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Gas station next door, time bomb waiting

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FOR those who are keen on observing changes, the era when citizens trecked  or traveled distances to procure, petro metric spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, diesel (AGO), or kerosene (DPK) is fast getting by. Now, filling stations, which are stockers of these commodities are spotted nearly everywhere in the neighborhood; each with its grandiose structure and illuminating signs to force attraction on the public minds, albeit the  potential danger they pose to surrounding environments and their inhabitants.

Consequently, high number of havoc has been wrecked by this capitalist monster on hapless Nigerians to a level that challenges rational for the indiscriminate sitting of such projects within neighborhood distances in the social environment.

In climes with more regard to human life, security of lives and property remains priority of any existing government, thereby, eliciting policies that check its (security of life and property) possible abuse. In doing that, responsive government promotes socioeconomic growth and strengthens environmental harmony.

In  Nigeria, holistic approach to environmental safety had seemingly not commanded policy priority, thereby giving room for avoidable abuse by beneficiary elements at the expense of the masses. The lapses in the country’s environmental laws are so evident such that surviving each day without one form of disaster or the other is fast becoming a miracle of sort. In a space of one week, two states are counting their losses in  incident of building collapse. Lagos State being one of the states hit by this environmental catastrophe lost over twenty persons, school children inclusive, as well as properties when a three-storey building collapsed at the Island part of the state on Wednesday, March  13, 2019. In Ibadan, Oyo State, the same unfortunate incidence of building collapse occurred on Friday the same week, with no recorded casualties but property loss. In Anambra State, it was a continuation of the sad story as long tanker vehicle, rammed into pedestrians, crushing as many as twenty persons to death in broad light on Wednesday 13 March again.

While Nigeria is being tormented by these current environmental mayhems,  her experiences with filling stations’ holocaust and its consequence still conjure great fears and concerns to give buildings collapse a miniature evil status in the rating scale.

The real menace is the presence of filling stations within arms length in residential areas across the length and breadth of Nigeria cities. Some of these establishments have caused Nigerians more troubles than could be imagined. In Anambra State specifically,  a fire outbreak at Oando Filling Station, situated at the heart of Nkpor Junction, a densely populated area in Idemili North Local Government in 2015 casts a permanent scare in the minds of all who witnessed the horror that came with the inferno. In 2015 again, an explosion at a gas plant in Nnewi, on Christmas eve turned the festivity into mourning as citizens were roasted like goats in the unfortunate inferno. In 2017, a Total Filling Station located at DMGS Roundabout, Onitsha caught up in flames and the ensuing ground tank explosion in the process spread the inferno to several adjoining residential and office buildings within the circumference; several lives and property were lost in the incident. In 2018, a fire outbreak at Ijepet Filling Station, located along Obosi Road, Nkpor spread pandemonium across surrounding buildings and streets; the saving grace was that it was controlled by the spirited efforts of the public. These are few out of many more similar cases across the state.

Unarguably, these did not go without incalculable and irreparable consequences to both the citizens, state and society at large. In  2017, Total Filling Station fire incident alone costs Anambra State government, under Chief Willie Obiano about 8.5 million naira in aid and compensation to victims of the accident.

Despite these ugly incidents, there are a number of filling stations all over the town today, that their present location calls for questioning. A motorist plying  St Joseph’s road, Anakwasumpu, Nkpor, Udeogala Innocent, commented on an ongoing project before United Primary School in the area. ” They started this project like a residential house, now it is dovetailing into filling station. It will bring the product closer to customers within this part of  Omagba and Nkpor, but the risk of  sitting such business here calls for serious concern. This is too close to residents here and would constitute high danger in the event of fire outbreak.”  Corroborating Udeogala’s position, a resident in DLA road, Asaba, Delta State, Mrs Nkechi Eluem, commented on sitting of “Ronec Filling Station at the heart of DLA road, where she shares neighborhood with the establishment, ” I do not understand how this people get approval for such business right inside the people’s backyard. Any time anything bad happens here, we will be the recipients of the outcome. But, I hope and pray fervently that no such incidence as feared may happen, not when we are here.”

In what appears to be a right response to the growing unpleasant trend, Anambra State government has moved-in to check the proliferation of this potential-danger business outfits in crowded areas in the state. Demolition exercise has begun and no illegally sitted filling station would likely be allowed to operate in the state. Ndi-Anambra are already cheering the move, but the questions bogging their minds are, who gives these marketers licence to site and operate their businesses at such risk prone areas? Are the environmental laws to this effect no longer operational? Should damage control be an option where preventive is possible?

In pondering these questions, the onus is on the government to explain its lethargy in using operational laws to halt such trend. Of course, the principal beneficiaries in this scenario are the oil marketers, but there could be further angle to it that makes them secure approval for locating their enterprise at wrong places with minimal hitch. Whatever may be the case,  reality is that citizens are put in harm’s way with the emergence  of filling station anywhere near the people’s residence. This level of business is not operated by small entrepreneurs and as such clears the doubts on the high connections of the operators and their penchant for breaking rules.

To this end, Obiano must not look back in taking the fight to their own backyard while watching his back for their reprisal onslaught. One distinguishable factor in any responsible government is its courage to rise above sentiment and step on any toe set to hinder it, if it so demands in the pursuit of the people’s good. To this end, the government must exert resilience in its push to dislodge the bourgeoisies from wanton games with the people’s life. Former Governor of Lagos State dared them and was able to create a new Lagos. He remains one of the icons in Lagos governance history. Obiano is already on course and would do himself good to pursue only the best for Ndi-Anambra.

The demolition exercise in Anambra State which started with illegal structures along drainages now tilts toward halting merchants without conscience on their track. More filling stations may go down in the process for people to remain alive as protecting people’s life is the cardinal duty of any responsible government.

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