By Job Osazuwa
The proliferation of fuel stations in major Nigerian cities is attaining alarming dimensions, and many residents are worried.
The sight of fuel stations in close proximity to residential buildings has become a recurrent nightmare, and experts are worried about the consequences on human health and the environment.
Apart from the fact that petroleum products are highly inflammable, their transportation, offloading, storage and sale are issues that should not be treated with levity.
As if it is the only business now in vogue, filling stations are sited everywhere in Lagos, from Alimosho to Oshodi/Isolo, and from Badagry to Ibeju-Lekki. Most of them that share boundaries with residential buildings in these localities are not even fenced. Such facilities are also have other features, including shopping malls, sale of domestic cooking gas and lube bays for servicing vehicles.
One pertinent question is, were most of the facilities sited in residential areas ever approved by government? If yes, how did the authorities give approval for such buildings? If they are illegal, why is government looking the other way, to the peril of innocent citizens?
According to data from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), there are now 86 illegal filling stations around the country. But others argue that the fugures are far higher.
The location of petrol stations, despite their economic importance, is expected to be guided by health and environmental rules. This is not a subject of debate in advanced countries of the world, where human life is cherished.
Except the Nigerian government moves quickly to arrest the ugly trend, the number of filling stations sprouting up in residential areas would continue to soar.
One cannot but ask what is happening to the Fire Service and the guidelines by the DPR on the distances at which filling stations should be sited near one another or residential buildings.
It was gathered that fuel stations are to be built at a distance of 400 metres from one another, which is a sharp contradiction to what is obtainable in most parts of Lagos and other major cities. The distance to the nearest residential building should not be less than 50 metres, to avoid hazards. But the opposite is what is displayed by these business owners. In many areas, fuel stations and residential houses are only separated by a fence.
Moreover, residents are worried that the guidelines are being flouted, thereby constituting hazards to residents living in close proximity to petrol stations. This violation of the DPR guidelines by filling station operators increases the residents’ vulnerability to petrol-related hazards.
As stipulated in the DPR Procedure Guide (2010), under the Petroleum Act, CAP 150 of 1967, “the implications for flouting the DPR guidelines by petrol stations range from classifying that petrol station as illegal to revocation of licence, depending on the gravity of the offence.”
In an interview with Daily Sun, a former lecturer in the School of Environmental Studies, Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, Ahmed Abdul, said there was the need for precautionary measures while locating fuel stations. He charged those in authority to do the right thing, so that fuel stations are sited at required distances from places of public assembly such as markets, hospitals and schools and areas of high traffic congestion and residential buildings.
He charged government, at the federal and state levels, to be wary of the dangers inherent in building filling stations at unapproved areas in any part of Nigeria.
He said it was disheartening that some influential politicians and businessmen now connive with corrupt officials in the approving agencies to promote illegality without considering the attendant effects of their quest for profit on ordinary Nigerians.
Abdul appealed to the authorities concerned with the safety of Nigerians to wake up from their slumber and swing into action in order to mitigate the avoidable deaths that loom around the stations.
He lamented that the encroachment on residential areas has continued for too long as a result of a lack of the political will to enforce the urban planning law, as such, the use of land is left in the hands of landowners.
He, therefore, charged the House of Assembly in each state to enact laws forbidding either government or individuals from giving out plots of land for fuel stations near residential areas.
On many occasions, fuel stations have been engulfed by fire. The incident a Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, which occurred not long ago, cannot be forgotten quickly. The loss was unquantifiable.
Lives have been lost and property worth billions of naira also destroyed in infernos from fuel stations or fuel tanker explosions. Early this year, a filling station, Fatgbems, sited at Jakande Bus Stop on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, was gutted by fire. The fire reportedly started when a tanker was discharging petrol into a well at the station.
The fire outbreak at MRS Filling Station last year in Surulere, Lagos, that destroyed several properties, is still being regretted by many of the victims.
According to the World Health Organisation, in a 2004 report, more than 2.3 million lives and properties worth more than N4.5 billion were lost to fire outbreaks associated with the mishandling of petroleum products.
At Old Ota Road, close to Ile-epo Market, in Agbado Oke Local Council Development Area, two landlords living a stone’s throw from each other sold their houses, each occupying a plot, to some petrol dealers. A few months later, the petrol stations were standing and business began to boom almost immediately.
A visit to Abaranje Road in Ikotun area of Lagos State would leave one wondering if petrol stations are the only businesses left in the world as the stations compete for attention day and night.
A study jointly conducted by Mshelia A.M., John Abdullahi and Emmanuel Daniel Dawha on the environmental effects of petrol stations close to residential houses in Maiduguri, Borno State, revealed that the guidelines for locating petrol stations have not been adhered to by most of the petrol stations, thereby posing serious hazards to residential structures in close proximity to them. They asked the state legislature to enact laws forbidding either government or individuals from converting plots of land for location of petrol stations within the township. They also urged Nigerians and the courts to resist any attempt by either of the two sides to convert the use of any land within the townships.
A resident at Ipaja area of Lagos, Ayobami Ebenezer, told Daily Sun that he had never bothered to examine the consequences of locating filling stations close to his house.
A top official of the DPR explained that the agency had already clamped down on illegal filling stations, saying the agency was collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders to tackle the problem. But concerned Nigerians believe that more needs to be done.
While many are accusing DPR of not doing enough to arrest the situation, an official of the department who pleaded not to be named, claimed that most of the petrol stations affected were either given certain waivers or clearance by some state governments, compelling the DPR to license them.