“It was discovered that the management did not have approval from the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development to operate that gas plant.”
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For Dr. Basil Ogbuanu, managing director of Second Coming Nigeria Limited, these are no cheery times.
Since January this year, his company, which deals in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), has been shut down by the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, following an inferno that left one dead at the company’s plant on CMD Road, Magodo, Lagos.
Ogbuanu is pleading with the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to help save his company and the thousands of jobs that would be lost if the facility remained closed.
Ogbuanu recalled how the incident happened at 6.15am on January 15, when his security man called to tell him that one of his tankers was leaking.
“I quickly went there to see what was going on. We activated our water system because the gas was leaking, but when we discovered that the leakage was much and we needed to have access to that truck to stop it manually, I quickly notified the fire service, so they came to the place.
“As at the time fire service came, there was no fire incident. What we wanted them to do was to help us pour water on that tank, to have access to the tank and then, shut it down. Though the truck has what we call automatic shut off valve, that would be putting something heavy on the tank.
Since the truck was leaking from the valve, someone could not open it deliberately. So, when the fire service came, they asked the workers on ground to leave so that they could take over. While they were taking over, the fire started from the inside.
“Unfortunately, we lost one of my valued workers, Saheed. He was a driver in our company. When the fire started, he was inside and he sustained fire injury. He was taken first to the Lagos State Emergency Unit, but he was later referred to another private hospital at Oshodi, where he died. The
Lagos State Safety Commission (LASSCOM) immediately came and sealed up the place.”
He recalled that all the gadgets needed were on ground, saying it was why they were able to manage the situation until the nearest fire service got to the scene.
As expected, the LASSCOM set up a panel involving the staff and external consultants.
“After the investigation, the panel submitted a report, which took them about a month. The safety commission issued a conditional re-opening giving us a condition of what we needed to do. They said we should upgrade our safety facilities, which we did. After that, we wrote to them and they came for inspection. After the inspection, they went back to write officially that they were satisfied with the safety measures we put in place in the plant. They gave us the permission to open the plant for business.
“Shockingly, three days later, officials of the Physical Planning Department, through the enforcement agents, that is, the Lagos Building Control Agency, came and locked up the plant. They said Lagos State was reviewing oil-related businesses and that they would get back to us whenever they were done.
“Since that time, all the efforts we made to re-open the plant or find out what we did have been in vain. Surprisingly, all other companies involved in the same business like ours in and around our vicinity are still in operation. We are, therefore, wondering if our company is the only one having its operations reviewed. We are not against any government policy aimed at sanitising or streamlining the industry, but when our company seems to have been particularly singled out for review, it gives cause for concern,” he said.
Ogbuanu lamented that the company was in debt, with members of staff out of job.
“It is a very bad situation to us because it is that place that provides what we eat, and what we use to take care of our families. The closure of this plant has affected our staff and their families to the extent that most of us have withdrawn our children from school.
“We have been out of business for eight months now and it is painful when we know that there is no justifiable reason for the closure of the plant. We diligently did what the authorities concerned told us to do and we are ready to do more. Unfortunately, all efforts we made so far failed. We even requested for audience with the commissioner in charge, but that was rejected.
“We have not committed any crime and even before the fire started, we invited the fire service and they could testify to that.
“We suspect that there is a vested interest in the matter but we cannot pinpoint where it is coming from.
“When the Lagos State Building Control Agency officials came and locked up our plant, they wrote a letter telling us to go to Physical Planning and get a permit to enable us to function. We went and they gave us an assessment of about N2 million and we paid, and the same Physical Planning issued us a receipt. The reason why they collected our money, issued us a receipt and still refused us is what I don’t understand. There is a document to that effect. Another is that, the business we do is shut down and we are not doing anything till today. When we sought some succour from the commissioner for physical planning for us to express our own views, they refused and wrote back to say it was not possible.
“My fear is that something is happening somewhere. Somebody wants to close down my business. The conspiracy that is going on is what I cannot really identify. I know that something is happening and I am sure that His Excellency, being the governor, is not aware of this. So, I am calling on him to use his position as the father of all to come and intervene in our plight. We are suffering. The management is suffering because we have nothing else to live on.
“The greatest is when the commissioner gave us a letter, we sought for a loan to rebuild the burnt plant, believing that, in less than a month, we would be able to repay. We collected N20 million. Now, the bank is on our head and the place is still closed down. I am using this opportunity to call on His Excellency, Governor Ambode, to graciously open our business for us, since all the efforts we have made through Physical Planning have failed,” he said.
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Meanwhile in a letter to the company dated April 9, 2018, and signed by Hakeem Dickson, director general, LASSCOM, the company was asked to reopen for business.
Part of the letter read: “Reference to your letter dated April 5, 2018, and subsequent inspection of the plant, it was observed that the recommendation as provided by the fire investigation report submitted to your organisation was implemented.
“In view of the above, your facility is hereby re-opened for business in line with the Commission Law of 2011.
“Please note that a comprehensive safety audit of your facility will be conducted within two weeks of full operation.”
Efforts to reach the commissioner for physical planning and urban development, Rotimi Ogunleye, were unsuccessful. But the general manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency, Lekan Shodeinde, stressed that the gas company had not been granted approval to reopen the premises after the explosion.
Shodeinde stated that though the company’s management had applied for its re-opening, the request could not be granted presently.
He said: “After the incident, the management applied that the place be reopened. We have received
its approval but to get the place open, different agencies must visit the premises to ensure everything conforms to the standard set by the state government.
“Even before the explosion, it was discovered that the management did not have approval from the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development to operate that gas plant. The company is not the only case the state government is currently treating. There are other similar cases we are treating.”