January 7, 2019 was doomsday for the Chigbata family of Mmiata Anam, Anambra State.
Indeed, it was a black Monday for the family. While the world was still basking in the euphoria of the New Year celebrations, the family was almost wiped out by a domestic gas explosion.
Five persons were killed, including Mr and Mrs Chigbata, another couple, who are their neighbours, as well as their house-help who tried to help in putting out the fire. Household belongings were also razed.
Emeka Chigbata, one of the survivors of the inferno, explained how the explosion occurred.
“It was around 7pm. My mother told me that our cooking gas was not supplying light properly. I noticed that the gas also smelt heavily. But before I could get a torch to see the source of the leakage, it exploded and the whole house was engulfed by fire.
“My mum, who was in the kitchen, was caught by the fire. I rushed to save her and was also caught in the fire. My dad and our neighbours who tried to help were similarly attacked. In all, seven of us were heavily affected but only two of us survived while the other five died,” he said.
Emeka said when the explosion occurred, it was a loud bang and some of the neighbours who heard the noise, ran away.
“Every valuable property we owned was burnt, including vital documents. To worsen the matter, while the fire lasted, some heartless ones who joined genuine sympathisers stole the few things we were able to rescue. They took away whatever caught their interest, including electronic devices.
“I escaped through the help of God. I remember, I ran with the fire on my body and people were running for their lives. Somehow, I passed out until I regained consciousness days later in a hospital bed.”
Similarly, in August 2015, members of the Obidigwe family of Azia in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State were burnt to death in a gas explosion which occurred in their three- storey building in Lagos.
Charles Obidigwe, 51, a patent medicine dealer and head of the family, died instantly after unsuccessful attempts to put out the fire. The other eight members of his family, including his sister-in-law and her son, who were staying with them, died later in a hospital.
The fire was ignited when a gas cylinder exploded and ignited a fire which engulfed the entire flat while Mrs. Obidigwe was preparing lunch for the family.
The Obidigwes and their neighbours did not have any fire extinguisher. So, by the time the men of Lagos State Fire Service arrived, the harm had been done.
Also, on Sunday, July 16, 2017, Eddie Bekom, a staff of the Cross River Broadcasting Service (CRBS) in Ikom, along with his wife and son, died in a fire triggered by domestic gas explosion. Their three other children sustained injuries.
On August 28, 2017, another gas explosion occurred at the female hostel of the Jos campus of the Plateau State Polytechnic. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the fire, which started around 8.30 a.m., raged on till 11.44a.m., causing confusion among students and staff. Though no life was lost, the fire burnt school property and personal effects of the students.
Lagos State Coordinator, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Joseph Ugbaja once revealed that if a cylinder of 12kg explodes, it was capable of bringing down a two storey building.
According to him, most people using gas cylinders hardly remember when it was bought; not knowing that cylinders have expiry date. He advised that cooking gas cylinders must not exceed five years.
“LPG cylinder is an essential component of our kitchen, and almost every home owns it,” he said. “Available easily in the market, the LPG cylinder can be used further by refilling, but that is not the case always. The LPG being used at homes comes with an expiry date which many are certainly unaware of it. Once the cylinder is past the expiry date, one must stop using it. But most people have no idea how to check the expiry date of the cylinder.”
Investigation by the reporter revealed how to check the expiry date of LPG gas cylinders. The expiry date is coded with alphabet and numbers which starts with A, B, C or D followed by a two digit number. e.g. D06.The alphabets stand for quarters -A for March (First quarter), B for June (Second quarter),C for Sept (third quarter), and D for December (fourth quarter). The digits stand for the year. Hence, D-06 would mean December quarter of 2006. However, there is a limited grace period of three to four months after the expiry date as the cylinder cannot be pulled out immediately out of the circulation.
While commenting on how to use domestic gas safely, Jelifat Opoola, of Connect.com said that using gas to cook comes with its own risks and dangers, as the methane used for combustion is highly flammable. She noted that although cooking with gas cookers and burners might be easier, faster and less expensive, there are a lot of things that must be taken into consideration as accidents involving gas cookers tend to be fatal.
“Explosions occur because the gas is not actually visible and can only be perceived if a considerable amount is lost, making it more difficult to detect leakage and saturation,” she said. “A room filled with methane gas is undoubtedly dangerous. To be on a safe side, avoid leaking cylinders.”
She said that some people might not notice that the cylinder might be leaking and even when they do, some would rather seal the leakage with an adhesive tape in a bid to save cost.
“If your cylinder leaks, do not waste another minute in removing it from the house so that the gas does not saturate the kitchen and cause a fire,” she said.
Opoola said that it is safer to keep the cylinder outside than inside the kitchen. “The gas cylinder should be kept outside for safety and emergency purposes so that in case a fire happens, it does not destroy lives and property. Pressure is used to pump the gas into the cylinder and if an explosion happens, the damage will be minimized if it is outside rather than inside the house.”
She also advised users to adjust all stoppers every night: The stoppers, she explained, are the knobs used to control and regulate the gas.
“Before sleeping each night, make sure that the stoppers are closed and in the right position to avoid mistakes. If the stopper is open, gas can easily leak out and cause a fire anytime. So make sure the stoppers are close when the cooker is not in use, especially at night.”
After, taking all these measures and fire still occurs, do not pour water into the burning fire. “In an emergency situation whereby a pot is on the gas cooker and it is already burning, do not pour water directly, so as not to compound the problem. The first thing is to close the stopper to ensure that more gas is not being fed into the fire, then pour sand, not water, into the burning pot.
She further explained that most facilities usually have a sand bucket that could be used in case of a fire incident. So you can adapt this as well by keeping sand in a container as a precautionary measure.
Former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, at a stakeholders meeting, said the Federal Government was coming up with a policy that would remove the ownership of Liquefied Petroleum Gas cylinders from consumers. He said the policy would require that the ownership of the cylinders rests strictly with the dealers and distributors, adding that this was part of the strategy to deepen the penetration of LPG, also known as cooking gas, and address issues of safety.
Kachikwu added that the Federal Government had reached an agreement with two original cylinder manufacturers to deliver 600,000 cylinders to LPG distributors on credit, with a repayment period of 18 months.
He said the Federal Government would soon commence the clampdown on illegal roadside LPG dealers, while he directed all skid operators of LPG to immediately convert their outlets to micro distribution centres before the enforcement begins.
Kachikwu said: “The MDCs will essentially create and introduce into the market what we call the cylinder exchange programme, whereby the cylinders are owned by the distributors.
“There is no need for you to decant for anybody that comes in, and that eliminates illegal risks as well. You would fill them at the refill plants that would be tied to you and exchange it with your customers because you know your customers already.
“Your customers pay for only the content, while you own the cylinders and control the management of those cylinders. It is for us to be able to, at any point in time, discern and discover cylinders that are bad, cylinders that need recertification and cylinders that need to be removed from circulation.
“We put that onus on distributors going forward, to support the safe and standard method of selling LPG. I tell you today that Nigeria is the only country in West Africa that does not practice the re-circulation model. Everyone has moved away from this because, again, most of the population cannot afford cylinders. So, you have to remove that cost from them.”