Red Cross officials in Nigeria say at least 250 people have been killed in an oil pipeline explosion in the commercial capital, Lagos. The final death toll could be higher, as officials say they are still compiling names of the missing. Pipeline explosions have become a recurring problem in Nigeria as thieves often tap into pipelines, scooping up the fuel in buckets or plastic bags. One of the biggest blasts killed more than a thousand people in 1998 in the southern Nigerian town of Jesse.
Levi Ajuonuma is spokesman for the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation. He said the government has taken steps to prevent against pipeline vandalism.
“Pipeline vandalism is suicide and it’s a criminal activity. So while what happened is regrettable, it does not justify anybody destroying government property. Now people give all kinds of excuses. They say because there’s hunger, there is poverty, desperation, and so on and so forth. So we’re trying to educate people and tell them that fine, there may be hunger; there may be poverty. But it does not justify criminal activity,” he said.
Ajuonuma said the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation has a strong community outreach program.
“We go out to the communities that have what we called the pipeline right of way and we educate them, and we talk with them, and we discourage them from building on the pipeline, for example. Of course, as an oil company we take our social responsibility seriously. These communities have schools built for them; they have health amenities. They have really the basic necessities for life. But what really happens is that there are a few people who are bent on quick money. They want to cash in on any little emergency they see to make quick money,” he said.
Ajuonuma said the Nigerian government has recently approved new measures to protect pipelines, including the use of modern technology.
“The technology has gone very far. You can use computer sensor chips that can detect movements around the pipelines. The government has just approved that a new set of measures be put in place, including burying the pipeline deeper into the soil. Then there is even a physical surveillance by security agencies. So everything is being done to protect the pipelines. But the most important issue is the education and enlightenment of people to know that nothing justifies with tampering with an inflammable product pipeline. It will result to tragedy,” Ajuonuma said
He denied Nigeria, an oil producing country, has been having a fuel shortage crisis in recent days. Ajuonuma said Nigeria has enough fuel to serve the entire country. But he said fuel could not be distributed if vandals continue to tamper with pipelines.