Nigeria targets the deepening of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) usage in the country, eying as much as five million metric tonnes consumption per annum by 2023.
In its bid to actualise the target, the government has promised to continue to support the LPG industry with fiscal policies and incentives.
But with the desire to deepen usage in the country is another challenge that many say must be confronted with greater vigour.
The spate of gas explosions across the country is a cause of concern for many, which regulatory bodies, however, are also not unmindful of.
Just four days into the new year, tragedy struck at Sabon Tasha in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State where a gas explosion occurred.
The afternoon gas explosion left six people dead, including the Director-General of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Prof. Simon Mallam, and destroyed property valued at millions of naira.
On Feb. 2, at least seven persons were injured and property worth millions of naira were destroyed after a cooking gas cylinder exploded and kindled a fire in Onitsha.
The incident, attributed to gas leakage, left in its wake destruction of two rooms in a flat attached to a one-storey building.
The two are among the recurring incidents of gas explosion over the years, which have caused enormous losses in many parts of the country.
A nationwide survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) revealed concerns across the country, by consumers, retailers and even regulatory bodies.
Opinions are diverse on all sides as to what has been left undone and what needs to be done better to reverse the tide and curb avoidable losses.
Users of domestic Liquefied Petroleum Gas (also called cooking gas) in the South East called on regulatory agencies to beef up awareness campaigns on its proper use.
Mr Ifeanyi Mogbo, a resident of Awka, said that poor knowledge of the use of LPG was largely responsible for the incessant gas explosions in the country.
“Most consumers do not know that a gas cylinder has an expiry date and exposing it to water can lead to its corrosion, which endangers the life of the users,’’ Mogbo said.
He said that if an adequate campaign was carried out, users would be enlightened on better ways to handle cooking gas, which would help to reduce cases of gas explosion.
The response of another resident, Mrs Ngozi Chukwueloka, in the survey, seemed to buttress the need for more enlightenment.
She said that she was unaware of the expiry dates of cylinders.
“I have been using gas cylinder in my house for more than 20 years and it has not disappointed me,’’ Chukwueloka said.
A civil servant, Mr Mike Ovat, on the other hand, stressed the need for regulatory bodies to discourage retailing of cooking gas very close to residential buildings and offices.
Ovat said the practice posed enormous danger to human lives and should be discouraged.
Mr Martin Agbili, the Chief Fire Officer, Anambra State Fire Service, said users of cooking gas must be careful because the product required caution and extreme care.
Agbili said the state recorded more than 25 fire outbreaks in the last four months, with some of them caused by wrong handling of cooking gas.
Similar calls for sensitisation were made by a cross-section of residents in Umuahia.
A dealer in gas cylinders at Isi-Gate, Mr Chike Ndubuisi, said that the proliferation of sub-standard gas cylinders in the market accounted largely for the incessant explosions in the country.
‘’There are sub-standard cylinders in the market and they cannot withstand the pressure from the gas.
“There are standard metals for the production of gas cylinder but because of the low purchasing power, some people would go for cheaper cylinders.
“This is why the relevant agencies that are saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring standard should rise to the responsibility,” Ndubuisi said.
The Controller, Enugu Field Office of DPR, Mr Okechukwu Okoro, said the department had put measures in place to avert gas explosions in the state.
He said that the move was in compliance with a ministerial directive for the field offices to curb the proliferation of unlicensed LPG plants.
Okoro said that the initiative had led to the closure of 12 plants and two retail outlets in Ebonyi, while one plant and 15 retail outlets were sealed in Enugu.
The controller said that the department had also inspected 30 gas plants in Abakaliki and Afipko Urban in Ebonyi in the last few weeks.
According to him, the owners of the gas plants and retail outlets were directed to regularise their operational licences within 14 days to meet minimum safety standard.
He said that the operators of the retail outlets were also instructed to move out of the densely populated areas to safer locations.
Okoro appealed to domestic gas users to refrain from patronising unlicensed plants and retail outlets to avoid explosion.
The Zonal Controller of DPR in Owerri, Mr Peter Ejeh, said a task force to identify illegal LPG stations had been put in place and they were also empowered to shut such stations down.
Ejeh said it was dangerous to allow gas stations built within residential areas.
He said while such gas stations would be shut down, owners of the illegal stations would be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
The controller also advised consumers to always be mindful of their gas cylinders, as careless use of it could also lead to major disaster.
In Niger, Nasarawa and Taraba, the DPR said it had embarked on measures to curb the ugly trend in the respective states.
The Operations Controller of the department in Niger, Alhaji Abdullahi Jankara, said: “Recently, the DPR sealed 10 domestic gas stations in the state for failure to meet the minimum safety requirements of doing business”.
Jankara said that the minimum requirements for vending domestic gas include provision of hand held gas detector to detect any gas leakage within the station.
Other requirements, he said, include steady water supply and fire extinguishers.
The controller said the department was carrying out routine supervision of the vendors to ensure that they complied with the regulations so as not to endanger lives and property.
Jankara said that the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria (NISCN) were responsible for the standard and check on the domestic gas cylinders.
Similarly in Nasarawa State, the DPR clamped down on over 60 gas retailing outlets as part of efforts to curb cases of gas explosion.
The Operation Controller of the department in the state, Abdulrahman Mohammed, said the clamp down was a continuous process in order to check illegality in the industry and safeguard lives and property.
Mr Jeremiah Mashat, the Field Operation Controller of the department in Taraba State, said the outfit had enforced compliance for the construction and siting of petroleum and gas business to ensure safety of residents and customers.
Mashat said that the department had also sensitised operators on the use of gas cylinders by customers.
The controller stressed the need to ensure that cylinders were not leaking and the burners were in good condition for use.
A consumer in Jos, Mr Edward Aigbokhan, said that in order to use the product safely, he had equipped himself and his family with the requisite knowledge on gas usage.
“For my children, apart from reading, I take time to teach them how to use the gas.
“For example, we don’t take things like cell phones to the kitchen while cooking,” he said.
Another Jos-based gas user, Mrs Blessing Cosmas, said the first safety measure she had adopted was ensuring that the gas cylinder was kept outside the house.
According to Cosmas, keeping the cylinder outside reduces the chances of explosion, as it is away from fire.
The consumer also said that she had always checked the expiry date of her cylinder in order not to be using an expired product.
In the North West zone, the DPR is carrying out massive awareness campaign and surveillance of LPG shops, to check gas explosions.
The department became more active after the Jan. 4 explosion, and the Kaduna State government closed down 119 gas retail shops and relocated them to four sites in the metropolis.
In Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara and Kebbi states, DPR officials said they had maintained consistent surveillance on gas outlets to ensure that they met basic safety standards.
“We are doing our best to sensitise both users and retailers on the best ways to handle the product safely.
“The department is currently running a radio jingle, cautioning the public on how to check expired gas cylinders and other essential information on safety measures,” the DPR Controller Operations in charge of Kano and Jigawa, Alhaji Musa Tambawal said.
According to him, operators found wanting are usually handed over to the police for investigation and prosecution.
Alhaji Saidu Muhammed, the Public Relations Officer of the Kano State Fire Service, said public enlightenment was key to avert gas explosion.
Muhammed said two laws, Edict 17 of 1970, and Fire Protection Regulations Edict of 1985, guide the use of imflammables.
In Katsina, the DPR said it was collaborating with the State Urban and Regional Planning Board to prevent the sale of LPG in residential areas.
The DPR Operations Controller, Mr Muhammad Aminu-Sani, told NAN that DPR would issue license to only people who meet all standard requirements.
According to him, the retail shops must have fire control apparatus, and must be 15 metres away from residential buildings, welding workshop, roasted meat or beans cake spots.
Aminu-Sani said the department had been enlightening people on safety measures in the media.
He said such safety tips include keeping gas cylinders away from sunlight and heat sources, checking expiry date of cylinders, buying gas from certified LPG plant, and following safety rules at refill locations.
Others tips are ensuring that people turn off the knob of cylinder or gas burner when not in use and sensitizing all household members on safe handling practice.
“Again, do not turn on a light bulb where the burner or cylinder is working, keep cylinder in a ventilated place, use a fire blanket or correct extinguisher to put out fire if there is fire outbreak,’’ he said.
The official also urged users to keep mobile phones away from cylinders.
In Oyo State, Mr Oluyemi Olaonipekun, the Operations Controller in Ibadan Field Office of DPR, said the organisation would continue to ensure safety in the handling of gas.
“In 2020, we are set to do more as we have outlined our activities, both monitoring and surveillance, to ensure that gas outlets owners are up to speed with our regulations and they comply,” Olaonipekun said.
Mrs Olubisi Adegoke, a food vendor, said people often buy gas cylinders from the roadsides because of ignorance about their expiry date.
“I have been a victim of buying expired cylinder and I usually face the challenge of gas leakage but I have learnt my lesson.
“It is better to buy new cylinder and not used ones. Some cylinders are even rebranded with new paint and sold to unsuspecting customers at high price, this is the main cause of gas explosion Nigeria,” she said.
Mr Olusegun Daboh, DPR’s Head of Operations in Osogbo, said the department had shut more than 40 illegal gas facilities in the last five weeks across the state.
“As an agency mandated with responsibility of ensuring safety in oil and gas industry, we cannot fold our arms watching people operating illegally.
“As a matter of fact, we are giving all illegal gas skid operators in the state till end of February to close shop, while those with expired licences should come for renewal,” Daboh said.
In Akure, the DPR said that it sealed off four erring petrol stations and a gas station in the city for various offences not long ago.
Mr Anthony Onaji, Head of Operations of DPR in Ondo State, said the offences bordered on non-approval of gas skid from the agency and under dispensing of the pumps.
The nation’s commercial hub is not left out, as Mr Abel Igheghe, Head, Gas, DPR, Lagos Zonal Office, said over 54 gas plants were sealed in 2019 for not complying with standards.
He said the LPG plants were sealed for being illegal and operating within densely populated residential areas, schools and market places.
According to him, all the sealed facilities did not meet the minimum 15 meters distance required for such operations, which is a critical safety requirement.
He noted that since the DPR could not arrest or prosecute defaulters, the agency has been working with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps to enforce compliance by the marketers.
Mrs Nwaoma Olujie, Group Head LPG, SON, said the agency had on Nov. 29, 2019 destroyed over 5,000 substandard Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders worth N51.3 million in Lagos.
Olujie said the cylinders, invarious of 50kg, 12.5kg, 6kg and 3kg, and imported into the country, were destroyed for failing the agency’s mandatory test, while others were not manufactured according to the expected specifications.
“Safety is very important to SON and the agency is working toward ensuring that any cylinder in circulation meets the required standards.
“Nigerians also need to know that the average lifespan of a cylinder is 15 years with requalification every five years before.
“Such cylinders should be removed from circulation because they constitute threat to lives and property of Nigerians,” she added.
The federal government, in 2019, mooted a plan to ban consumer ownership of cooking gas in order to enhance safety.
Mr Dayo Adeshina, Programme Manager, National LPG Expansion and Implementation Plan, argued that standardisation of LPG cylinders and safe use in Nigerian homes could only be achieved when ownership rests strictly with dealers and distributors.
He explained that cooking cylinders ought to be recertified periodically, adding that the average life span of a cylinder was 15 years.
Adeshina said two investors, with the support of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), had indicated interest to establish recertification plants in the country.
“That is why we need to retrieve some of these cylinders still in circulation because we need to recertify them to ensure that they are safe for usage,’’ he said.