The National Shame Of Fuel Tanker Explosions

Scramble for fuel is what I saw in a news flash on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on the evening of Saturday 21st July,2012.It was precisely that people were scrambling for petrol from a crashed tanker in Ageva area in Okenne ,kogi state.We have not yet got over the national tragedy of the fuel tanker explosion in Okogbe, Ahoda local government in Rivers state, which claimed the lives of about 200 people, yet people were again tempting fate with another leaking fuel tanker.I would have thought that the most recent tanker incident in Ahoda would have deterred Nigerians from this kind of adventure.

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But then fuel tanker explosion as a consequence of fire ignited from metals that have mixed with fuel is all too common in our recent history as a country.I still remember the lives that perished in the Jesse fuel explosion 1999.This was perhaps the first or major oil explosion in our landscape: the sheer scale of the disaster-the massive loss of human life and property- did not fail impress on Nigerians the dangers of petrol explosion, forit was a national disaster.

Significantly, the number of deaths or most of those who perished were not at the actual spot of the leaking fuel but were within the vicinity. What actually happened was that since petrol easily diffuses into atmosphere, it spread throughout that entire region. And then due to the hitting against the pipeline or perhaps the clashes of the basins that were used to convey scooped fuel, a fire ensued and there was an explosion that then affected that entire area in which the fuel had diffused .The implication was that when the fuel explosion fire began its outward journey from the spot of the leaking fuel, people from that spot and around- moving fuel around the entire area - began to run away.But then it was already late, for the fire was already in their front and it engulfed them: The fire had spread quickly through the diffusion into the entire area.The result was an inferno in which scores of people and the farmlands were incinerated.

The big point or lesson from this incident was that fuel fire explosions happen not just by setting fire to petrol but that, whether its pipeline or tanker, fuel explosion can occur from ignition of fire that is caused by the simple friction or clashing of metals or even the ringing or use of a mobile phone in that vicinity.But unfortunately it seems that we are insensible to this reality so much so that we don’t regard the dangers involved in scooping fuel from a leaking petrol source.But then is it that people just do not have regard for their lives’or that they just simply take the risk,considering that the risk involved is so high vis a vis the benefit of the fuel that one would have scooped .

To consider the recent fire disaster, the stories are just pathetic: one particular man said his daughter said the girl had asked for money but because she could not get it she joined in the scramble for free fuel and that was her last.The other stories areall too similar. But unfortunately, the thread in the stories is that the people of the community have almost justified the actions of the people who scooped fuel by saying that the fuel was just pouring away so the people just went to take it. They didn’t paint it like the people went to steal or something;after all they were not trying to salvage the remaining fuel.Clearly,they went to take fuel that was not theirs. This act showed their lack of moral principles and how low we have sunk as a people.

For it has become a common sight in Nigeria for people to just help themselves from whatever they see in a situation where someone has just experienced some adversity. You would see that people take soft drinks from a soft drink truck that fell over or a truck load of fish that has just had an accident. The People just focus on the part of taking such things instead of trying to help the situation.Thus it has become part of our culture to get what you can in such situations,and now it does not even know discrimination. For it has almost become a familiar story of fire inferno or conflagration involving people who are engaged in scooping fuel.But then one would have thought the lessons of previous disasters would have sunk well into Nigerians such that by now people would not dare get engaged in such an act.But I think what is most shameful and scandalous about this is they are a scrambling to earn a living from such dangerous circumstances; it is not as if they are opportunists.

One just has to probe into the possible reasons for their action so that we can prevent the carnage that has become a blot on our publicscape as a country. For it has really become a national shame for us that our people were killed in their numbers-parents, children, adults and young ones- because they were engulfed in an ensuing inferno consequent on their scooping fuel from a tanker.Is it not shameful enough that people went help themselves with something that didn’t belong to them and then the disgrace in the desperation of the people, in that they were not concerned about the dangers of the scooping fuel from the tanker vis a vis their lives.

Now,one would think that since more often than not people have died as a consequence of inferno that resulted from the ignition of fire from either friction of metals or a mobile phone at the scene of the leaking fuel tanker or pipeline,people would have leant the lessons .But far from it!So for those who go there to scoop is it that they are not aware of the dangers,perhaps?

Importantly, the incidents have happened in places where the people are illiterate,uniformed and unenlighted,however they know about the liquid that is leaking: fuel because most of them know that tanker isused for either the transportation of fuel or kerosene. They mostly use the kerosene to cook ,and fuel for their small generator sets .So when they come across a leaking fuel tanker or pipeline it’s simply a boon, they just free ride, what is generally called “awoof” in local parlance.

Significantly,the previous incidents have happened mostly in places where poverty is rife.It has largely involved the ordinary person or accurately the poor of society.These are areas where people live on less than $1 a day by international standards.

Now, to tie these three reasonsof what may be responsible for this foolhardy behavior of our people in scooping petrol from a leaking sources,it emerges that the people who were caught up in the inferno may or may not know about the dangers of the leaking fuel as most of them are illiterate, uninformed and unenlightened. But then if they know,most of these people are desperately poor such that with regard to scooping fuel they really take their chances to get this fuel.They just want to survive, for life is difficult for the ordinary person in Nigeria.For you will see that the attitude of the people in areas where this usually happens is just for survival.

This regrettably shows the deep level of poverty in our country. I mean consider that the fuel tanker incident that happened recently in Okogbe, Ahoda,Rivers state is an oil rich state; ironic isn’t it?So one would wonder that the people there would endanger their lives so much to go and scoop fuel. But then the people are poor.You had to see their looks and their community when they were interviewed on television after the incident. This is largely as a result of the maladministration of the government. For if the oil wealth that had accrued to this state over the period since it discovered oil had been used judisly,the people may not wish to even work to earn a living.But see those going to scoop fuelt they go and take someone’s belonging is bad enough for our image let alone that they did this with that much risk involved to their lives.

But then who is to blame, is it the people or the government that has not developed the society? Of course, the corrupt people in government who will not use the resources ofthe state or federation to develop the country .Rather they line their pockets and salt away our patrimony. This is just the root of thisproblem;after all in the 1970’s and 1980’s we did not used to hear about this sort of incidents in our society.It just shows how desperate life has become. I mean it’s not that people really want to be vandals or exploit such situations to their advantage. Rather it’s that they do not have enough.

The implication is that most people in Nigeria have become beggars, I mean over 70 % of the population beg. Now, I do not mean the sitting down on the roadside begging or just standing and approaching people for daily living, for you will not agree with me. But what I see is a subtle kind of but begging. You go to establishments and you see people obsequiously greet you –mostly junior staff. They so overdo it that they just make you see that they are just being nice to you so as to get something. They hail you or they just say outright that you should something for them, i.e “what do you have for us”or “don’t forget us” to show that they are not begging but that they just saying that since you came to them you should just for courtesy sake do something .They sometimes literally shame you into giving them something. Go to any big establishment and you will notice this.This is not a tip, for they have not done anything for you; to them this is a legitimate means to askas it won’t be obvious to people that they are begging. The simple reason is that they do not have enough to take them home.

Indeed, the poverty levelhas really dug deep. I mean there is real poverty in our country. Just consider that theprices of basic grains have skyrocketed in recent times and people just have to meet up with their basic needs. Today people can hardly feed twice a day. So how willsuch people not take such risks of scooping fuel? I imagine that formost of them,they really do not mind if they die as their lives have become almost nothing.This is most unfortunate for our society considering the vast human and material resources we have in this country.

So until this the poverty level is dealt with in the land we may not have seen the end of people scrambling to go and scoop fuel leaking from a fuel tanker.Thus,our major concern is how to reduce the poverty levels. But then this is a separate matter entirely. So let’s just concern ourselves with what can be done in the interim or short term.

However, we seem to consider fuel tanker disaster as part of our national life. Consider how the most recent fuel explosion in Okogbe,Ahoda has been covered in the media. This was a national disaster that we should mourn as people, when we see how our people were just incinerated in the twinkling of an eye. Yet it has almost passed as just one of those mishaps. I know that the people involved were on the own but that should not be the point. The significance is that it just shows the desperate nature of life in our country.

Thus, people need to be made aware about the dangers of scooping fuel.For some may think it concerns oil pipelineonly so we need to inform the populace about the dangers of tanker fuel.The recent incident is the patform to drum it into the consciousness of Nigerians that it is both wrong and dangerous to scoop leaking fuel.Peoplemust be made to see the possible consequences. This is where the National Orientation agency must come in.But regrettably, so far we have not seen any such initiative from them.I really wonder what they are doing.Is it not time for them to begin to put out national advertorials in the national and local media-television, radio, etc. to educate people about the dangers of scooping fuel.Also, what is Governor Rotimi Amaechi doing a bout enlightening the public about scoopingfuel. Is it not enough shame for him that the people in his state people could die in their numbers-almost 200- fromjust scoping fuel;or is it to go and pay courtesyvisits to people in hospitals after such incidents thatthey prefer? Well, I am impressed with what the NTA have done in informing Nigerians about the scrambling for fuel at Ageva in Okenne ,kogi ,and they also told motorists that the Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC) had told the public to watch how they approach that area. Thankfully, we did not have another disaster this time around.

For the rest of us, whatever opportunity we have to educate people about the dangers of scooping fuel we should do so,on order that we be spared of the pain,tragedies and of course shame from these incidents. We do not necessarily have to wait for the government to enlighten people. Many of these people do not really know the dangers. Let’s join in this campaign to rid our country of these needless deaths at all cost.



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