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Lagos explosion: The price of weak regulation

NNPC team moves in to repair pipeline damaged by Abule Ado explosion

Almost always, when an individual, a group or society as a whole fail to do the right thing or to put checks and balances in place to guide the way things are done, that society has a price to pay, one way or another.

READ ALSO:  Abule-ado: The collapse of a community

The unfortunate incident that rocked Abule Ado, a Lagos suburb, in the morning of Sunday, February 15, 2020 was one such failure. This time, it was the failure of state to do that which is expected of it as government.

Growth and development are the ultimate aims of human activities. Every society or state desires development. But this development has to be regulated in order to check abuses or uncontrolled tendencies which define man in his free state.

Though Nigeria’s quest to replace dirty fuels with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) may be a success story having grown over a thousand percent within the last 10 years, the inability of the country to properly regulate the retail aspect poses a grave danger. An aspect of that danger is the Abule Ado tragedy.

An unconfirmed report has it that the recent explosion was triggered when a truck hit some gas bottles stacked up in a gas processing plant near a pipeline in Abule-Ado area.

Abule Ado has a large concentration of human settlements and many of the residential buildings in this neighbourhood were erected with little or no consideration to their nearness to a gas pipeline.

We are of the view, therefore, that allowing the setting up of a gas processing plant near a gas pipeline and the building of residences also near a gas pipeline smack of negligence and weak regulation by the approving authorities.

Painfully, the society as a whole has had to pay the price. By the last count, the explosion has claimed over 17 persons, caused injury to hundreds of others, burnt over 100 houses and rendered thousands homeless. This, to us, is too much a price for a society to pay in one fell swoop.

The recent explosion is a product of lax regulation that has seen hundreds of LPG retail shops spring up on street corners against extant rules. The many lives that were lost and the several houses that were burnt are enormous price innocent people have paid for somebody’s failure to act where he should.

It becomes all the more painful knowing that, in Nigeria, regulation is generally misconstrued by those who benefit from its weakness. Rather than being seen as a safety measure to avert incidents like Abule Ado, it is seen by approving authorities as a source of revenue.

For instance, all the residents whose houses were burnt by the explosion are victims and beneficiaries of weak regulation who built their houses without building permit or plan approval.  They must have given gratifications to government agencies and were thereafter “permitted to continue work.”

This can only happen in Nigeria where virtually everything is possible. This practice is bad; it is risky and goes against global best practice; we condemn it in its entirety and want it stopped forthwith.

In September 2019, Muinat Bello-Zagi, controller of operations at DPR warned illegal cooking gas skid operators in Ogun State to either regularise their operations or risk being shut down and prosecuted during a meeting with the Cooking Gas Skid Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Ogun State chapter.

From that time till now, we are yet to see or hear of anybody who has been arrested and prosecuted, yet the clan of illegal cooking gas skid operators continues to grow on a daily basis, citing their operations anywhere including slum areas like Abule Ado.

We condemn this practice which leads to avoidable disasters. Governments at federal and state levels along with their approving authorities should raise their game and insist that laid downs rules are adhered to.

Government has to find a way to stop the thinking by some operators that buying two plots of land to set up an average LPG capacity of 20 metric tonnes which could cost over N60 million in many parts of Lagos for a land would triple their business cost in addition to carrying our environmental study that could cost above N2 million.

If that is the rule and the best way to go to avert further loss of lives and property, let the law take its course. This is our stand and we insist that the law must punish any impunity that could repeat the bitter pill Abule Ado experience has forced down our throats.