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Vandalism, poor pipeline network as trigger for tanker explosions

Passersby walk amid burned cars after an oil tanker exploded on a highway on June 28, 2018 in Lagos killing nine people in a huge blaze. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

The time was at about 5:30p.m. that fateful Thursday evening of June 28, 2018 when the beautiful skyline overlooking the Otedola Bridge on Lagos-Ibadan expressway suddenly turned black after a volley of fireballs and plumes of dark smokes trailed a tanker explosion.

Just before the moment everything went ugly, traffic was expectedly building up on the bridge and like most commuters would do, Michael Simon had his attention divided between watching the traffic ahead and enjoying the World Cup commentary on his car radio.

Something abruptly caught his attention, it was a petrol-laden tanker some few metres ahead moving in an uncontrollable manner.

Absentmindedly, he prayed for the driver to take full control of the truck to avoid multiple accidents, as there were some cars ahead of him.

Then the unexpected happened. The driver lost control of the truck, which fell across the road and started spilling petrol on the busy highway.

Pandemonium followed as many vehicles started making efforts to escape from the scene. Those that made U-turn in an attempt to flee the scene crashed into incoming vehicles, leading to bedlam.
 
In the ensuing melee, the only option left for Simon was to open the door of his car and run for his dear life. Today, he is thankful he didn’t ponder too long on that option.

“I quickly came out of my car and ran to the other side of the road. Not long after, I heard an explosion and the whole road was on fire.

I stood there watching as people were making frantic efforts to come out of their vehicles without success. Nobody was able to help due to the rage of the fire,” he said.
 
That was how a tanker fully loaded with about 60,000 litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol went up in flames, taking along with it 54 vehicles and 12 people, which included a minor.

There have been many deaths arising from tanker accidents and explosions but last Thursday’s incident was one too many. 

In February this year, eight persons were burnt beyond recognition in an auto crash involving a tanker loaded with petrol and a truck filled with passengers, causing a fire outbreak and explosion around the Foursquare Church camp area, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. 

 
Last months, another eight persons were killed by an inferno following an explosion from two petrol tankers in Zing, Taraba State. 

The driver, said to be running from solders, lost control and in a bid to regain balance, tumbled into another tanker.
 
Also in May this year, four persons were burnt to ashes and more than 40 others left with varying degrees of burns at Gbatse settlement of Ushongo local government area, in Benue State when a petroleum tanker laden with petrol, exploded.
 
In the same month, a fuel tanker caught fire and sent some parts of Victoria Island, Lagos into panic.

Although no life was lost, a resident was badly injured when the tanker exploded on Younis Bashorun Street, off Ajose Adeogun street, Victoria Island.

The explosion also affected two other vehicles, which caught fire.
   
All these accidents and many others could have been averted, if there was an effective pipeline network for the transportation of petroleum products in the country. Nigeria has over 4,000 kilometres of refined products pipelines across the country, but they are hardly adequate due to vandalism, which has made most of the products to be transported by road across the country.
 
The aging nature and corrosion of the pipeline over the years have made over 50 per cent of them susceptible to easy vandalisation. Statistics from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) showed that a total of 1,336 vandalized points have been recorded between January 2017 and January 2018.
 
In January 2018 alone, a total of 194 pipeline points were vandalized, 22 pipeline points either failed to be welded or ruptured/clamped.

Thus, 216 pipeline points were destroyed for the month under review as against the 176 points recorded in the previous month.

Port Harcourt-Aba and Aba-Enugu pipeline segment accounted for 187 points or 86.57 per cent of the affected pipeline points.

And on Sunday, July 1, a previously-vandalised pipeline exploded in the Ilara area near Ogijo in Ogun State. The explosion occurred at about 10:00p.m. on Sunday, resulting in an inferno that burned into the early hours of Monday.

The pipeline was reportedly vandalised around last week with the valve left open for fuel to spill into the area. With the failure of residents to report the spill, the pipeline exploded due to a yet-to-be determined reason.

Residents of the area fled their homes over fear of the fire escalating as the Commander, 174 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Ezeh, disclosed that after receiving the distress calls about the massive explosion, the area manager at Mosimi Depot was immediately called to shut down the pipeline as a first measure towards extinguishing the inferno.
 
Reacting, NNPC said it has stepped up the resuscitation of some of its critical pipelines and depots such as the Ejigbo depot, the Atlas Cove – Mosimi Depot Pipeline, Port-Harcourt Refinery – Aba Depot Pipeline, Kaduna – Kano Pipeline and the Kano Depot, which have enhanced efficiency in products distribution.
 
The Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, is pressuring the new board of one of its downstream subsidiary companies, the Nigerian Pipeline Storage Company (NPSC), to partner with the private sector to build more pipelines parallel to the corporation’s existing ones.
 
He said: “Your work also is to look at refurbishing these pipelines and storage along a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement by getting willing private companies to invest in these pipelines. NNPC management is very much disposed to supporting your efforts in this regard,” the GMD stated.
  
Baru further urged the company to double its pipeline network in the next 10 years, stressing that such a target was “absolutely necessary.”

He described pipelines as arteries of the nation’s oil and gas industry, adding that part of the reform process embarked upon by the corporation under his watch was to birth an NPSC that has a clear focus, which sees pipeline storage and distribution as real business.
 
Meanwhile, at least about N30 billion is still being paid to petroleum marketers as reimbursement to petroleum product marketers as palliative for transportation. The bridging scheme is paid for the movement of products over a distance exceeding 450 kilometers. 

The payment is determined by distance and volume of product moved and it is sourced from a bridging allowance of N5.85 per litre.

The bridging scheme was originally introduced as a temporary measure during Turn-Around Maintenance (TAM) wherein government sought to encourage and support marketers in transporting petroleum products nationwide.
 
Although bridging was meant to be a temporary solution until the refineries were producing back at full capacity, the state of the refineries has worsened over the years.
 
In addition, pipeline vandalisations by militants and economic saboteurs have been on the increase, to the point where trucks have become the major source of distributing petroleum products in recent times.
 
The initial projection was to have a maximum of 10 per cent of total petroleum products bridged while the remaining portion will be pumped through the pipelines.

However, trend analysis indicate that bridging of products have consistently increased over the years to about 40 per cent.
 
There is also a noticeable trend whereby products are bridged from Lagos to the South East and South-South areas of the country to address products unavailability from the refineries in Port Harcourt and Warri.
 
Scrapping the fund, according to an oil and gas analyst and consultant, Ifeanyi Izeze, would eliminate fraud and racketeering of petrol, which is still being sold at exorbitant prices outside Lagos.
 
On the need to scrap the fund, Izeze told The Guardian that what Nigerians did not know is that the northern part of the country is entirely fed by “bridged” petroleum products from the coastal depots, particularly the Atlas Cove and some private facilities mainly in the Lagos area.
 
He noted that the government, in the first instance, agreed to the concept of “equalisation” because it wanted fuel to sell at a uniform price everywhere in the country. “So it was meant for the good of the ordinary Nigerians.

But these oil marketers and tanker owners collect the differentials and sell the same products in black markets in Lagos, abandoning the people the programme was meant to serve to their cruel fate.

No wonder in some parts of Nigeria, petrol sells for between N200 and N300 per litre. The riverine areas in the south are not spared,” he added.
 
Izeze called on all stakeholders, including the presidency, civil society and the National Assembly to ascertain the extent of loss and drain by the tanker owners and their collaborating oil marketing companies.
  
Petroleum tanker drivers, a critical stakeholder in the distribution chain, are wriggling in the pain of transporting petroleum products through the dilapidated road, costing them their lives and investment.
 
The National Chairman of Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), Salimon Oladiti, called on the Federal Government to expedite action in repairing the roads for smooth transportation of petroleum products across the country, else the situation will be totally out of control.”
 
As a remedial measure, the NNPC boss, Baru, said the corporation is committed to rehabilitating the Dikko junction to Suleja Depot Road in Niger State as part of its infrastructure development initiatives.
 
He listed other road rehabilitation interventions by NNPC to include: Mokwa-Jebba Road and Iwuru 1 and Iwuru 2 portions of Ekpet-Ugep Road in Calabar, Cross River.
 
“NNPC is working with the Minister of Power, Works and Housing on the rehabilitation of various portions of the Jebba-Mokwa Road that need immediate intervention based on the observations of PTD members.
 
“The PTD members have complained about the failed portions, which take many long hours for tankers to navigate through. 

The corporation would continue to assist the union in any way that could make life easier for them to perform their onerous duty of taking petroleum products to all parts of Nigeria,” he said.

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