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Deaths Too Avoidable …That Okogbe Tanker Fire Tragedy

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Gory, is an under-statement, disastrous a bit close, but hellish is apt to describe the sea of human remains burnt beyond recognition, following the petrol tanker accident of Okogbe, a community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State, in South-South Nigeria, last week Thursday

The Tide correspondent in Yenagoa, Fyneface Aaron was one of the first callers and watched with awe as the living counted the dead bodies and pondered how the inferno engulfed even school age-children, mothers, the youth and the aged in the community.

Again, the Golgota was a portion of the death-trap, the national shame known to our collective conscience as the East-West Road, that should have aided easy transportation, not accident of the magnitude, that claimed, on The Tide’s account more than 200 lives, just as Rivers State Health Commissioner, Dr Sampson Parker said he personally counted over 200. Other newspaper publication also variously reported between 90 and 200. In the end, beyond the needless deaths, and destruction, only ‘ifs’ and ‘whys’ remained.

Truly, the incident should not be reason for another blame game, but even as individuals and families who lost loved ones wept and wailed inconsolably, the questions on many lips were: Why would human beings, in 21st Century Nigeria, not appreciate the fatality of scooping Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) commonly called fuel or petrol beside  a reasonably heated petrol tanker? Why would adults and kids alike join in such a party? Why did no one inform the security in good time to disperse the petrol scoopers to avoid such national calamity? Why did the petrol tanker cascade, stumble and eventually over-turn the way it did?

The Tide account says, the incident occurred at about 6.30am, when a Hiace bus with registration Number XZ613AGC, Lagos, and loaded with passengers, ran into the rear of aToyota Corrola car with registration Number RQ 218 AAA ,Delta, while attempting to overtake the latter, which driver, at once lost control. Within that brief moment of confusion, approached the ill-fated petrol tanker loaded with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). And in a bid to escape from the ‘out of control’ Toyota Corrola bus and avoid head-on collision, the tanker ran into a deep dish, lost control, tumbled repeatedly and eventually over –turned and spewed its content causing huge volume, substantial enough to rise above an average human’s hip region.

Strangely, upon hearing of the accident and the gushing PMS from the tanker, villagers in and around the accident scene, including school children, who should be in their classrooms, hurried to the area with containers of various sizes and colours. And fetch they were doing when fire erupted like hell.

Although, the cause of the fire still remains fuggy, a source suggested that an early comer who was overwhelmed by the measure of the ‘free fuel’ put a call across to his friend to join in the party, at which time, the inferno allegedly started and within minutes, engulfed the scene, leaving more than 200 burnt beyond recognition while, a few made it to the hospital and are under critical care. What a shame!

Apparently moved by the needless deaths, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ordered relief materials to reach survivors and families whose homes were ravaged, while Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi directed that a full investigation be conducted to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the unfortunate accident.

Amidst  all the concerns thus far expressed, there remains many more ‘ifs’ and ‘whys’ to which the Nigerian state needs to proffer sincere answers? The first and very nagging is, if the villagers were not living below poverty line and without little or no access to proper education would scooping fuel from a gulf beside a steamingly hot petrol tanker be such an attraction? Which son of say, a minister, National Assembly member or even council chairman, will consider that venture a profitable one and join such a party?

If the East-West Road were what it ought to be , many years after it was ordered, would the petrol tanker run into such gulf, deep enough to contain PMS of the volume that is about hip level? If the Hiace bus XZ613 AGC,  Lagos, loaded with passengers, had been patient, knowing the poor state of the East-West Road and not attempted to over-take the Toyota Corrola RQ218 AAA,Delta at the time and manner it did , would the accident not have been avoided?

If the Petrol Tanker itself, had not been speeding, at a portion as bad as the accident scene of the East-West Road, would it have had too much problem applying the brakes?  If our federal ways traffic monitoring system were as effective as should be, and got to the scene long before the hungry and uneducated villagers got there, would they not have had the opportunity to prevent some deaths? Where were officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission and how effective is their communication system?

Most importantly, knowing the importance of the East-West Road to the oil bearing states and communities of the Niger Delta and considering the length of years it has remained at the construction stage, why were remedial measures not taken by the contractors to avoid such deep gulfs? If half the attention given to Abuja roads expansion is given the East-West road, will it be where it is today?

Honest  answers to these questions will very easily affirm that the more than 200 Nigerians who perished in Okogbe, Rivers State would perhaps have lived beyond that day. But the question is will the deaths add to the need to act or simply end with the   now familiar condolences and assurances of succour for survivors. What of the next set of potential casualties.

In other parts of the world, dangerous portions of major roads start with bold traffic signs, warning motorists to move within given speed limits and actually station officials to monitor compliance.

If that was the case, and if the communication system was as it should be, not only would the accident be avoided, through timely calls for immediate help, enough security presence would have  dissuaded many from the petrol scooping party.

This is why the Okogbe deaths are as needless as thousands others daily caused by bombings now generally believed to have been carried out by the extremist Islamist terror group-Boko Haram. This one must attract more than more condolence and assurances of relief materials to survivors.

The East West Road should now be declared as a national emergency that requires emergency measures of the extreme kind. It is no longer acceptable that a road as vital as the East-West Road, through which petroleum products are conveyed from the Niger Delta to other remote parts of Nigeria could be allowed to drag on for as long as it has. It is not proper that the main link-way between the East and the Oil producing South-South, depended upon for movement of goods and passengers, be left in such a state, without remedial measures to check accidents of the kind reported of, last week Thursday.

In fact, this also poses a major challenge to managers of the present administrations poverty alleviation programme and exposes, in more graphic ways the level of poverty in some Southern parts of the country.

However, sad as the deaths may appear, it may be a dangerous generalisation to impute that the villagers that went fetching petrol as many would, from a stream, did so out of hunger, illiteracy, ignorance and want. Some others might have done so out of greed and insatiable taste.

How, for instance can, say, a welder, commercial vehicle driver, trader and indeed averagely educated Nigerian fail to appreciate the danger in such enterprise. But the dead is often innocent, and the true answers might have burnt with their fabled remains.

But the Okogbe tragedy should serve as a lesson to all others who many be considering enlistment into illegal bunkering commonly called, ‘kpo-fire’, a process whereby stolen crude is crudely refined through excessive heat powered by intense fire. Many have died in the process but many more continue to enlist because  of the quick gains allegedly derivable from the  illicit trade.

Unfortunately, many Nigerians are guilty of silence, the Army, the Police, the ordinary Nigerians, the Navy, governments and indeed the Nigerian leadership. By their silence and or half-measures, what started as petty theft of merely bursting petroleum pipelines has grown into conglomerates, with chains of illegal refineries  that are dotted around Niger Delta swamps. And everyone seems indifferent while, human lives are daily lost and Nigeria’s economic mainstay perpetually threatened.

Our silence has inadvertently legalised illegal bunkering and encouraged petrol sale on our roads, villages and even residential homes, a worthy occupation.

This is why the Okogbe incident must not end with mere condolences but attract proactive measures necessary to complete all works along the East West Road, institutionalise better road accidents monitoring and prevention and above all, build a more pro-life posture in disaster management.

My Agony is that year after year the excuses for non-completion of the East West Road remain the same: inadequate funds and heavy rains. But if and when it is dry and such funds are released, the contractors use same opening which dry seasons offer to face, in their estimation, more important and urgent works, only to blame the rains for their incompetence.

Methinks, unless the East West Road is made a national emergency and faced as such, there is no telling which disaster shall be next. But may the souls of the departed rest in peace, although, I don’t know how.

 

Soye Wilson Jamabo

President Jonathan And Governor Amaechi

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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Power Generation Falls 23% To 3,172MW

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Power supply in Nigeria has failed to improve on last week’s performance, as it fell by 22.9 per cent from peak generation of 4,115Megawatts on Saturday to 3,172.20MW as at 5pm, yesterday, latest data from the System Operator has shown.
According to the data, most power plants were operating far below capacity due to gas shortage with Olorunsogo Power Plant 335MW capacity; and Sapele Power Plant, 450MW capacity; completely out.
Egbin was generating at 746MW; Omoku 37.20; Omotosho (NIPP) at 105MW; while Afam was generating at 80MW.
The data showed that on the average power generation in the past seven days were 4,120.9MW on Sunday, June 6; 4,249.4 on Monday, June 7; 4,000.9MW on Tuesday, June 8; 3,720.7 on Wednesday, June 9; 3,517 on Thursday, June 10; 3,765MW on Friday, June 11; and 4,115MW on Saturday, June 12.
The International Oil Companies (IOCs), had last warned that despite Nigeria’s huge gas reserves a lot needs to be done to attract investment to the sector to develop gas reserves to boost power generation in the country.
Speaking at the just concluded Nigeria International Petroleum Summit, the Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria/MD SPDC, Osagie Okunbor, said with 203trillion Cubic Feet of gas reserves, what was needed in the country is to deliver projects that would produce the gas.
“The challenge is not just growing the reserves but in producing these reserves for the benefits of our country. Essentially growing the reserves and delivering on the production is a function of two or three elements.
“I like to see infrastructure that is required for the development of these resources at two levels. Soft infrastructure is often the one that is more important than and that is the one that is actually drives most of what you see at site.”
“Soft infrastructure refers to the enabling environment and nothing pleases me as much seeing both the Senate President and the speaker of the house give very firm commitments about trying to pass the PIB this month.
“That is probably the big one of the enabling environment to provide the kind of stability we also need all sorts of other issues we need to that we have discussed severally in terms of sanctity of contract, stable policies and collaboration and I think we are well on our way there”, he added.

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