• Schools send pupils, teachers home

• Julius Berger should be punished, says NEMA

Chukwudi Akasike, Samson Folarin, Deji Lambo, Okechukwu Nnodim and Daud Olatunji

Residents of Arepo and Magboro in the Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, as well as motorists and commuters, were in panic on Wednesday after a gas pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was ruptured by employees of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, who were working on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The incident occurred around 9.30am in front of PUNCH Place, headquarters of Punch Nigeria Limited in, Magboro, Ogun State.

Scared residents ran helter-skelter as a huge volume of gas escaped into the atmosphere from the underground pipeline.

Many business owners also closed their shops, as they vacated their premises over fear of a possible explosion.

A security guard in a company around the area, who did not want to be identified, described the situation as scary.

“All the workers in the company were asked to move to a safe place to avert any tragedy. The gas was throwing up all kinds of objects. It was a miracle that there was no explosion,” he stated.

The news of the leakage, accompanied by footage taken by eyewitnesses, went viral on social media within minutes, as many road users were warned by emergency management agencies to stay away from the area.

A motorist, Kunle Abisogun, who lives in Magboro, however, expressed surprise at the tardiness of emergency management workers.

He noted that as of 11am when he drove past the area, there was no presence of emergency responders at the scene.

Abisogun said he alerted the Lagos Traffic Radio to the incident in order for motorists to be warned.

He stated, “I live around the Oke-Afa side of Magboro and started to hear that whooshing sound of the emission. People in my community thought there was an explosion already. I had to go towards Lagos with my wife in the car. I took the untarred road and passed through the scene of the leakage; that was around 11am.

“I observed that there was no single emergency responder at the scene. People were lamenting how such a thing happened for over one hour without emergency responders coming around. Even if they were not with equipment, they could have created a buffer zone to avoid any explosion.

“Also, there is no fire station on that expressway and that should worry everybody, including the religious organisations in that area of the road. The Lagos and Ogun states governments should do something. The Federal Government can create it as well.”

Our correspondents gathered that vehicles were later stopped on both sides of the expressway, as officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, Ogun State Fire Service and the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency cordoned off the area.

PUNCH Metro observed as pupils of private and public schools located around Arepo and Magboro were sent home due to the deafening noise of the gas leakage.

Some of the pupils were from Rosmos International School, Treasure Hills International School and a community school on Beachland Estate.

One of the pupils from Rosmos International School, who simply identified himself as Michael, said the proprietress asked all pupils to go back home because of the gas leakage.

“We were in school when we began to hear a loud noise and after sometime, we learnt that there was a gas leakage somewhere close to the Punch office. Everybody was afraid and our proprietress said we should go home,” Michael stated.

The proprietress of the school, Mrs Roseline Imara, said the incident caused panic among the teachers and pupils.

She stated, “There was a gas leakage; didn’t you hear about it? We were running and all of us had to vacate the school premises. We had to tell the children to go home to avoid any stampede.

“We had a headcount before we told them to go home; we (teachers) escorted them (pupils) to a place we were sure of their safety. It was not an easy thing, because everybody was scared.

“But we thank God that the gas leakage was brought under control and the pupils are expected in school tomorrow.”

The Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor on Public Communication, Remmy Hazzan, confirmed the closure of the schools.

Hazzan said it was done for the safety of the schoolchildren around the scene of the gas leakage.

“That makes a lot of sense, because gas travels with wings. Imagine if there was an inflammatory object around the area; so, safety first. As a responsible government, we take safety first,” he told one of our correspondents.

The Director of the Ogun State Fire Service, Fatai Adefala, said there was no loss of life or property as a result of the incident.

“Julius Berger excavators hit the underground pipe and that was what caused the leakage. We deployed our men in the scene as soon as we got the information. When I got further details, I called the Department of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian Gas Company Plc to swing into action,” Adefala stated.

The Director-General, LASEMA, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, said in a statement that the affected area had been cordoned off and handed over to the NNPC and the police.

“The gas pipeline has been shut down and the area cordoned off, while motorists are being diverted. The affected area was handed over to NNPC officials and police officers from the Warewa Police Station,” he stated.

The NNPC said in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Kennie Obateru, that the leakage was contained through the efforts of its team, officials of the Lagos State Government and other stakeholders.

The statement also quoted the Managing Director of the Nigerian Gas Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the NNPC, Faruk Usman, as saying, “The impacted section of the pipeline has been isolated and the pipeline depressurised such that it poses no danger to the public.”

The corporation urged members of the public to go about their duties normally as all safety measures had been put in place to avert any danger.

It stated that repair work had commenced with a view to restoring gas supply through the pipeline as soon as possible.

NEMA said it was the second time that Julius Berger would cause gas leakage in the area, adding that the construction company could be punished over the incident.

The South-West Zonal Coordinator of the agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, observed that Julius Berger did not observe the setback, which was marked out in the area.

He said, “A similar thing happened some months ago. Julius Berger did not keep to the setback, because right in front of PUNCH, you will see that the Nigerian Gas Company put a notice there as a setback. They were not supposed to do anything close to that place for safety reasons.

“The gas company said action would be taken against them (Julius Berger). If this has happened twice, we hope the third one will not be around a residential area where lives may be lost.”

But the Federal Controller of Works, Federal Ministry of Works, Joshua Popoola, described the leakage as an accident, adding that it was not true that Julius Berger had been involved in such an incident before.

He noted that the people, who laid the gas pipeline, did not follow the normal procedure.

Popoola said, “If any accident happens, you should know that it is not intentional. Julius Berger has been on that road since 2013 and that’s seven years without such a thing happening. So, what happened today was an accident.

“That is why we always say whoever wants to use our right of way should get approval from the minister, because we have standards. This gas pipeline, we have a minimum depth where the pipe must be laid.  But the majority of them will go through without getting approval from the appropriate authority. So, when they were doing it, they did shoddy jobs. Probably the minimum depth was not observed. There is bound to be such things.

“A contractor that is using equipment, if he is not aware of such things, such things can happen. Assuming where normal procedure was followed before they laid the pipeline, you will know the alignment where you have a gas pipeline and as a contractor, you will be extra careful. Now, that this has happened, it will not happen again because they are now aware that the alignment of the gas pipeline is within that corridor.”

A resident of the Journalists’ Estate, Arepo, Francis Okoye, blamed the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing as well as the contractor for not having a comprehensive infrastructure map of areas around the road.

Okoye stated, “We have to be thankful to God that a major catastrophe was averted. Imagine the colossal loss that would have been recorded if there had been an explosion. What would have happened to the investments worth several billions of naira by the companies around the area? What about their workers and residential houses around the area?

“The ministry ought to have a comprehensive map of infrastructure and utilities around the project site and make such available to the contractor. If it doesn’t, then it is a serious dereliction of duty. For Julius Berger, can it work like that in Germany or any other developed nation without knowing where key utilities are located and the depth underground?”

The spokesperson for Julius Berger, Moses Duku, said the firm was aware of the gas pipeline rupture and had deployed men to address the issue.

He said, “Julius Berger Nigeria Plc is aware of and is responding to the rupture of a pipeline, which occurred around Punch Newspaper, Magboro, earlier today.

“We appeal to motorists to remain calm as Gaslink has been notified of the incident and all efforts are being made with other relevant agencies to secure the site.

“We advise motorists to steer clear of the area and consider alternate routes. We will provide more information as it becomes available.” .

Copyright PUNCH.

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