Following the gas explosion in Sabon Tashan, Kaduna State earlier this month that killed about six people, including the Chairman, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Prof. Simon Mallam, and also destroyed properties worth millions of naira, many state governments across the country have started taking steps to avert a reoccurrence.
Governor Nasiru El-Rufai who visited the scene of the incident a day after promptly ordered the closure of all gas refill stations located within residential areas in the state. Many other states in the federation have taken a cue from Kaduna having also recorded accidents that resulted from the indiscriminate location of gas plants and retail outlets in the past.
In 2019 for instance, a gas explosion at the Port Harcourt Shopping Mall left five persons critically wounded. The Port Harcourt mall explosion, which forced sudden closure of the outfit, started at the kitchen section. The affected victims whose hands, legs and some parts of their bodies were cut off are still at the hospital receiving treatments. The state had earlier in 2015 witnessed a gas explosion. In that incident, five persons were killed at Eliozu area in Port Harcourt when a gas retailer was refilling another cylinder and suddenly, the cylinder exploded killing the victims on the spot.
In Lagos State, a resident, Mr. Shina Ayanfe, said he does not use gas in his house anymore due to the fear of explosion, explaining that his neighbor’s wife died as a result of the incident.
“She had been complaining that her gas cylinder was giving her problems. So, she bought another one not knowing the new one was equally bad. Apparently, it was leaking gradually and you know it’s not everybody that has a strong sense of smell. She was trying to cook that morning when it exploded. She suffered severe pains as we rushed her to the hospital. At some point, we felt she was already responding to treatment but before we knew what was happening, she died,” he recalled.
In Owerri, Imo State, a thriving filling station situated along Okigwe Road, Orji, Owerri North Local Council recently witnessed a loud explosion arising from one of the gas cylinders in the premises, destroying the structures there. Many people were injured as well. Of course, the rebuilding cost a fortune.
Meanwhile, The Guardian investigations have shown that not many people who are into gas retail business or make use of cooking gas in their homes are aware of the safety rules they need to observe.
In Lagos for instance, almost every street has a gas retail outlet. But when one of the retailers in the Surulere area of the state was asked what was needed to start the business, she said: “You need a good location and a big cylinder. With that, your business has taken off as it is very easy to learn how to transfer from a big cylinder to a customer’s smaller one.” To him, anyone can run the business.
In Owerri, findings showed that cooking gas retailers are mainly found in locations that are easily accessible to residents like Tetlow and Okigwe roads not minding the risks involved.
A gas retailer in the area, Okechukwu Anoruo, who said he inherited the business from his late father, stated that he observes little or no rules.
“Gas is becoming a lucrative business in Owerri. What I can tell you is that only God is guiding us. We observe little or no safety measures here. You can see that it is an open place. The business is going on well. Students largely patronise us. They buy mostly small size cylinders. I have not recorded any explosion,” he said.
Some gas vendors in Jos, Plateau State, also told The Guardian that they do not observe any safety rules other than being careful because they know that gas is a highly flammable substance.
A gas retailer in Awka, Anambra State, who did not want to disclose her identity, said that she knew her business was not properly located but the profit she was making was keeping her at the location.
A dealer, Ngozi Okonkwo, whose outlet is located near a roadside akara (bean cake) fryer, expressed no feeling of facing imminent danger when approached.
During a visit to Bashorun area of Ibadan, a retailer, Mr. Innocent Obinna, said he only ensures there is no leakage from the gas cylinder.
“I only ensure that there is no leakage and oil in the gas cylinder both from the customer’s side and my side. I ensure that the environment is safe and there is no flammable substance around. The customer’s cylinder must not be rusted or ruptured anywhere. And the valve on the cylinder must be in a good condition,” he said.
Another vendor in the area, Ismail Olubode, however, said that as a safety measure, he always has water mixed with detergent in his shop in case of a fire outbreak.
A gas plant attendant at Jakande Estate Gate in Lagos said the plant has existed for five years now without any accident. He said: “We always check for any fault in our gas plant to avoid explosion because this plant is very close to where people live and trade. So, we can’t afford to cause any loss of lives and properties.
“But consumers need knowledge on how to maintain their gas at home. Most people just buy gas because it is very fast for cooking and cost-effective without having any knowledge on how to maintain their gas or check for leakage.”
One Mrs. Mirian Joy, who resides in the Ilasamaja area of the state, confirmed his claim. Joy said: “I have been using my gas for the past three years now and I have never for once checked for any leakage or any fault because it does not show any sign that it is faulty. I don’t even know how to check if my gas has a fault.”
Crackdown On Illegal Outlets Begins
Safety experts have blamed gas explosion incidents on negligence. They also justified the ongoing crackdown on illegal outlets.
The Zonal Operations Controller of the Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR) in Port Harcourt, Mr. Bassey Nkanga, condemned refilling of gas cylinders instantly at the outlets, noting that “people should drop their cylinders and go with refilled ones to enable government know the expired cylinders and withdraw them from circulation.”
He reiterated that gas operators are not supposed to operate within residential areas, adding that the Rivers State government and the agency were determined to rid the state of illegal gas outlets.
He also advised operators who do not have licences to do the right thing or leave the state, adding that the state government and the agency would set up a task force that would work round the clock to ensure that no illegal gas dealer remains in Rivers State.
According to him, safety requirements for the issuance of licence by the agency to people venturing into gas business include having good ventilation and capability to operate in safe manners.
He said: “The state government has come to work with us. Together we are setting up a task force that will go about ensuring that those operating without license are not allowed to operate because they are the ones that sell the product to illegal retailers who cause the major problems. We are also working with security agencies to ensure that those operating without licence are arrested. The jingles are on, warning them to leave the state or do the right thing.
“Government is doing anything possible to stop the use of expired gas cylinders. There is a plan that every cylinder that does not meet specific requirements will be pulled out of circulation and no longer be allowed to be used.”
He further disclosed that nine illegal gas plants and several other retail outlets were shut down in the last three weeks.
He added that there are physical checks on the appearances of the cylinders and also the use of instruments like the ultrasonic tool to test the standard of cylinders.
He urged the public to send information of any illegal gas operators to the DPR zonal office in Port Harcourt, assuring that actions would be taken without delay.
On his part, the state Commissioner for Energy, Dr. Peter Medee, said the state government was taking safety issues very seriously, adding that the government would not allow any illegal gas operator in the state. He decried that a lot of gas dealers were operating in the state illegally, saying they would surely be stopped.
Medee confirmed that a technical committee from the Ministry of Energy, security agencies and DPR has been set up to draw a template for the task force that would carry out the enforcement.
The Commissioner said the essence of the template was to ensure that the task force carries out their duties in line with the guidelines to avoid abuse and hijack of the process.
In Abia State, the Comptroller of the State Fire Service, Mr. Victor Gbaruko, said the Service would soon undertake what he called ‘Operation Show Your Approval’ to ensure that gas plants in the state are not only properly sited but also operate within the standards set by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
Also, before last year’s yuletide celebrations, the Umuahia Field Surveillance/Monitoring team of the DPR undertook an impromptu inspection of petrol stations in Abia State. Out of about 30 stations inspected, 15 were sealed for violating the operational regulations of the DPR including five gas plants that were sited within petrol stations without requisite approval.
In Ebonyi State, Governor David Umahi has also directed that all illegal gas stations in the state be shutdown.
Umahi, in a recent statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Francis Nweze, said the closure of the gas stations was necessary to forestall the possible outbreak of fire and ensure that Health, Safety and Environment regulation in the state conform to national and international standards in the oil and gas industry.
He directed that all gas stations and outlets must operate with the approval of the Ebonyi State Capital Territory Development Board (ACTDB) and Department of Petroleum Resources, (DPR) adding the government will deal with anyone who may flout the directive.
“Defaulters of this directive will be penalised in accordance with the laws of the land and shall pay approved penalties. All concerned should ensure strict compliance with this directive,” he stated
In line with the directive, the government has already sealed 15 illegal gas stations in Abakaliki, the state capital.
Speaking with The Guardian, the Special Adviser to the governor on Petroleum, Basil Chima, said the state government had mapped out the land for gas stations but the operators had refused to move to the site.
He said that only one station in the city had all the approvals and licences to operate in the state.
In Awka, Anambra State, gas refill plants located near residential buildings and motor parks along Zik Avenue and Agu-Awka have also been asked to shut down.
They told The Guardian that the government had issued the ultimatum to leave the place because of the danger it poses to lives and property but that they were yet to comply with the directive.
Some gas retail dealers, however, said they were willing to do the right thing but decried lack of funds as their major challenge.
“If the government can support us and give us space, we are willing to relocate and meet all the requirements stipulated by law but our major challenge is funding. We are however conscious of the safety guidelines,” said a dealer at Ojoto in Mile Two, Diobu, Port Harcourt.
Basic Safety Rules For Gas Usage
As part of measures to curb accidents arising from gas explosions in the country, a safety expert, Ugochi Obidiegwe, said the major worry about gas usage is leakage from the cylinder.
“Gas leaks gradually build up and eventually lead to an explosion. Gas vendors must bear in mind that gas cylinders should be stored away from ignition sources and other flammable materials. They must be kept in an upright position and must be kept in a dry and well-ventilated area to ensure that even if a leak occurs, adequate ventilation will prevent concentration
“In the home, the best way to deal with a gas leak is to prevent it from happening. This is because if natural gas does not burn up quickly, it begins to emit a byproduct of carbon monoxide. The higher the concentration of carbon monoxide in the environment, the lesser the oxygen and this can affect human life. Therefore, certain precautions must be taken to ensure safety. Always turn off after use. If you smell gas, don’t turn on electrical appliances, use a mobile phone or smoke in the environment. One must also keep the cylinder away from ignition sources,” she said.
A safety expert in Jos, Mr. Joseph Lankwap, noted that using expired gas cylinders is dangerous, adding that most people are not aware that gas cylinders have a five-year expiry date.
“The process of verifying the expiry date of cooking gas cylinders can be found on one of the metal strips that connect the body of the cylinder to the top ring handle and is either printed or posted on the inner side of the strip. Also printed alphabets A, B, C, D, represents the month the gas cylinder will expire,” he explained.
He advised the government to take a tough stance in enforcing safety regulations to protect citizens from hazards associated with gas refilling.
On his part, a safety expert and Chief Fire Officer in Anambra State Fire Service, Martin Agbili, said: “Gas cylinders should be kept outside the kitchen, not inside. Owners of gas cylinders should ensure that they own fire extinguishers in case of a fire outbreak.”
He also urged gas users to buy their gas cylinders from certified dealers as, according to him, some of the gas cylinders are refurbished and re-painted to look new.
“The gas cylinders should be placed outside with periodic checks for leakage. Kitchen windows and doors should be opened for some time before gas could be ignited, especially after one just returned to the house,” he added.
Agbili disclosed that Anambra State Fire Service organises fire prevention sensitisation campaigns across markets and other public places in the state from time to time, where it highlights these safety measures.
For the Executive Director, Centre for Disaster Risk and Crisis Reduction (CDRCR), Mr. Kolawole Amusat-Gbenla, gas vendors and users should ensure that they install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers while maintaining the required spacing and ventilation standards.
He said: “There should be regular training and retraining of employees in gas plants. For the end-users, especially in kitchens at homes, safety measures begin with proper handling of the cylinders. It is also important for most cooking gas users to be able to recognise the smell when a cylinder is leaking.
“When there is a leakage, avoid flames of any form. Do not use spray or insecticide; create more ventilation by opening closed doors and windows and inform an expert that can help to fix it as soon as possible.
“Maintenance of cylinders is another thing that ensures safety in households using cooking gas. We should avoid a crack in the gas regulator and blockage of connecting pipes as these may force us to tamper with the cylinder. And finally, every kitchen should have a fire blanket or wet towel in case of fire outbreak from our stove and cookers to remove oxygen.”
On his part, Deputy Director, Oyo State Fire Service, Mr. Adewuyi Moshood, said: “The retail shop owners or vendors should ensure that there is no naked fire or cooking taking place around him or her. He should not be loaded under a cable. There must be fire extinguishers and there must be a minimum of 100 litres of water around him or her.
“The golden safety tip for anybody using gas that is up to 10kg and above is that the cylinder should not be close to the burner. He or she has to run a hose outside connecting the cylinder with the burner. Handset should not be taken to the kitchen while cooking.
“When they want to check the level of their gas, it is dangerous to shake it. It is advisable to bring the cylinder out and pour water on it in order to identify the level of the gas in the cylinder. Where the gas is in the cylinder will show with the water drying up.”