Newspaper pictures and television images from last Monday’s gas explosion at Lafia, Nasarawa State capital, were some of the goriest we have seen in Nigeria in recent times and they moved many people to tears. The explosion occurred at the Monaco Gas Filling Station on Jos Road in Lafia. Motorists and pedestrians who were at the filling station or merely driving past it were caught in the explosion. Many cars were burnt.
The authorities continuously revised upwards the number of casualties from the incident. Thirty-six people were affected by the blast, according to the police, which initially said no one died. Hours later however, Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura said nine persons died in the blast.
Speaking when he visited the gas station, Al-Makura said, “A day like this for us in Nasarawa State is a day of mourning. It is an unfortunate and sad situation…When I got the report, I rushed here to see things for myself and before I came, six people had died. This morning, two out of those taken to the national centre also died, making a total of eight persons. And just as I was about reaching here, I was told that one patient also died, a little child.” He also said 36 persons were affected by the explosion. Some of them were critically injured and they were referred to the National Hospital in Abuja.
The gas explosion in Lafia was the second such unfortunate incident in this country this year alone. It will be recalled that in January this year, seven people died while eight others suffered burns when a gas plant, Second Coming Nigeria Limited, exploded on CMD Road at Magodo, Ikosi Isheri Local Development Area of Lagos State due to a leakage.
Clearly, an explosive product such as cooking gas should not be located anywhere within a populated area due to this kind of danger. Al-Makura said when he visited the scene of the explosion at Lafia that government would ensure compliance with “locational approval” of what he called “this volatile business.” He said all gas businesses must comply with the locational approval of being a minimum 100 metres away from the nearest settlement.
Location apart, the authorities must also establish the reason why gas plants are exploding in this country. Safety regulations exist on paper for the handling of gas plants but from all indications, these are often observed in the breach. Frequent gas explosions suggest there is a problem with the personnel, the equipment or the regulatory supervision of these plants, or even all three.
Before a new gas plant is licensed, the Department of Petroleum Resources [DPR] has rules that include certification from Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) that the gas tank meets specifications and is safe; Final Fire Safety certification issued by Federal or State Fire Department; mechanical leak tester, gas detector, warning notices, personnel protective wears for the plant operators, gas tank and pipeline pressure test reports and certification, among others. These facilities should be pressure tested by a DPR accredited company and witnessed by the Director’s assigned officer. In addition, a gas plant must meet other requirements such as installation and construction of piping; inspection must be carried out by an accredited DPR company, the materials used for the construction of the filling shed must be non-inflammable and the filling shed must be open-sided for good ventilation. Provided all these rules are adhered to, there is no reason why gas plants should be exploding frequently.
We therefore urge DPR, state and local governments to rise up to their responsibilities and strictly ensure adherence to the guidelines in the licensing, construction, maintenance and operation of gas plants. Meanwhile, we commiserate with the people and government of Nasarawa State and with the victims’ families over this tragic event. We should ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind in this country.
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