•NNPC warns public against tampering with facilities
By Ugochukwu Alaribe
Tragedy struck yesterday as a pipeline belonging to Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, PPMC, exploded and burnt over 50 persons to death in Aba, Abia State.
It was a gory sight as charred bodies of the victims littered the scene, even as over 30 persons are receiving medical attention at different hospitals in the city.
Eyewitnesses said the fire was ignited by a motorcycle driven by some soldiers who stormed the area. It was a theatre of confusion as families wept over the death of their members who were burnt beyond recognition while scooping fuel along the pipeline. A nursing mother who left her two months old baby at home to scoop fuel was also burnt by the fire.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) yesterday in Abuja said the incident might have been caused by suspected oil thieves who had hacked the line to intercept the flow of petrol from Port Harcourt to Aba.
NNPC Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr Ndu Ughamadu, confirmed fatalities and loss of properties in the inferno.
Ughamadu said the corporation’s safety experts, along with men of the Abia State Fire Service, immediately swung into action to contain the situation, saying updates on the situation would be provided as events unfold.
NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr Maikanti Baru, expressed shock at the wanton wilful destruction of lives and properties occasioned by the incident.
The GMD prayed that God reposed the souls of the innocent ones that perished in the incident, even as he warned members of the public against tempering with oil and gas facilities many of which he said were inflammable.
Dr Baru called on host communities to create avenues to moderate criminal tendencies of a few bad eggs living among them.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that the incident occurred at 1.30 am near abandoned pipeline at Umuimo and Umuaduru villages in Osisioma Ngwa council area. The pipeline was said to have been abandoned for about three years, but was suddenly used to pump fuel leading to heavy leakage of the product in the area. Residents of the area took the opportunity of the leakage to scoop fuel which they sold to the public.
As newsmen and sympathizers trooped to the area, some soldiers blocked the scene and prevented newsmen from taking pictures of the charred bodies. The soldiers later brought a machine to pump water to the scene.
It was feared that some soldiers may have died in the inferno, but this could not be confirmed as at the time of filing this report.
In an interview with Saturday Vanguard, Mr. Chucks Uzoije, who identified himself as a pipeline guard, said the information about the leakage spread more than three years ago, but was not attended to.
According to him, “The issue of the abandoned pipeline started over three years ago. We received information that there was leakage on the line. We called the authorities and they said it was from the old line which government was no longer using because there were two other lines there.
“The one Federal Government was maintaining was different from the one they pumped product into. So, they said they could not do anything about it because the government did not pay them to repair the two lines and that if the government wanted them to maintain it, they should come and dialogue with them because they would not get money from air to maintain it.
“Unfortunately yesterday, instead of pumping through the line they used to maintain, they now pumped through the abandoned line. Everywhere there was 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 am yesterday. I didn’t come out with anything. I now have only my uniform and my torchlight. Two of my tenants were burnt and most people came to rush them to the hospital. I don’t know if they are alive.”
Speaking on the cause of the incident, Chairman of Osisioma Ngwa council area, Mr. Benjamin Mgbeahuru who visited the scenes as well as the hospitals where some survivors were still lying critically burnt, blamed the PPMC for using a pipeline they said was an abandoned one in pumping products without checking its state.