Ibafon Tank Farms: Residents In Dread Of Inferno
THE cluster of tank farms in the Coconut-Ibafon axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is a bone in the throat. Eighty per cent of the country’s petroleum tank farms might be located in the area. Consequently, hundreds of trucks come into Lagos daily to lift fuel. Residents in the area, however, are worried about having millions of litres of highly inflammable liquid as neighbour.
One resident, Mr. James Emmanuel, complained about the risk of having 23 or more of these facilities in the area, saying a lot of lives and property could be lost in the event of a fire.
“This is a very dangerous place; I do not think any normal human being would have deemed it fit to set up a tank farm in a location where people live. If and when a tank, which contains 11 million litres of petrol, explodes, it will burn over a distance of 50 kilometers or more. That analysis alone proves how unsafe these things are to the community. It is not all right to risk the life of innocent citizens. We are talking about the safety of Nigerians, here, not the selfishness of a few individuals,” Emmanuel said.
There are doubts whether these tank farms went through Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), given their proximity to residential areas. This is quite unlike what is obtained in developed countries. It is also noteworthy that these tank farms arrived after residents had already settled in the area. If the owners of these farms actually received government approval, it might be interesting to probe who granted the go ahead.
“We all know that corruption in this country is high; you can get away with almost anything, as long as you have the right kind of money. That makes building a fuel depot in a residential area easy, said one Mr. Adekunle, a petroleum surveyor.
Earlier, this year, former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, told the residents that the farms would be moved to the Lekki Free Trade Zone in a bid to ease traffic gridlock caused by tankers and pressure on roads.
A geologist, Samuel Kalu, welcomed the idea of moving the farms to a place where they would constitute less risk to people. He said: “I assume our leaders go to other countries. Were they sincere, they would have acknowledged that these kinds of facilities are not located in densely populated environments. We already have two seaports operating in the area, making it congested and difficult to navigate. Whether people have invested a lot or not, I believe government should compensate them and move them from this area to less densely populated areas, like Lekki and Badagry. This would also open up the new location for business opportunities.”
The Guardian met with the chairman Technical Board of Directors for Ibafon Depots and depot manager for Capital Oil, Mr. Godfrey Okorie, who assured residents of their safety.
He said: “Stakeholders in Ibafon have a joint safety committee funded by the tank farm owners. There are seven to eight firefighting vehicles in Ibafon, with 15 fire officers working round the clock. Also, every depot has its own personal fire service. They also have well-equipped ambulances and bomb monitors and 40 personnel specially trained for the purpose.
“It is not like we are praying for a disaster but we should also be prepared because no matter what the public thinks, we have their best interest at heart. On few occasions, we have assisted in putting out fires in Berger Suya and Olodi before the government-owned fire service arrived. We do our very best to prevent fire outbreaks from our depots. The tanks are fireproof; they have the latest foam pouring technology and sprinklers. Even insurance firms would not cover you if you do not carry out necessary safety measures.”
He explained that it is mandatory for depots to do EIA before the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) grants them a license “to construct a tank farm in the area. They send representatives to monitor the activities of the depots and make sure we comply. We are given a distance to maintain, from one tank to another, from tank to gate, and from gate to residences. And I believe for them to have granted us the licence to operate, here, they must have done their calculations and seen that it is safe enough, and residents are well protected, no matter what happens.”
Asked about the relocation muted by the former governor, he said: “They (government) do not have the essentials to move the tank farms yet. Have they created an enabling environment, seaport and good roads? Have they created central parking lots and mapped out sites for the tank farms? If all these are in place then they can call us to a round table and we would talk movement. It is not just waking up one morning and saying you want to move the farms.”
A worker in one of the tank farms who pleaded anonymity, said: “These tankers are heavy-duty vehicles; they have a lot of weight due to what they carry. And we are not disputing that fact that they are the main cause of potholes on this road. But also take note that taxes generated from them are enough to rehabilitate the roads. So, instead of blaming it all on these tank farms, is it not time to question the government where the taxes go? It is not fair to keep putting all the problems of this area on the tank farms. They generate a huge amount of revenue and also provide massive job opportunities for people.”