The authorities could do more to stop the risks of rising cylinder explosions

The Chairman of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Professor Simon Mallam and his son were among the six persons killed last Saturday when a gas exploded in Kaduna State. The explosion, according to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), was caused by illegal decanting (transfer) of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) into another cylinder by operators of the facility. While we commiserate with the families of the deceased, it is important that we find lasting solution to what has become a harvest of avoidable deaths in our country.

The DPR has pledged that it would “continue to monitor and sensitise members of the public on safe handling of petroleum products to prevent the occurrence of incidences like this”. But this is not the first time the department would make such a promise without any follow-up. Within a spate of one week last December in Lagos, no fewer than six persons were killed with dozens of others critically injured when a gas exploded in Ajegunle, Ifelodun Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and a five-star hotel on the Island which was caused by welders working within the premises.

It should worry the authorities that in the past five years, hundreds of lives have been lost to gas explosions. Ironically, this is coming amid intense campaigns on the need for Nigerians to drop kerosene for gas as a cheaper and cleaner means of cooking. In a recent incident, some gas escaped into the air and got to a fire point where a lady was operating a restaurant, killing and injuring many people. Another gas explosion at Arakale market in Akure, Ondo State last year was traced to an illegal gas re-filling plant which wounded many and razed many shops.

However, the Ajegunle explosion which claimed lives aside dozens of shops that were gutted highlights the danger that should necessitate a campaign. According to reports, the explosion occurred when a mobile call came in as a gas vendor was filling a cylinder for a customer. In 2017, a chlorine cylinder exploded at the Plateau State Water Board treatment plant at Lamingo, Dogon Karfe, Jos South Local Government Area, leaving eight people dead, among them a pregnant woman and children. Dozens of others sustained varying degrees of injuries.

Concerned by the influx of sub-standard Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders into the country, a former National Coordinator of Women in LPG, Mrs Nkechi Obi, last year warned that Nigerian homes may be risking deadly explosions. While canvassing for the use of LPG for cooking rather than firewood which destroys the fragile eco-system, Obi said using “fake cylinders also poses severe danger to our womenfolk, who face daily risk of death or injury in the event of explosion.’’

In all this, the relevant authorities need to organise sensitisation programmes to all gas retail outlets on how to operate their business with minimal risk. Similarly, it is also important to educate households on the need to gradually replace their metal gas cylinders with fibre cylinders, said to be highly fire-resistant. The promise to phase out and replace the gas cylinders in circulation with more advanced ones should be hastened. It will also help if distributing and marketing firms own the cylinders as against individuals who have been using the same cylinder for upwards of three decades. That practice could be very dangerous. It is clear that much more has to be done to ensure that the metal components are in good form just as the need to abide by safety procedures at all times.

The authorities cannot continue to look the other way while many of our citizens continue to die of preventable cylinder explosion.