Udeh, a company staff in Port Harcourt, stepped into his two room apartment and looked straight at the wall clock hanging in the interior of his sitting room and the time had struck 6.40pm. He called his neighbour to send him two bottles of kerosene for his stove which he discovered had run empty. He promptly emptied the bottles in the stove and settled to arrange food for his family. He struck a match stick to ignite the stove, but surprisingly he heard a deafening explosion which set him on fire.
His screaming attracted neighbours but before help could come he had been burnt beyond recognition. Udeh was subsequently rushed to a nearby clinic where he died the following day from severe burns. It was later discovered that the kerosene he bought was adulterated.
Udeh is not the only person who has suffered this fate. Else where in one of the slums at Borikiri area in Port Harcourt, a family of five had been wiped out following the use of adulterated kerosene which razed the entire building including the occupants who were burnt to death.
In fact, many cases of accidents abound through out the state resulting from the use of kerosene which turn-out to be adulterated and sold to unsuspecting members of the public by hawkers. This problem has been brought to the knowledge of the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke at different occasions and she had promised during one of her interactions with the public that she was going to ensure steady supply of the product to discourage the sale of fake kerosene products by hawkers and roadside dealers.
Worried by the spate of frequent incidents of kerosene explosions which have claimed many lives and maimed a lot more, the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in Port Harcourt, about three months ago, raided Mbiama, a community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State, where they swooped on the producers of fake kerosene and impounded their wares and made several arrests with the help of security agents.
Some of those, mainly youths arrested during the raid, had confessed that they went into the business due to lack of jobs and that they were in the illicit deal to make brisk money to keep body and soul together.
But a forthnight ago, Dr, Levi Ajuonuma, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) General Manager Group Public Affairs had told journalists in Abuja that he was not aware of the scarcity of kerosene in the country because they had enough of the product in their depots across the country. Then what is responsible for the scarcity of kerosene currently experienced in most parts of the country, especially in Rivers State where many people have been sent to their untimely graves due to the use of adulterated kerosene.
A Port Harcourt based housewife, Mrs Sarah Angaye, expressed surprise that a producer country like ours with abundant raw materials and refineries located in some parts of the country could still talk about lack of an essential product like kerosene which most common people rely on for domestic use, especially for cooking and lighting up of their lanterns at home.
“Actually the problem of scarcity of the product did not start today and it is surprising that the Group General Manager of Public Affairs of NNPC is saying that he is not aware there is scarcity of the product is truly available at their depots as he claims why is it being hoarded and not made available to consumers?” says Angaye.
Mrs Angaye noted that in all these it is the commoners who patronise the use of kerosene that suffer the burnt while the so called “Big Men” including the Group General Manager of the NNPC have other means of energy source for domestic use, adding that some people who have lost their lives and suffered permanent disabilities as a result of adulterated kerosene products should not have suffered the fate if the product was made available.
She appealed to the appropriate authorities to urgently address the problem to save the people from further destruction in the hands of dealers of the adulterated product, that way the suffering of the masses will be ameliorated because they are the ones who mainly rely on kerosene for domestic chores.
In his opinion, Mr Bede Amadi, an unemployed graduate described the scarcity of kerosene as having caused him untold hardship as the cost of the product have assumed a feverish peach in recent time. “For instance, a bottle of kerosene now goes for N140 while the four litre jerry can costs N850 instead of the previous N250. A 10 litre jerrycan costs N1,100 as against N500. It has become very difficult to cope with the present situation of increasing cost of almost everything that people need to service on a daily basis, especially where one is unemployed and depend on the goodwill of others to carry on.
“The government should as a matter of priority consider solving the problem of poverty starring most people in the face by creating opportunities for people to be empowered through job creation and enabling environment to alleviate the suffering of the people by ensuring that various policies promised by the politicians during the just concluded elections do not end up as mere “paper tiger as in the past”, says Amadi.
He regretted that elsewhere in his village, people have resorted to the use of firewood for cooking, but here in the city of Port Harcourt firewood is not easy to get and so people in his shoes are in a dilemma except the NNPC takes necessary measures to normalise the situation.
According to him, the government should be more proactive in dealing with issues relating to the public by ensuring that life is made less unbearable which is what democracy and good governance is all about in every civilised society.
Mr. Paul Ogbu, a businessman residing in Port Harcourt posits that the NNPC have actually not told the truth about the problem of kerosene. “They are still hiding something which they have refused to make public and I wonder when this thing will end, perhaps they are waiting for everybody to die through explosions from adulterated kerosene before something positive is done.
“It is my candid advise that consumers of kerosene should stop patronising roadside dealers and hawkers of the product who are most guilty in peddling fake and adulterated kerosene. Since the government has refused to do something about the situation we have to adopt precautionary measures to safeguard ourselves from danger, says” Ogbu.
Mr Ogbu urged the government to rise to their responsibility by making sure that the product is made available at all filling stations across the state and the country at large to discourage fake producers who cash in on the present situation of scarcity to circulate adulterated products and also sensitising the public on the need to patronise only authorised dealers of the product to forstall further disaster and tragedy in our homes due to the use of fake kerosene.