For the second time in a year in Lagos State and for the umpteenth time in the country as a whole, another tragic fire has resulted from a burst fuel pipeline claiming the lives and properties of many in the Lagos suburb of Abule-Egba on Tuesday, December 26, 2006.
But what this particular, monumental and disastrous incident has shown more than ever before is how insensitive and uncaring this government is about the feelings, yearnings and plight of the ordinary people. This is aside from exposing the unfulfilled promises of the government, usually made anytime disaster struck, that it would put in place necessary mechanisms to stem the tide of pipeline fires.
From reports and eye witness accounts, the relevant authorities, including the police and the local government, were alerted to the fact that fuel was leaking from a damaged portion of this particular pipe line; and also warned that danger loomed when actual scooping of fuel began at the pipeline after two-tankers with supposed armed escorts had loaded from the vandalised point.
While we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) do not approve of hazardous scooping of fuel under whatever guise, we wish to state without any fear of contradiction that the high number of casualties from the December 26 fire reflects the desperate situation ordinary Nigerians found themselves as a result of the recent inexplicable fuel scarcity.
As usual in the busy commercial metropolis of Lagos, where majority of the population earn and live on incomes earned and paid daily, the fuel scarcity meant that many had become desperate as it threatened their means of livelihood, especially during a major festivity that often went with extra spending.
It should be noted that petrol remains an essential ingredient for transportation, especially in the absence of a modern mass rail system, while most homes and businesses rely on generators for power in the absence of stable electricity, despite the alleged billions of Naira that have been sunk into the electricity sector.
We insist however that if the government has been forthcoming, with its security agencies that yearly consume a significant percentage of budgetary allocations, the disaster could have been averted.
But this disaster has also exposed the lie of the government that privatising and liberalising the oil sector would lead to improved standards and services. If there is anything it has improved, it is greater profits for the government and its multinational backers. As it has been the case in the aviation sector, the reality on the ground is that it has led to fallen standards, compromise of safety and a series of accidents.
Thus, despite the fact that Nigeria remains the 7th world oil producer and has earned fabulous income from the international market mainly as a result of the crisis in the Middle East, it continues to import refined oil for domestic consumption. Its four refineries are, as a matter of fact, comatose even though the Obasanjo government claimed to have spent about 700 million dollars on their so-called turn around maintenance (TAM).
Again, despite several fire disasters that have resulted from burst pipelines, the government has been incapable of putting in place an effective pipeline monitoring technology that can allow the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to detect faults and repair them promptly.
Against the above stated facts, we demand the following:
- That the full blame for the December 26 tragedy should be put firmly on the doorsteps of the Federal Government and the NNPC
- That there should be free and adequate medical treatment for all the victims of the fire incident to be borne by the governments who have been periodically sharing the excesses from crude oil sales
- That the NNPC should pay full compensation for all the victims of the fire incident especially those whose private residences, offices and shops and property were consumed by the fire
- That as against privatisation and commercialisation, the oil sector and other commanding heights of the economy should be nationalised and placed under workers’ democratic control and management so that the huge profits could be used for the peoples’ welfare and infrastructural development.
Finally, we in the DSM enjoin the working masses to take their destiny in their own hands by building a political platform that is armed with the programme of a system and regime change. This, for example, would mean that they reject the capitalist millionaire political parties in the coming elections and vote for working class political platforms and candidates.