IDEAS Radio 20 March 2020

Abule Ado Explosions and IDEAS

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, it is a hot humid afternoon in the city of Lagos.  I’m Aghogho Oboh.  You’re welcome to Public Square with Rotimi Sankore.  It’s been a fluid week so far.  The Public Square begins with the IDEAS segment where we’ll be speaking with Ayo Obe who …  We’ll be talking about the Abule Ado pipeline explosion.  It’s nearly a week since those horrific incidents happened in the suburbs of Lagos.  And on the Public Square we will have an update on the COVID-19, it’s fluid also with that one, a lot of stuff been happening in the last couple of days.  And we will also look at the Senate Bills that have happened this week.  A number of … a flurry of Bills have happened, and Rotimi, I remember sending me the mail, will be looking at what is going on with the Senate, all of those important bills with respect to the Constitutional Review.  , we’ll look at.  Remember you can join the conversation on Twitter @PublicSquareNG, @NigeriaInfo, @ideasradiong, @RotimiSankore and @AghoghoOboh.  Remember you can also join the conversation via WhatsApp, and online, you can call in.  But first, the WhatsApp number you can start to put up those questions there, 08095975805.

Good afternoon Rotimi.

Rotimi Sankore: Hi Aghogho.  Alright.  So, welcome everyone to the Public Square.  And we start with the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe.  I believe that we have her now?

AgO: Yes, we … do. … Right, we have Ayo now.

RS: Hello?

Ayo Obe: Hello!

RS: Yes.  Welcome Ayo.

AO: Hello.  Hello from a distance.  

AgO: Good Afternoon Ayo.

AO: From a socially acceptable distance …

RS: Yes, COVID-19 measures, apologies

AgO: We are trying out our technology now..

AO: Well, technology is what allows us to stay in touch, even though I have a bit of an echo behind me.  But …  It’s been a very instructive period since we last talked about the issue of trust and belief in what our government authorities are telling us Rotimi, because it seems to me that the issue that we want to discuss today, which is the Abule Ado explosions … comes in with some of the same issues actually.

RS: Mmmm.  Yes, so, regarding …  I mean we have update on what happened, we have different accounts of what happened, but there is … there is an issue there regarding the clarification from NNPC, saying that a truck hit gas cannisters, or …

AO: Yes, I mean what happened, according to the NNPC, a truck ran into a gas processing plant and it exploded, and that caused damage to the houses around, and it also caused damage to the NNPC pipeline.  Now … it’s not been quite clear, because looking at the damage that was done in Abule Abo, it … of course I don’t know how many gas cylinders we’re talking about, but the extensive amount of damage, I mean  I take my gas cylinders to a gas filling, a gas processing plant, and it’s in the middle of a residential area of course, but I can’t imagine that they have that many cylinders, I just can’t imagine what’s going on.  And I think that … So that this issue of: Can we believe what the government is telling us about the cause of this explosion?  It comes in.  I know that some of us are primed to disbelieve everything that government says, and equally primed, if I may say so, to swallow everything we see on social media.  But, as we’ve observed, it comes from a place of a government which, because of a previous record of not behaving with sufficient Integrity, without feeling that it has to Account to Nigerian people, and of course, the issues of Ethics: those things take a toll on trust.  And then … So when government talks, and needs people to respond and believe, they just don’t, and it’s a problem, and I don’t actually know that one can start to build that trust when the rain is already falling, it’s the kind of thing that you do when things are going well.

RS: Could it just … could it just be a matter of having failed to bring in an explosives expert to explain how a gas tank of a certain size, mixed with pipeline that probably kept rushing for maybe 600, or 800 or a thousand meters … collided, there was a mushroom cloud and it took out buildings … for a thousand meters or so? 

AO: Yes, because the MD of the NNPC, he said it damaged the NNPC pipeline, but … does that mean it blew it up or what?  So I think … I just want to mark that down because I think that there are other issues that are raised in an IDEAS context, beyond the question of the doubts about the cause of the explosion.  And the next one, is because I’m again referring to what the MD of the … NNPC, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari, he … the Group Managing Director I should say, not the MD, Group Managing Director.  And he … he said that: People should not build houses around pipelines.  Our pipeline is unfortunately very close to this location where the …” first of all where the gas processing was going on.  And then  he went on to say: “People should not build houses around pipelines.”   And … I thought, it raises to me issues about the Integrity of the town planning process.  Because normally, you expect that, the three basic ones are residential, business premises … and then industrial premises …

AgO: Industrial.

AO: And then there are also public buildings, like hospitals, schools … court houses and so on and so forth …

AgO: Places of worship.

AO: And so … places of worship, yes.  And so the point is: are these just built anyhow and in the middle of an NNPC pipeline?  It doesn’t make sense

RS: Or is it that the NNPC pipeline came and met them there?

AO: Well, I mean but when the NNPC pipeline came and met them there, did it not acquire the land?  You see if …

RS: Or should it, should they not have?  And then compensated the people then?

AO: Exactly!  And the question is, if they did that, why were buildings allowed to remain there?  So I think that this is another of the aspects that raises IDEAS, because we all have seen the town planning people rushing around and putting Xs all over people’s buildings because they didn’t … not because the plan is not wrong, but one often gets to see that suddenly the X is there and then it is not there.  What is it that makes the X disappear?  And I think that Nigerians would want to see a situation …

RS: The X that is not an X!

AO: … beyond where … I mean, we have the same thing when it comes to floods. …  People build their houses, then there is flood, and suddenly government turns up and starts ordering the demolition of this house and that house.  But how do the houses get built there in the first place?  You see?

RS: Yeah.  So, the … I think the next issue of course is … now that we have an accident on our hands, is it clear what the next step is?  Because on the one hand, the government says a trust fund is being set up to help the victims, but it’s not clear whether the government is going to help them reconstruct the houses, rehabilitate them, compensate them …  Is the government going to do this?  Or, is it, as some people suspect, that the government is asking for charitable support from citizens having set up this fund and then, donated a percentage of what the estimate is needed to it, and called on everyone else to put in something?  I mean, what are the issues there?

AO: I think that first of all, the government said it was setting up a N2bn fund, and I believe that the reason for that was that, when … because when such an event happens, people naturally want to help.  Some will want to say: Look, can we offer clothes … help people with temporary accommodation and so on?  And so private individuals and some companies did approach the Lagos State Government and say: This is what … how can we help?  Where should we send money?  And the government now set up this fund under the … to … to be chaired or administered by the Deputy Governor, and put in N250 million of its own, of Lagos State Government money I should say, not its own money, government money.  And the question that arises is that: What is the basis for (a) that donation, where does it come from?  On what basis is the Deputy Governor put in there?  Because, you see it’s either government money, in which case why are we asked to contribute to it?  Or it’s not government money, in which case it probably shouldn’t be being run by the Deputy Governor.  So it’s really not clear, even the amount.  I mean, definitely people will want to help.  I mean, you saw a  similar situation in the United Kingdom when that Grenfell building went up in flames and hundreds of people died.  People were turning up with what they could to assist: clothes, food, all sorts of things.  That’s charity, that’s …

RS: But that was separate from the government fund.

AO: … that’s humanitarian aid.  A government fund is a separate thing.  And I think that as usual, it raises the issues of Accountability and Transparency and … Accountability is not just: I’ll tell you how I spent the money.  But how did you make the decisions?  And when you put the Deputy Governor in charge of making the decisions, it’s bound to raise some red flags.  I don’t know if you remember Rotimi, but when we were speaking to Tracka last year, and … Mr. Ilevboje told us about how they had given … that funds had been raised in respect of previous flood disasters in Nigeria, and surprisingly …  and in fact, Tracka had been founded when they found that the money had been raised to help victims of flood disaster in Nigeria was actually just going to people who were either politically connected, or party members, or put on the list, and that was actually what inspired them to found Tracka to actually track what happened to this kind of fund.  So we shouldn’t say that  because somebody has said there’s a disaster, we can’t just assume – without more – that the money will go to the disaster victims.  Government needs to be a lot more transparent and explaining about what it’s doing.  I appreciate that they have fire on one particular mountain with the Corona virus pandemic …

RS: Yes, that’s cutting across everything now.

AO: … but it doesn’t relieve them of, it doesn’t mean that we have to throw basic Accountability standards out of the window, particularly, as I said, where there’s already suspicions about Integrity and Ethics, and therefore there’s a trust deficit.

RS: Alright, I suppose the last question there is that … over what time frame will this compensation or reconstruction, or rehabilitation be done.  It’s not clear that …

AO: Well, I mean it’s very clear that there cannot be reconstruction, because there’s an NNPC pipeline there, and you are not supposed to build within a certain distance from an NNPC pipeline.  So it’s … the people will be … will need to go elsewhere.  But the question of whether they are entitled to compensation is also going to be a question which will look into:  How did they come to get building … planning permission to build there in the first place?

RS: Well some of them said they’ve been there before the pipeline.

AO: Yeah.  I mean, but then what happened when the pipeline was built?  And you see, and I think it has to go beyond a matter of …  because some of those people will tell you that: “I didn’t get any compensation” but meanwhile, records may show that compensation was released.  Do you understand me?

RS: At the time.

AO:  These are the sort of things that we cannot just say, ok, these people should go away, we’ll give them something.  We have to actually have a transparent process by which people know: Was compensation paid?  If so, to whom?  And if they were paid compensation, why were they allowed to remain there?  Was there coordination between the State Government and the NNPC when they were putting their pipeline there?  These are just some of the questions that occurred to me, and I think that, you know, we’re always looking for the IDEAS component in some of the issues of the day in Nigeria …

RS: Before we let you go, before we let you go on the IDEAS segment, Aghogho is an expert on urban planning …

AO: On what?

RS: He’s an expert on urban planning and development.  

AO: Ok.

RS: So we may want to hear, to have an expert opinion as to what should have been happening there.

AgO: Yes, you know, it’s interesting, I was saying on the morning CrossFire when I came the other …

RS: On Monday morning, 

AgO: … Monday morning.  And I said that it’s a ‘tale of two cities’.  FESTAC, Abule Abo is an extension of FESTAC  on the Master Plan, it’s 9th Avenue.  So the FESTAC people have well planned, laid out structure, and just felt the impact, because they maintain the set back from the existing site and all the rest of them.  But Abule Ado which is poorly planned felt the impact, because like you pointed out, they didn’t observe the setbacks was there a gas pipeline within the right of way or not?  If it was there, what did they do with respect to zoning which you mentioned in terms of land uses?  Can you have a school within a pipeline area, or a church, residential area  I mean, it’s clearly laid out within the rules of town planning designed for this sort of thing And so, once more, the fingers will point back to the authorities asking how on earth do you have this sort of things play out?

AO: And I think it’s really not good enough for the ordinary public to be forced to bear the brunt of poor regulation enforcement and adherence to its own rules by the government, whether it’s the State Government or the NNPC, which is an arm of …

RS: Because if not, this may not be the last.

AO: Yes.  And then I didn’t even want to get into the issue which was raised by Zeal Akaraiwe, about the fact that when such things happen, the people … we shouldn’t have to be relying on charity, we should have insurance.  But of course, somebody who is asked to insure will first of all see: Do you have title that I can insure?  And some of these things might have come out then.  Do you understand?

AgO: In fact the law is very clear when you have development happen in these sort of areas where it’s called “Hazardous Development”, saying that if you go ahead and develop certain sort of uses within this sort of area, the State must bear responsibility for whatever happens there.  So if there’s going to be any problem like pipeline rupture,  the State must provide escape for the people must provide support for people who reside in that area, so the question people asked: Did they get that sort of support when the explosion happened.  the answer I guess, blowing in the wind.

AO: Well …

RS: Thanks so much Ayo

AO: I want to thank everybody for joining me on the IDEAS section and I send you back in the Public Square.

RS: Thanks so much.

AO: Ok, Bye Bye.

RS: Stay tuned everyone, we’ll be back in about two or three minutes after the ads on 99.3.