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Crime & Punishment of Saturday, 10 October 2020

Source: Punch

Exploded Lagos gas plant operated without planning permit - Investigation

Lukman Kareem squirmed on his sickbed at Solad Hospital, Baruwa, Ipaja area of Lagos, unsure of which side of his aching body to lie on. When he eventually managed to raise his head, it was a sorry sight to behold. His face, back and arms smothered with burns. The more he struggled to utter some words, the harder it was; he could barely recognise anyone around him.

The 48-year-old electrician was among eight persons who sustained injuries in the explosion that rocked Bestroof Gas Station on Cardoso Road, Baruwa, on Thursday.

The explosion left huge losses in its trail, claiming six lives and damaging 25 residential buildings, 15 shops, a school and a church.

Perhaps, Kareem and other victims could have been spared of the pains and losses caused by the tragedy if the state government, which confirmed to City Round, that the firm didn’t have a planning permit, had stopped its operations.

Our correspondent, who visited the explosion scene, noticed that the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority marked the gas station on September 10, 2020. LASPPPA put another mark on the facility on Thursday with the inscription, “sealed.”

However, operation continued at the cooking gas filling station despite the September marking and protests by residents of the community against its siting in a residential area.

A 30-metric-tonne LPG tanker discharged gas into the underground tank around 4am on Thursday. After off-loading the contents, the workers reportedly had difficulty closing the valve, resulting in a leakage. A generator used to power the premises was said to have ignited the fire.

“The explosion started around 5am. Some neighbours saw smoke and raised the alarm. They woke us up and everybody ran for dear life. It exploded afterwards. We called firefighters but they came around 7am.

“A tanker brought the gas on Wednesday. It was faulty and parked in front of the gate of the station. They offloaded the gas at night. I learnt that when they were done, they could not close the valve and the gas started leaking.”

A bricklayer, Samson Bankole, was inconsolable when he met with our correspondent. His neighbour, identified simply as Iya Saidat, operating a provision store, was among the deceased victims.

He told City Round that the late widow had initially escaped from her room but returned to pick some money she wanted to use to repay a microfinance bank from which she took a loan.

Bankole said, “I am a bricklayer. Whenever I don’t go to work, I stay in her (Iya Saidat’s) shop. We were so close that people even thought we were family members. I was awake around 4am and came outside. I perceived gas odour and saw Majeed, the woman’s child, outside. He was trying to wake people up.

“She had already come out but was complaining about her money trapped inside. We told her that money was a minor thing. I didn’t know she would return inside to pick the money. She said it was the money for a LAPO loan she was repaying.

“The explosion went off suddenly. I looked at my back and saw that the fire had caught up with a little girl. As I wanted to rescue her, the fire almost got me too. I ran and looked for water to put out the fire on the girl. Part of her body had been burnt. We rushed her to a hospital. I came back and met Iya Saidat’s corpse.”

A displaced resident, Patience Osagie, said she was preparing for work when the fire broke out, adding that her mother fell and sustained injuries while running to safety.

She stated, “I heard a sound on our ceiling and fire came out. My mum and I jumped out. As she was running away, she fell and we rushed her to the hospital. I thank God she survived. For now, we will be staying with our sister. We could not take away anything from the house.”

A phone and cable television vendor, Dada Oyewo, was torn between sorrow and shock as he tried to salvage some valuables buried in the rubble of his shop shattered by the impact of the explosion.

“It was a huge loss. I don’t know where to start from,” he stated solemnly, casting a long look at remnants of an investment he set up one year ago.

He added, “I sell phones, GOtv, DSTV decoders and solar panels. The phones alone were worth about N500,000. I just stocked my shop. I got a call around 5.30am but by the time I arrived, this place had been cordoned off. It was around 9am I had access to my shop. I was trying to pick out a few things. I borrowed part of the capital with which I set up the business.”

Tina Christopher was relieved of her job at a hospitality firm in the state in the heat of coronavirus lockdown. She trudged on and used her savings to establish a drink shop with the support of her husband three months ago.

On Wednesday, she stocked up her shop not knowing that a tragedy lurked in the community. Her goods, a generator and a freezer estimated at over N1m were all destroyed.

“I don’t know how to move on with life at this time,” she disclosed, her voice and face laden with dejection.

A livestock feed dealer, Kareem Aderemi, said he lost 100 bags of animal feed to the explosion.

He said, “It was one of my customers who alerted me to the fire around 6am. By the time I got here, people had helped me to salvage my stock. I lost 100 bags of animal feed worth M350, 000. We appeal to the government to come to our aid and assuage our losses. The station was built about two years ago. It used to be a house; the landlord sold it."

For Oluwaseyi Adeleke, who rents out musical instruments for parties and religious events, the incident had just driven him and his family back to the economic hardship they were struggling to shake off following the easing of lockdown.

He lamented, “Everything was burnt. This is my only source of livelihood. I have been growing the business for 20 years. The instruments were worth N3.5m. I will appreciate whatever help the government can offer.

“We were thanking God that things would soon be fine since churches and mosques are now open when this tragedy happened. I have not even paid my children’s school fees. A church just contacted me that they would need instruments for a revival programme and I was hoping that I would make some money in the coming days to pay the school fees.

“I was on my way to shop when someone called me that houses were on fire in Baruwa. My brother, Olusola Adeleke, sustained burns. His daughter who is about two years old was also injured.”

In the middle of the explosion, Sunday Olayinka, wanted to pick up his wife fleeing towards a danger zone with their two children when his tricycle skidded, leaving him with injuries on the head, leg and shoulder.

He said, “I was in the room with my wife and children when we heard the sound of the explosion. We rushed out and my wife was running towards the pipeline area. I entered my tricycle to save them. The fire was chasing me as I was trying to escape. The tricycle tumbled and I hit my head on a stone.

“I have spent all the N17, 500 I had for the medical bill. I was supposed to be admitted but I can’t afford the bill. I would be going for treatment from home. I bought the tricycle higher purchase and was repaying in installments. I need help. I don’t have any other means of livelihood and don’t have money to treat myself.”

Ibrahim, the elder brother of 48-year-old Kareem, who suffers burns and is admitted at Solad Hospital, called on well-meaning Nigerians to come to the family’s aid.

He added, “The hospital asked us to pay a deposit of N50,000 but all we could afford was N30,000. We are poor; we are appealing to people and the government to assist us.”

A medical doctor at the hospital, Dr Roseline Samuel, said five patients were brought to the facility from the explosion scene.

“We referred three patients who have major burns and stabilised two. He (Kareem) suffered about 25 degree burns. We hope he is going to be okay; it is gradual.

Gas plant didn’t have permit — LASPPPA

An official of LASPPPA who spoke on behalf of the General Manager, Mr Funmi Osifuye, confirmed that the gas plant was marked a month ago for not having a physical planning permit.

He said, “The company constructed the structure without having a planning permit which might not be the primary reason for the explosion. Our agency has been doing a lot of enforcement and recently we have been going back to the places we marked earlier in the year to see if they have complied with the directive given to them.

“The company is supposed to come to our office and apply for processing which they did not do. The structure didn’t conform to the existing neighbourhood. Even if they had brought an application for physical planning permit, we would not have given approval for a gas station because it is surrounded with a neighbourhood consisting of two schools and residential areas.”

Meanwhile, the Lagos State House of Assembly has ordered an investigation into the explosion to address the recurring incidents in the state.

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