Some victims identified at the scene include three soldiers, a man and his son; a nursing mother who was left her two months old baby at home to scoop fuel
Okey Sampson, Aba
It was a black Friday in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia state as over 50 persons including soldiers and a nursing mother were burnt to death in an early morning pipeline explosion.
Scores of people sustained various degrees of burns in the fuel fire incident, which occurred at a facility owned by Pipelines and Product Marketing Company Limited (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in Umuaduru and Umuimo villages in Osisioma Ngwa Local Government Area of Abia State in the early hours of yesterday.
There were different accounts of how the explosion occurred, but all pointed to the fact that the fire came
from a PPMC pipeline abandoned over the years and was of a sudden used to pump Premium Motor Spirit (Fuel) without considering its present condition.
The explosion it was gathered occurred at about 1:30 a.m. when villagers went to scoop fuel leaking from the ruptured pipeline. The fire did not only burn those who went to scoop the petroleum products beyond recognition, but it also destroyed buildings along the pipeline right of way and even burnt to death people sleeping in their houses.
When Saturday Sun visited the scene, soldiers who had earlier recovered the bodies of their colleagues who died in the explosion, cordoned off the area and prevented people including newsmen from entering the scene and even warned that no photos should be taken. Our Correspondent was however able to take pictures of roasted victims that littered the scene. The pictures are too gory for publication.
A partly burnt military rifle said to belong to one of the soldiers who died in the explosion, was equally recovered. It could not be confirmed whether the soldiers who died in the inferno were also involved in the scooping of fuel.
Some of the victims identified at the scene include three soldiers, a man and his son; a nursing mother who was reported to have left her two months old baby at home to scoop fuel in disobedience to her husband’s warnings.
Some of the names of the victims identified by family members at the scene include: Eze Onwukwe from
Obuzor village, Obinnali Enyinnaya and Uchechi Enyinnaya from Okpokoroala village, Ogadinma Reuben from Umuojima Okereke village, Chukwuma Chimeze from Umuokorogbu and one Alozie Ihunnaya.
Speaking to newsmen, Mr. Chucks Uzoije, an eyewitness who is a pipeline guard and a native of Umuimo, one of the affected communities said the information on the pipeline leakage came over three years ago, but was not attended to.
In his words, “the issue of the abandoned pipeline started over three years ago. We got information that there is leakage on the line. We called the authorities and they said it is in the old line which government does not use anymore because there are two lines there.
“The one Federal Government is maintaining is different from the one they pumped product into. So, they said they cannot do anything about it because government did not pay them to repair the two lines and that if government wants them to maintain it, the government should come and dialogue with them because they cannot get money from the air to maintain it.
“Unfortunately yesterday, instead of pumping through the line they used to maintain, they pumped through the abandoned line. Everywhere there is leakage of fuel. Fuel was pumping without direction and only God knows where they were pumping it to. Fuel covered the entire bush and when the fire started, my whole house was burnt.
“Everything was gone. When the leakage started, we called the Civil Defence and they came to help us scare people away from scooping, but unfortunately they succeeded in entering and around 4:30 A.M. today (Friday). I didn’t come out with anything. I now have only my uniform and my torch. Two of my tenants who got burnt were among those rushed to the hospital but I don’t know if they are alive.”
Speaking also on the cause of the incident, Chairman of Osisioma Ngwa Local Government Area, Mr. Benjamin Mgbeahuru who visited the scene as well as the hospitals where some survivors are receiving treatment, blamed the PPMC for using a pipeline they said was abandoned over the years to pump products.
He said: “We have invited the PPMC depot manager more than three times in our security meeting to give us some update on why we are having fire incidents every time along our pipelines, but he has ignored those invitations. This line they claimed is an abandoned line, but every time they pump products in there and it catches fire. We must get to the root of this, this time around.
“This is not the first time. The PPMC and Federal Government are not helping us. They don’t come to repair those lines. They claimed it is abandoned, but how do products go in there? This is a very sad period for Osisioma LGA and Abia in general.”
Efforts to reach the spokesman of 14 Brigade Headquarters of the Nigerian Army, Ohafia, Major Oyegoke Badamosi failed, but a source at the Brigade who couldn’t confirm the number of its personnel that died in the inferno told Saturday Sun that some of the soldiers that sustained various degrees of burns were receiving medical attention.
The source who couldn’t also state the role the soldiers played in the explosion said that investigation into the matter would commence to ascertain what happened.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has urged host communities to create avenues to avoid continuous destruction of oil pipelines by bad elements in their midst.
The Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru made the call following an oil pipeline fire outbreak along the Osisioma axis near Aba Depot in its System 2E pipeline network on Friday.
A statement by the NNPC Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, confirmed fatalities and loss of properties in the inferno.
He said Baru expressed shock at the wanton destruction of lives and properties occasioned by the incident.
“The GMD prayed that God repose the souls of the innocent ones that perished in the incident,” he quoted Baru to have said
He warned members of the public against tampering with oil and gas facilities many of which were flammable.
Commenting on the cause of the incident, Ughamadu said the incident might have been caused by suspected oil thieves who had hacked into the line to intercept flow of petrol from Port Harcourt to Aba.
The Abia command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) however confirmed the death of 19 persons in the inferno.