Tragedy struck in Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State, last week following an explosion that led to the destruction of lives and property. It also led to the maiming of many. From reports the incident seemed like a perfect example of a disaster foretold. According to eyewitness accounts, fire was said to have been ignited from the sparks generated by a head-on collision involving an okada, (or motorcycle) rider and a keke (tricycle) driver right in the vicinity of a gas station with an unattended leaking pipe. Following the impact, catastrophe struck. The police reports that first casualty figures shows that 18 persons were burnt to death and many injured.
In the aftermath of this tragic occurrence, the city of Lafia, the state and the nation at large are left to bear the avoidable and wasteful loss of lives and property. The state governor, Tanko Al-Makura, cut short his trip from outside the state to return for an on-the-spot assessment of the incident. Bodies of the dead were evacuated to the state hospital morgue while the many injured were taken to a private hospital. The governor has promised that the state would bear the cost of treatment of those injured, including overseas treatment if necessary.
We hereby commend the governor for his immediate response to the tragedy, but regret that the unfortunate accident once again draws attention to our lack of capacity and general managerial ability in organising very simple everyday city life. Indiscipline in locating very sensitive facility and failure of law enforcement by those saddled with such responsibility will continue to hunt us in moments like this. The gas station was located next to a filling station, and very close to the road. In the last one year or so, reports suggest an increase in gas explosion tragedies in several towns in the country.
Those of Lagos, Nnewi and Jos easily come to mind. The location of facilities like filling and gas stations has to be carefully sited at reasonable distances from living quarters and congested business premises. Even more importantly, those who approve the locations for such facilities must ensure that all safety measures are in place and that they are regularly supervised to ensure compliance and when breaches occur, that adequate and prompt enforcements are meted out.
We do not do this. State and local government officials do not care. The business owners themselves are only interested in their profit than the safety of their customers and workers. It is time we as a people and government put the necessary premium on human lives. We cannot say we take ourselves seriously enough, when every now and again, we return to business as usual, after every disaster. It is the story of the man who lives in a fool’s paradise and expects a different outcome from doing the same thing all the time.
In the Lafia gas accident, there was clear dereliction of duty by all concerned. Apart from the failure of the approving authorities, there is the culpability of the station managers at the gas plant who neglected to attend to a leaking gas pipe until disaster occured. What were they expecting, if not disaster, from a highly inflammable product oozing out from its pipes unattended? Then there is the query for the public safety officials in the state. Where was the supervision and enforcement of mini gas station to ensure safety? We play too much in this country and wish God will do the work we are supposed to do.
Also, the response time by firefighters was poor; besides, the state doesn’t seem to have properly trained, kitted and motivated firemen. State governors whose capitals or other towns are growing in population must wake up to their responsibilities. Governors must stop running cities as though they were villages. Perhaps a few more lives would have been saved if help was not delayed in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Not enough consideration has been given to rescue and emergency operations capability in the state and the nation as a whole.
Hopefully, we do not return to business as usual after this sorrow and public grieving have passed. This is the best opportunity for government to work with the appropriate agencies to ensure full compliance with the extant laws and regulations as they relate to the location and operation of gas and filling stations. The state house of Assembly and DPR should do their work by following up on what needs to be done. We commend the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki who was among other officials that went to commiserate with victims. He should use his good office to help determine how oversight and procedure must help guard against reoccurrence.