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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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Again, RSG Begins Unveiling, Flag-Off Of Nine Key Projects, ’Morrow

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The Rivers State Government has rolled out the drums to herald another phase of official commissioning of key projects embarked upon by the Governor Nyesom Wike-led administration in the state.
A statement by the state government said that the process is in continuation of the commissioning and flag-off of projects by Governor Nyesom Wike.
It indicated that Rumuola flyover would be commissioned tomorrow, while the GRA flyover would be commissioned on Saturday.
The also stated that the government would commission the Ezimgbu Road on Monday, December 13, 2021; with another commissioning of Tombia Road Extension scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, 2021.
The statement said that the governor would commission the Safe Home, Borikiri, Port Harcourt on Wednesday, December 15; while on Thursday, December 16, 2021, the governor would commission the Odokwu internal roads.
Also, the governor would continue the flag-off of key infrastructure projects with Chokocho-Igbodo Road slated for Monday, December 20, 2021; Oyigbo-Okoloma Road on Wednesday, December 22, 2021; and Magistrates’ Court Complex, Port Harcourt on Thursday, December 23, 2021.

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Wike Justifies N7bn Libel Suit Against THISDAY

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Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, yesterday, appeared before the state High Court in Port Harcourt, to testify as a witness in an N7billion libel suit against THISDAY Newspaper.
Wike said he was in court to seek justice and clear his name as a person from the malicious publication by THISDAY Newspaper, which portrayed him as deceitful, untrustworthy person, who exerts subterranean influences on judicial matters and over court sittings in Port Harcourt.
It would be recalled that Wike had in August, 2020, slammed a N7billion suit being damages for libel written and published in THISDAY’s Tuesday, June 23, 2020 edition captioned, “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’s Waterloo; Almost.”
The defendants in the suit are THISDAY Newspapers Limited, Leaders and Company Limited, Davidson Iriekpan, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu.
Wike, while testifying as witness in suit No. PHC/1505/CS/2020 before the court presided over by Justice A. Enebeli, asserted that the defendants maliciously and falsely portrayed him as an unreliable friend/person.
“When you say somebody cannot be trusted; that cannot be a fair comment. When you say somebody is influencing the Judiciary, that cannot be a fair comment”, the governor said.
In his written statement on oath, Wike had stated that the defendants had accused him of influencing the decision of the court sitting in Port Harcourt that granted an injunction restraining Godwin Obaseki from participating in the primaries of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State in 2020.
He stated that the defendants maliciously accused him of undemocratically exerting influence on the primaries process of PDP in Edo State in aid of his ally, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who was the beneficiary of the court order restraining Obaseki from participating in the PDP primaries.
The governor, who told the court that he was not even aware of the aforementioned suit by Ogbeide-Ihama against Obaseki, said the publication was reckless, false and without regards for the truth.
According to him, contrary to well-known journalistic tradition and practices, the defendants did not investigate properly to ensure the information they relied on was accurate.
“They did not seek to verify the facts from me or in any manner oblige me with the opportunity to state my own side of the story before proceeding to make the false publication” the governor argued.
Wike stated that the defendants further denigrated him before the entire world as a fake democrat, who engages in meddling in the internal affairs of All Progressives Congress (APC) in order to get at his political foe, Chibuike Amaechi.
The governor explained that he was not a member of the APC and has had no hand in the internal crisis which has bedevilled the party both in Rivers State and all over Nigeria.
“By the letter of Messrs E.C. Ukala and Co., Solicitors, under the hand of Emmanuel C. Ukala, SAN, dated 23rd June, 2020, the defendants were given opportunity to retract, and recant the publication as well as to offer apology for the false publication but the defendants spurned the opportunity and ignored the letter completely.”
The governor, while responding to claim by lawyer to the defendants, Turudu Ede, SAN, that the essence of the lawsuit was to intimidate and harass his clients, said the whole essence of the suit was to get justice and clear his name as a man of substantial character, honour and repute.
“The essence of the suit is to get justice since they (defendants) refused to retract the publication or apologise. So, I sued them to clear my name.”
Speaking to journalists outside the court, one of the lawyers to Wike, Mr. Mark Agwu said his client was in court to seek legal redress.
“To challenge him as a person, it means you have made him untrustworthy, a deceit, a cheat, an influencer of the court, because the publication they made was that he had a role to play in influencing the outcome of that Federal High Court case. Nobody will take that lightly, and especially for a man who believes in the rule of law”, Agwu added.
The court adjourned the matter for further hearing to 12th, 13th and 14th of January, 2022.

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$130m Fraud: Rivers Sues Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Firm, Others

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The Rivers State Government has charged two construction firms, Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd, to court over an alleged conspiracy to cheat and with intent to defraud the state of the sum of $130million, being advanced payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.
In a 16-count criminal charge filed by the Director of Public Prosecution, C.F. Amadi for the Rivers State Attorney General, the state alleged that after collecting the said sum as advanced payment between 2011 and 2018, the defendants have not kept their obligation under the contract.
Others charged alongside the companies were Walter Peviana; Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe; Giandomenico Zingali; Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli, who are directors and officers of the companies.
The defendants are charged with various offences ranging from conspiracy, cheating and obtaining credit by false pretence, contrary to Section 518 (6) and (7) and punishable under Section 518 of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999, section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State, amongst others.
Already, the Rivers State Government has issued a fiat to the law firm of Godwin Obla (SAN) to prosecute the matter before the state High court.
The defendants are equally charged for the offence of false Statements by Officials of Companies contrary to and punishable under Section 436 (b).
The prosecution specifically accused the defendants of obtaining credit of $130million by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $20,467,942.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b), obtaining credit of N7,000,000,000.00 only by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b).
They are charged for obtaining credit of N318,640,173.54, by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); attempt to cheat $97million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; attempt to cheat $15million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; conspiracy to receive a credit of $97million by false pretences contrary to Section 518 (6) and punishable under Section 518; cheating $11million contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating N110, 097, 416.51 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating by collecting sums attributable to shared facilities already paid for in AFAM Phase I in AFAM Phase II contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421.
Obtaining N20, 467, 942 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; obtaining credit of $60,168,936.00 by false pretences or other fraud, contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $1,512,034.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) all of the Criminal Code Law of Rivers State, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999.
According to the Proof of Evidence attached to the charge and the statement made by the Head, Power Generation/Mechanical of the Rivers State Ministry of Power, one Mr Temple Azunda M., the facts constituting the case in hand are as follows:
Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and other officers of the duo, herein the Defendants, are Italian companies which services have been retained by the Rivers State Government, herein RSG, in several projects, prominent amongst which is the AFAM Phase II Power Plant Project.
By an initial tripartite agreement made on the January 20, 2010, the RSG under the auspices of the Rivers State Ministry of Power entered a contract with Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, Saipem SPA for the construction of the OGCT power plant in Port Harcourt at a total cost of $119million consequent upon which the Rivers State Government made advance payments, in instalments, to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd and Saipem SPA amounting in total to a sum of $130million in all which the Defendants have acknowledged receipt of.
The Defendants were to be given an initial mobilization of 20per cent of the total contract sum which the RSG paid.
It was part of the initial agreement – and indeed a condition sine qua non – that, to access the 2nd tranche of payment of 25per cent from the Rivers State Government, the Defendants would mandatorily have installed the Gas Turbine into the foundations as referenced in ATTACHMENT 1 to VO 007 which states that:
CONTRACTOR shall be entitled to a payment corresponding to 20per cent of the VO No. 007 LS PRICE upon mobilisation to site and commencement of bush clearing activities at SITE.
Upon commencement of bush clearing activities at the site, the contractor shall issue the invoice relevant to the above payment and the owner shall pay such invoice within 14 days from its issuance.
The parties agree that no deduction for recovery of advance payment shall apply on the payment due to the contractor for invoices issued by the contractor in accordance with this paragraph.

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