By Denrele Animashaun
“The Test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
There are superstitions in some countries, where people avoid Friday the 13th. For the superstitious this day is a harbinger of doom. People avoid going out on this day and call in sick. On the 13th of July, early that morning, a oil tanker driving in the southern Rivers State swerved trying to avoid three oncoming vehicles including a bus. After the collusion, and while the tanker was resting on its side, hundreds of locals in the Ahoada area flocked to the scene to collect the spilling fuel.
The authorities said the vehicle did not immediately burst into flames but did so sometime after the villagers rushed to collect the fuel. Many of the dead were okada drivers, who raced to fill up their tanks after learning of the crash, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
Apparently, some troops who got to the scene before the fire broke out told the villagers to refrain from going near the tanker according the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Alagoa Morris, coordinator at advocacy group Oil Watch Nigeria, asks: ‘How can people who have enough to eat scoop oil that belongs to someone else? It is poverty.’ This is sadly the truth. Life is cheap and no lessons have been learnt to prevent similar accidents from happening again and again.
No risk assessment, no contingency plan and no medical protocol to follow when dealing with burnt victims. In fact, no emergency services was on site to take charge of the situation until much after the explosion. The pictures of the dead was gruesome, they littered the scene, burnt beyond recognition in what can only be described as self immolation .
So, why on earth would people in a oil producing state run out to collect spilled oil? How wretched have we become that people are reduced to this desperate depths? Why in a country that produces crude oil and liquefied natural gas and ships it across the world still cannot afford to provide affordable oil for its people?. We all know that Nigeria makes billions of dollars every year. Where does the money go?
Major road accidents in Nigeria, often involving long- haul and poorly maintained tankers regularly ply bad roads. This was avoidable; so said the president and the governor of the state. When people live on less than $2 a day and are existing in grinding poverty. It is not avoidable and their condition will not improve until the government deem it fit to raise the living conditions of inhabitants.
It would help if kick-backs and blatant corruption were not of the government and the present administration. At least two contracts have been signed over the last six years to expand the highway that runs through Niger Delta states, according to a government website. However, corruption often hinders or slows down road construction and maintenance projects.
Mr Alagoa said the accident ‘would not have happened if the road had two lanes there’. Yes, and if the road was maintained and the infrastructure was up to standard.
President Goodluck Jonathan said in a statement he is ‘deeply saddened by the loss of many lives’ caused by the explosion and ‘particularly distraught by the fact that once again, so many Nigerian lives have been lost in an avoidable fuel fire disaster’.
I mean, the sentiments mean nothing, just hot air and more fluff. It is easy for the president to tell the country he is deeply sadden about the deaths. It serves no purpose if we do not learn from the past, then we are guaranteed to repeat it. If he is really sadden about the current incidents what of the other times that had claimed many lives? Which one he is most deeply sadden about?
The death toll is stacking up and all we hear is talk shop and photo opportunity. In October 1998, more than 1,000 people died at Jesse, in the south-eastern Delta State, when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel. In April last year, a fuel tanker overturned at an army checkpoint in the central part of the country, sparking an inferno in which some 50 people were killed.
125 people were killed by a pipeline explosion in the village of Ovim in Abia State September 16, 2004 nearly 60 were killed when a pipeline exploded on the outskirts of Lagos. More than 17,000 people died in about 31,000 road accidents across Nigeria. I would not go on as it seems lives are cheap and grinding poverty has damaged people to the point that they will do anything to make a fast buck including risking their own lives. Every single life lost is one too many.
Sadly, it was given adequate news coverage over here but it was clinical in its delivery. People are becoming numb to the news that comes from Nigeria. Most finger of blame is at the politicians and their corrupt ways. No one I have spoken to thinks it will change for the better.