Property worth millions of naira went up in flames on April 27, when a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) filling station on Yaya Abatan Street in Ogba, Lagos State, caught fire.
The fire was said to have emanated from a diesel-laden tanker that was about to discharge its content into the station’s underground storage tamks.
It was by no means the only filling station that had been razed in like manner in Lagos in the recent past. In fact, such incidents have become a common occurrence in the state.
Besides the burnt fuel station, the fire also consumed more than 30 vehicles parked in a nearby car mart, even as some buildings surrounding the facility did not escape the wrath of the inferno. Some residents, whose houses were affected by the fire, said they were taking their siesta when they were aroused from sleep by shouts that the filling station had caught fire.
It took the combined efforts of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Fire Service, Federal Fire Service and the Fire Department of the NNPC to put out the fire, which raged for hours. But then, colossal damage had been done.
On March 21, 2019, shops, cars, motorbikes and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed in an explosion from a local gas station, which rocked Aguda, Surulere, Lagos. A mechanic’s workshop was burnt, while a bungalow and a mosque were partially affected by the fire. Some residents sustained minor injuries during the stampede that ensued.
It was gathered that the incident occurred barely two weeks after the facility, located on Olatunde Onimole Street, opened for business. Meanwhile, owners of the affected shops, who lamented their losses, claimed that they kicked against the gas station being sited close to residential buildings when it was opened, but the owner of the building and others turned a deaf ear to their complaints.
The large number of fuel stations in major Nigerian cities, particularly Lagos, is attaining alarming dimensions, and many residents are worried. The sight of fuel stations in close proximity with residential buildings has become a recurrent nightmare. Many people, including experts and residents, are worried about the consequences on human health and the environment.
Many people have continued to wonder why a filling station would be approved in a residential area. In Lagos, it is common to see fuel stations being built in areas with high population. Some of the facilities share perimeter fences with residential houses.
As a result of this seeming lackadaisical attitude by the regulatory authorities, lives have been lost and property has been damaged by infernos that suddenly start at fuel stations.
In 2017, Fatgbems Filling Station, sited at Jakande Bus Stop on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, was gutted by fire. The fire reportedly started when a tanker was discharging petrol into a well at the station.
Residents of some nearby buildings will forever remain grateful to God for the timely arrival of LASEMA who put out the fire.
The fire outbreak at MRS Filling Station that occurred in 2016 in Surulere also destroyed several belongings, and some of the victims are yet to recover from their losses.
There have been posers on what is happening to the guidelines by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) on the distances that should be observed between a fuel station and a residential house.
According to the rules, fuel stations are to be built at a distance of 400 metres from one another, which sharply contradicts what is obtainable in most parts of Lagos and other major cities. The distance to the nearest residential building should not be less than 50 metres, to avoid hazards. But many have observed that the opposite is what is displayed by these business owners.
From Abule-Egba, to Ogba, Mushin, Egbeda, Apapa to Ibeju-Lekki, the proliferation of filling stations stares everyone in the face. As if it is the only business now in vogue, fuel stations are sited at any available space in Lagos. Such facilities also have other features, including shopping malls, sections for sale of domestic cooking gas and lube bays for servicing vehicles.
Apart from the fact that petroleum products are highly inflammable, their transportation, offloading, storage and sale are issues that call for concern. Therefore, many people are asking if these facilities sited in residential areas were ever approved by government and, if they are illegal, why is government looking the other way, to the peril of innocent citizens?
The location of petrol stations, despite their economic importance, is expected to be guided by health and environmental rules. This is not a subject of debate in many countries of the world, where human life is cherished. In advanced countries, the rules are clearly spelt out and strictly adhered to by all.
Except the Nigerian government moves quickly to arrest the ugly trend, the number of filling stations sprouting in residential areas would continue to soar with its attendant negative effects. Residents are worried that the guidelines are being flouted, thereby constituting hazards to residents living in close proximity to petrol stations. This violation of the DPR guidelines by filling station operators increases residents’ vulnerability to petrol-related hazards.
As stipulated in the DPR Procedure Guide (2010), under the Petroleum Act, CAP 150 of 1967, “the implications for flouting the DPR guidelines by petrol stations range from classifying that petrol station as illegal to revocation of licence, depending on the gravity of the offence.”
Many Nigerians have questioned the effectiveness of this regulatory body, particularly in prosecuting offenders.
A former lecturer at the School of Environmental Studies, Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, Ahmed Abdul, called for precautionary measures while locating fuel stations where people reside. He said there was no business interest that should supersede the safety of people in any given environment.
In an interview with the reporter, he charged those in authority to do the right thing, so that fuel stations would henceforth be sited at required distances from places of public assembly such as markets, hospitals and schools as well as areas of high traffic congestion and residential buildings. He charged government, at the federal and state levels, to be wary of the dangers inherent in building filling stations in unapproved areas in any part of Nigeria.
Abdul said it was disheartening that some influential politicians and businessmen have over the years connived with corrupt officials in the approving agencies to promote illegality without considering the consequences of their quest for profit on ordinary Nigerians.
The promoter of clean and safe environment, appealed to the authorities concerned with the safety of Nigerians to wake up from their slumber and swing into action to mitigate the avoidable deaths that loom around the stations.
He lamented that the encroachment on residential areas has continued for too long as a result of a lack of the political will to enforce the urban planning law. As such, the use of land has been left in the hands of landowners, he regretted.
He, therefore, charged the House of Assembly in each state to enact laws forbidding either government or individuals from giving out plots of land for fuel stations in residential areas.
At Old Ota Road, close to Ile-Epo Market, in Agbado Oke Local Council Development Area (LCDA), two landlords living a stone’s throw from each other sold their houses, each occupying a plot, to some petrol dealers. A few months later, the petrol stations were standing and business began to boom almost immediately.
A visit to Abaranje Road in Ikotun, Lagos State, would leave one wondering if fuel stations are the only business left in the world, as stations there compete for attention day and night.
A study jointly conducted by Mshelia A.M., John Abdullahi and Emmanuel Daniel Dawha on the environmental effects of petrol stations close to residential houses in Maiduguri, Borno State, revealed that the guidelines for locating the stations have not been adhered to by most of the petrol stations, thereby posing serious hazards to residential structures in close proximity to them. They asked the state legislature to enact laws forbidding either government or individuals from converting plots of land for location of petrol stations within the township. They also urged Nigerians and the courts to resist any attempt by either of the two sides to convert the use of any land within the townships.
A top official of the DPR explained that the agency had already clamped down on illegal filling stations, saying the agency was collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders to tackle the problem.
But concerned Nigerians believe that more needs to be done. While many are accusing the DPR of not doing enough to arrest the ugly situation, the department has at different times, claimed that most of the petrol stations affected were either given certain waivers or clearance by some state governments, compelling the DPR to license them.
The official also revealed that some of the fuel stations had been approved and operated for decades, but other people in the area later sold their land for developers to build residential houses.
Worried by the various illegal operations, in August 2019, the DPR shut down operations at one filling station in Surulere and two other stations, which were allegedly constructed illegally, on Itire Lawanson Road, Lagos.
Head of retail outlets monitoring, Lagos office, Mr. Akinyemi Atilola, explained that the reasons for sealing one of the stations was that it was operating without licence and in an unsafe environment.
He said the erring station was sealed previously but the owner dared the DPR and broke the seal and it continued to sell products to the public.
A Lagos resident, Mr. Kingsley Aikhomu, told Daily Sun that government should be solely held responsible for the lapses.
“These filling stations are operating day and night. The government is aware of their operations. Therefore, I believe that there is no excuse for not dealing with the people flouting the rules of the business,” he said.