high tenacity. It is by proper maintenance of gas appliances that LPG explosions can be averted,” Medswift said, warning that on arrival at an incident involving fire, stop, observe, think: do not enter the area. A minor fire can escalate in minutes to a serious blaze. Call for emergency help and wait for it to arrive.
The Lagos State government had set up a team to monitor outlets where gas is stored in commercial quantities and carry out a safety audit in the state. So far, 1,850 places were surveyed out of which 15 were closed for not complying with safety standards, according to Director-General, Lagos State Safety Commission, Lanre Mojola.
In July this year, exasperated by the spate of gas explosions, particularly in Lagos, the Senate directed its Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream and Gas) to conduct an investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the explosion at the Ladipo Spare Parts Market, Mushin, Lagos. The Senate urged authorities to design a strategy to regulate the use of old gas cylinders, arguing that “the continued use of old cylinders can cause explosions especially in poorly controlled environments”.
A committee was set up to investigate the incident and look at “what led to this,” Oke-Osanyintolu of the LASEMA had also said.
Efforts to get the reaction of Nigerian Downstream and Midstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) were unsuccessful as calls put to Mr Elvis Duruji, one of its officials weren’t picked.
The implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) may have put spanners in the wheels of policing the industry.
According to the Act, two regulatory agencies are to perform the duties of the defunct Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), PPPRA and Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF). The new agencies are the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NURC) and the NMDPRA.
NMDPRA was created in August 2021 in line with the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 which provides legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry as well as development of host communities.
Even before the creation of NMDPRA, policing the industry by the DPR was such a Herculean task as the agency was hampered in the discharge of its duties by manpower shortage. Under the old dispensation, the Lagos office of DPR had the mandate to police Ogun State too. So it was hardly any surprise sharp practices continued to flourish in the downstream oil sector.
A visit to the website of NMDPRA said it “is responsible for the regulation of the midstream and downstream petroleum operations in Nigeria which includes technical, operational, and commercial activities.
Unfortunately, there was no information on subjects such as LPG Plant Licence; LPG Retailer (CAT D) Licence, Stock and Product Sufficiency Report, AQUILA Marketers’ Portal, Retail Outlet monitoring System (ROMS), LPG Depot License, Depot License, Downstream Remote Monitoring System (DRMS)/E-Station, Lube Oil Blending Plant (LOBP)m and Refining Plant License (RPL), which were all created.
Others are Lube Storage and Sales License (LSSL), Petroleum Product Import and Export Permit system (IMPEX), Crude Oil Terminal Export Permit (COTEX), CNG Compression License, IMPEX Gas Permit, Gas Terminal Export Portal (GATEX), Network Code Electronic Licensing and Administrative System NCELAS. A click to any of these items led to nowhere.
“Our site is undergoing a major upgrade,” offered elixir to the frustrations.
Experts say to avert these gas tragedies, it is important to educate households on the need to gradually replace their metal gas cylinders with fibre cylinders, which is said to be fire- resistant. Also, the promise to phase out and replace the gas cylinders in circulation with more advanced ones should be hastened. According to findings, some households have been using the same cylinders for upwards of two decades. That is surely a disaster waiting to happen. Besides, the relevant authorities need to constantly sensitise operators of all gas retail outlets on how to operate their business with minimal risks to health, safety and environment (HSE). (Adopted from The Nation)