The sudden spate of gas-related fatalities that have maimed and killed many people are giving Nigerians nagging headaches.
Incalculable losses have been recorded in Lagos and across the country, which many pundits have described as avoidable.
In just over a week, as many as five gas explosions have occurred in different parts of Lagos, sending panic and fear to many hearts.
The latest gas explosion occurred on Monday, August 3 at Orile-Iganmu, area of Lagos. Two persons were confirmed dead while five were others injured.
One of the deceased, Ajibola Olaoye who was an artisan, was said to have died while working with his welding machine on heavy-duty equipment.
Eyewitnesses said the explosion was as a result of a gas leak from the cylinder with which the artisan was working.
Family members, friends and business associates are yet to come to terms with the sudden demise of Titilayo Adeyanju and her daughter, Funke, who were on July 28, lost to a gas explosion in Ajao Estate in Lagos.
It was one incident that greatly shook the neighbourhoods, sending fear and anxiety to the marrows. Apart from the woman and her daughter, another resident of the area, identified simply as Alfa was also killed by the explosion. All the victims, according to eyewitness, died painful deaths.
The impact of the explosion was said to have blown Titilayo, Funke and Alfa into pieces. Many people wailed uncontrollably at the scene. It was learnt that Titilayo had closed for the day when the welder, Alfa, came in a commercial tricycle to purchase gas at her shop.
Residents of the area explained that Titilayo initially refused to attend to Alfa, but after much persuasion, she changed her mind and instructed her daughter, Funke, who usually assisted her, to attend to the customer. However, as Funke attempted to transfer gas from one of the giant cylinders into the miniature cylinder brought by the welder, the whole shop exploded in seconds.
The impact of the explosion was said to be far-reaching, affecting several buildings in the area. Dismembered body parts and wreckages of the burnt vehicles and shops that were destroyed by the impact of the explosion littered the scene.
A resident of the area said: “I just can’t believe that Mummy Titilayo is gone just like that. She and her daughter died in a very painful way. God saved her grandson, who usually comes with her to the shop. That very day, I was told he decided to stay back. The death of the woman and her daughter is a big loss to their family.”
Another resident, who only gave his name as Femi, said: “The cylinders were flying out of the shop like rockets. One landed on the roof of a three-storey building under construction and started burning the roof.”
Just as people of the state were trying to shrug off the shock of the Ajao Estate disaster, another gas cylinder went off at Alafia Bus Stop, in Orile Iganmu axis of Lagos.
The explosion, according to the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), killed an artisan, leaving four others with varied degrees of injuries.
The spokesperson for the agency, Mr Nosa Okunbor told Daily Sun that the explosion was attributable to a leak in the supply of gas from the cylinder, leading to the death of the artisan named Ajibola Olaoye, who was utilising the welding equipment for an industrial duty.
In the early morning of March 15, while many Christians were already in their various places of worship, there came a bang that reverberated across many parts of Lagos.
Before many could decipher what was going on, fire was already raging and buildings were falling like packs of cards. The impact travelled several kilometres, shattering roofs and windows of buildings in far-flung places.
The force of the explosion of the Abule-Ado incident in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area (LGA) was so much that many of the residents at the area found it difficult to believe that the explosion wasn’t a bomb blast. Some other persons believed that it was an attempted pipeline vandalism that went haywire.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had said that the explosion that rocked the axis happened when a truck hit gas cylinders in the area noted for harbouring many underground pipelines belonging to the NNPC.
It took different fire fighters almost 24 hours before they could extinguish the inferno. At the end of the rescue operation, scores of people were feared dead, including the Catholic sister in an affected school. Many of the victims were left with everlasting scars from high degree of burns.
In late 2019, yet another incident occurred, as artisans were welding in the premises of a popular hotel in Victoria Island. Aside injuring several people, the explosion caused extensive damage to vehicles and property.
Nigerians have called on those who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring sanity in the business to wake up fromz their seemingly slumber.
One major concern that has continued to be on the front burner among Nigerians is the siting of industrial gas plants in residential areas. Those kicking against this act have faulted the licensing and regulatory bodies for approving such locations for businesses to the detriment of the residents.
A teacher in a private secondary school in Lagos, Mr Adeboye Opeyemi told the reporter on the telephone: “Why is it that we don’t hear much of gas explosions in advanced countries? I have not heard of any of such explosions in residential areas in the United States of America or the United Kingdom. We like to treat things that are important with levity. Just imagine the innocent schoolchildren that were killed in that Abule-Ado explosion.
“I have lived in this Lagos for almost 22 years; I can’t count avoidable incidents that have killed people. Death is so cheap in this part of the world as a result of man-made disasters. It shouldn’t be so, but it is unfortunately so.”
Expressing concerns over the unhealthy development, experts, including physicians and environmentalists have raised the alarm over the health risks inherent in selling acetylene gas, a colourless, highly flammable gas with a garlic-like odour. Acetylene gas can serve as fuel gas when mixed with oxygen for welding, cutting, brazing and soldering.
However, apart from the risks of explosions, environmental experts have repeatedly warned that continuous exposure to acetylene gas could cause cancer of the lungs and death, if not quickly diagnosed and treated.
It is believed that caution and proper monitoring could avert most of the incidents.
For instance, stakeholders have wondered how many people are aware that a damaged or expired acetylene cylinder is like a ticking time bomb to any environment?
“Who among wholesalers and retailers is interested in accepting that extreme caution needs to be applied in storing acetylene, and that the storage area has to be well ventilated and away from the main building,” queried a resident of Ajao Estate who pleaded anonymity.
With the reckless abandonment of safety tips in handling gas cylinders and their contents, findings and experiences have showed that its destructive tendency could be far-reaching.
Those in the know have also said that combustible materials in the gas could cause asphyxiation if released in a confined area due to its anaesthetic effects.
A study published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine to ascertain possible hazards of acetylene on 370 workers in some plants, showed excess deaths from cancer of the lung, stomach and pancreas.
This has been validated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The body has stated that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, particularly in developing countries. Cancer is a debilitating disease in which cells in the body grow out of control, and that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women.
In the same vein, the General Manager of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Dolapo Fasawe, has recently said that aside the health implication posed by acetylene gas, it becomes highly explosive and could kill or cause extensive damage to property when compressed, heated or mixed with air.
According to her, gas retailers in small shops often store the highly inflammable material in giant cylinders from which they dispense to the public in small cylinders, and that due to non-ventilation, an explosion might occur.
She said: “For health and safety reasons, storage and dispensing of acetylene gas or any other gas should not be done within residential areas.”
She explained that before any gas plants are set up within Lagos, an Environmental Impact Assessment must be carried out by LASEPA to ascertain the suitability of the proposed facility for the location. She clarified, though, that Environmental Impact Assessment might not necessarily be needed for small-scale gas retailers with about five to 10 cylinders.
Even at that, she insisted, just like other experts, that such facilities must not be sited within residential areas.