STEVE OKO, in Umuahia reports that almost a week after the pipeline explosion in Osisioma LGA of Abia state, which claimed over hundred lives, there has been no consensus on what led to the gory incident.
Friday October 12, 2018 will indeed be remembered for bad in the history of Abia state following the pipeline explosion that claimed scores of lives. The affected communities are Umuimo and Umuaduru both in Osisioma Local Government Area of the state.
Although there are conflicting casualty figures, over hundred souls were believed to have perished in the ugly incident which its real cause is yet to be established.
A local source, the Chairman of Traditional Rulers Council in the LGA, HRM Eze Ikechukwu Chiavoyinefu, said no fewer than 150 lives had so far been claimed by the explosion.
However, the Police said 24 corpses were recovered from the scene on the first day. The Divisional Police Officer in the area, Mr. Obongoma Udosen, said 19 corpses were recovered from Umuaduru scene alone, adding that other victims were moved to the hospital.
Still on casualty figure, on October 17, the Governor of Abia state, Okezie Ikpeazu, while receiving in audience the Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Peter Obi, who visited him over the incident, said no fewer than 142 victims were involved. He said the victims had been profiled.
Apart from the dead, scores of others who sustained various degrees of burns with some in critical conditions are now at various hospitals in Aba and its environs where medical experts are battling to save their lives.
And besides human casualties, some buildings in the area as well as crops and farm lands were also involved.
The devastation in the affected communities was terrible. The sad experience is better imagined. Some locals have been rendered homeless and thrown into sudden hardship as they lost beloved ones to the explosion.
Ikpeazu said the state was battling to provide accommodation for those rendered homeless by the explosion. The governor also said serious efforts were on to give medical attention to the survivors who are still in hospitals.
Meanwhile, there are many questions begging for answer over the entire scenario. Indeed, certain allegations, claims and counter claims need be clarified for better understanding of what truly transpired with a view to preventing future occurrences.
For instance, the communities have denied any act of vandalism as a possible cause of the explosion. They said it was not a case of pipeline breakage but leakage. They blamed the incident on negligence by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which they said failed to take any preventive action to repair the leaking pipelines even after being duly notified.
Former lawmaker representing Osisioma at the Abia House of Assembly, Dr. Ikechukwu Nwabeke, and the incumbent Chairman of Osisioma LGA, Mr. Benjamin Mgbeahuru, affirmed the pipeline leakage narrative.
The duo claimed that the NNPC management was alerted of the leakage but failed to act. The Council boss, in particular, said he personally went to the NNPC depot Osisioma to seek audience with the management after three previous invitations by the Council were not honoured.
He further claimed that water boreholes in the area had been badly affected by the constant pipeline leakages but regretted that NNPC has remained adamant to the people’s pleas.
On how the explosion occurred, Nwankpa said it was as a result of fire ignited by an unsuspecting food vendor in her kitchen at the wee hours on the fateful day.
According to him, the woman had woken to go about her normal business. She struck a match in her kitchen near a pipeline but unknown to her, the entire area had been soaked with petrol.
The entire building was immediately engulfed and razed down by fire which quickly spread to the neighborhood. Both the woman and her husband reportedly died following severe burns they sustained.
The former lawmaker debunked reports of possible vandalism saying the casualties were victims of negligence by NNPC. The Department of Petroleum Resources has also dismissed the possibility of vandalism.
Deputy Chief Technical Officer of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Mr. Sani Balas, said there was nothing to suggest the explosion occurred as a result activities of vandals.
Balas who was at the scene when Senator Theodore Orji, representing Abia Central in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly, visited for on-the-spot assessment of the situation ruled out the possibility of vandalism.
Then the big questions yawning for answers include: Why should NNPC fail to act on the alert of pipeline leakages as claimed by the locals? Why should NNPC decide to pump products via the old pipeline which is faulty instead of the good one as alleged by the communities? Could it be an act of carelessness, oversight or deliberate wickedness on the part of NNPC?
Meanwhile, another disturbing angle was the allegation by one of the traditional rulers in the affected communities, HRH Eze Godswill Mgbarime, that security agents instead of preventing locals rushing to scoop free fuel from the scene, rather resorted to collecting N1000 from each of them. But this could not be confirmed by any of the security agencies.
The traditional ruler also said about four security agents involved in this illegality were equally consumed by the inferno.
According to reports, a particular security agency had stormed the scene in three Hilux vans shortly after the explosion and carted away the charred bodies of its personnel.
Eyewitness said they chased away everybody in sight and stayed for some minutes searching for burnt riffles of the personnel before finally leaving the scene after they had made the recoveries. The DPO in the area however refused to comment on the claims.
Meanwhile, youths of the area had on Monday gone on rampage following the increasing number of deaths in the aftermath of the explosion. The irate youths had barricaded the Osisioma junction of the Enugu -Port Harcourt Expressway with a corpse of one of the latest victims who died on Monday at the hospital.
The protesting youths demanded explanations from the management of NNPC on why the corporation has not been repairing its damaged pipelines which have posed grave danger to residents.
The irate youths threatened to deal with the depot manager should he fail to retract a comment credited to him on the possible cause of the explosion. The depot manager had reportedly alleged that the pipelines might have been tampered with.
Meanwhile, politicians have almost turned the incident to a campaign issue. Virtually every serious minded political office seeker both within and outside the state have visited the area to commiserate with the people.
First to storm the communities was Senator Orji who flew in from Abuja a day after the explosion to register his sympathy. Orji who described the incident as horrific and a national disaster, called on the federal government to come to the aid of the victims especially those still hospitalised.
He also called on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to quickly send in relief materials to help lessen the plight of the victims.
Orji who spent time visiting the affected villages also made cash donations to some of the victims.
He said full investigation would be launched to ascertain the cause of the explosion with a view to preventing future occurrences.
The former governor chided NNPC for not taking any action to repair its faulty pipeline based on the claims of the locals. He, however, cautioned people against scooping fuel from leaking pipelines considering the huge risk involved.
He said: “It is natural that considering the increasing hunger in the land people would be tempted to scoop fuel from ruptured pipeline for free money. But it is a big risk to do such thing.
“People should not because of poverty take such risk. This will be a big lesson to everyone that anytime there is pipeline leakage run away from the area. Don’t come closer, report to the relevant authorities for necessary action. Behave like mad man; shout until attention is given to you because when the disaster comes it affects everybody. “
The PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, sent his running mate Peter Obi; to commiserate with the Government and people of Abia state over the explosion.
Also, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Alex Otti; his All Progressive Congress (APC counterpart, Uche Ogah among others, have visited the scene of the incident to sympathise with the people. They all promised succor to the victims.
Gov. Ikpeazu and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Chikwendu Kanu, had also promised to assist in the medical bills of the victims.
The leaders of the affected communities urged the state and federal governments, as well as individuals and corporate bodies, to urgently provide medical, financial and other logistics assistance to the affected communities to handle the pathetic humanitarian crisis in the area.