Proliferation of cooking gas stations : Umuahia residents living under landmines
By Steve Oko
The proliferation of cooking gas stations in and around Umuahia the Abia State capital has raised safety concerns among residents.
Almost every nook and cranny of the capital city now has a gas station where consumers of the commodity can easily and conveniently go to re-fill their gas.
Just like every other lucrative business in town which is saturated shortly after the initiator introduces it, cooking gas business has already been flooded by money bags in Umuahia who have the ready cash and only needed a business idea.
The development is not a bad one from a business perspective as it gives room for healthy competitions and affords the consumer wider options in choice making but when viewed from the prism of safety, one can only see that it’s a time bomb waiting to explode.
Until about four years ago there was only one or two gas stations in Umuahia complemented by few dealers /retailers who usually market re-filled gas cylinders in their shops.
But today, investigations by Wawa News Global, revealed that there are several gas stations around town with some of them recklessly sited at high-density residential areas and inside petrol stations within the metropolis.
A case in point is the one around Kaduna Street surrounded by residential houses, thus exposing the lives of innocent residents to grave danger.
Just recently a gas tank was installed at a petrol station around Umuwaya Road towards Abia Shopping Mall. The said station had before now operated as petrol station until the new introduced.
In other climes, gas stations are located at the outskirts of the city obviously for minimal damage in the eventuality of the unexpected.
But this does not seem to be the case in Umuahia where business interests and profiteering appear to be placed over and above safety concerns .
This anormally raises questions over the proactiveness, effeciency or competence of the relevant approving and regulatory agencies .
Some of the questions agitating the minds of concerned residents include : “Were approvals sought and granted before some of the gas stations were built ?”, “Were the regulatory agencies involved or are they compromised?”, “Are the owners of these businesses too powerful and untouchable that they will be allowed to put the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents at risk?”
But sometimes things go the wrong way for several reasons including but not limited to negligence of duty, incompetence, ignorance and graft on the side of the regulatory bodies.
A critical look at the way and manner gas stations indiscriminately spring up in Umuahia metropolis leaves no one in doubt that any of the above reasons could be responsible, after all, was it not in the same city that the state House of Assembly vide motion, stopped work at the site of a petrol station only for the same station to be completed years later?
No matter what, the fact remains that no responsible government anywhere in the world allows the safety of its citizens sacrificed on the altar of economic interest of heartless capitalists.
Devastations by the highly combustible product are hellish and better -imagined.
Commenting on the sad development, a human rights activist, Comrade Paul Njoku attributed it to a mark of insensitivity and weaknesses on the part of government.
Njoku said the governor should not be so busy to overlook the very reasons for which the people surrendered their mandate to him – protection of lives and property.
He alleged that owners of most of the gas stations are “politicians, friends of government and contractors”, hence “they are untouchable”.
The social crusader also lambasted officials of relevant regulatory bodies and revenue agencies who he accused of only being interested in extorting money from the owners.
“Owners of most of the stations including petrol stations built inside residential areas are very close to government. Again the necessary agencies are not interested in public safety but are only after their pockets. They only go to collect revenue from them which never enters government coffers “.
He urged Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to rise to the occasion to save residents of avoidable disaster .
“If care is not taken, what happened in Nnewi about three years ago may happen in Umuahia. The governor should not allow Abians to perish because of the business interests of few elite ,otherwise he will be held responsible should any disaster befall innocent residents “.
Njoku called on the state House of Assembly to put in place proper legislations to checkmate the anomaly.
Another resident, Mr. Ama Anaesoronye, an Estate Surveyor and Valuer, described the development as “worrisome and very disturbing”.
“From the way these gas stations even petrol stations are being sited in every available space in the city centre, it appears the Umuahia Capital Development Authority which should give the approvals is not even interested in the safety of residents.”
He urged the relevant government agencies to put the safety of lives and property above other considerations before giving approvals to any developer/investor.
Efforts to reach the Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Solomon Ogunji for his comments failed as he did not pick his calls nor respond to text message sent to his phone as at the time of filing this report.
But the Commissioner for Housing, Hon. Theophilus Ugbaja when contacted expressed concern over the development which he described as “a time bomb waiting to explode”.
He said Town Planning Authority should ensure business men are not allowed to put the lives of residents at risk because of business interests.
The Commissioner who promised to synergise with his counterparts in the relevant ministries urged owners of gas stations to ensure they have fire fighting equipment in case of emergency situations, more so now that the dry season is fast approaching.
Meanwhile the Comptroller Abia State Fire Service , Mr. Victor Gbaruko, when contacted, expressed dismay over the development.
He said gas stations should have high walls around them as one of the major safety requirements but regretted that some owners of such stations rather resort to cutting corners instead of observing the safety measures.
“You see, some of these people do a lot of sharp practices and they like cutting corners instead of doing the right thing “.
He however blamed the approval agencies who turn blind eyes when developers flout Clause Purposes for which approval was given to them.
The state Fire Service boss enumerated some of the safety measures already adopted by the agency to prevent fire disasters.
These include disallowing the discharge of cooking gas and other combustible products in the day time, as well as insisting that high walls are built around cooking gas stations to prevent gas from flaring into the neighborhood.
Perhaps the more reason government should compel owners of gas stations to strictly comply with the safety rules is because of the inadequacy of the needed fire fighting equipment to contain any emergency situation.
It was shocking to know that Abia State has only three functional Fire Engines – two in Umuahia and one in Aba while the fourth one is being expected by the end of November according to the state Fire Service boss.
He identified insufficient foam compounds (chemicals) as another major challenge of the agency as there are only four drums of such chemicals available in the state, a far cry to about 300 drums he said were required by the state.
According to him, an imported Fire Engine costs about N240 million while locally produced ones (by Innoson Motors) sell for N70 million.
He however, said personnel of the agency were ready and at alert to handle any emergency, adding that a special unit had been set up for the prevention of fire disaster which goes around on monitoring.