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New evidence contradicts official explanation of March 2020 explosion that killed 23 in Nigeria

22 September 2020

A BBC documentary has uncovered new evidence that contradicts the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) official explanation of an explosion that killed 23 people in March. At the time, the NNPC said the blast was caused by a truck crashing into gas cylinders near one of its pipelines, however new evidence from BBC Africa Eye shows a leak from an NNPC pipeline was to blame.

The March 15 explosion in Lagos - Image: Shutterstock
The March 15 explosion in Lagos - Image: Shutterstock

The explosion in Nigeria’s largest city Lagos killed 23 people and injured over 20 others while also destroying around 50 nearby buildings, including a boarding school for girls. The state-owned NNPC explained at the time that the blast occurred after a truck crashed into gas cylinders at a gas processing plant located near to where the company’s 2B underground petroleum pipeline ran.

However, the new BBC Africa Eye documentary published on September 20 highlights video evidence that indicates the NNPC’s explanation is wrong.

The documentary highlights mobile phone footage taken five minutes before the blast that shows a large leak of vaporised liquid. BBC Africa Eye pinpoints the exact spot of the leak and shows how the leak was coming from a spot nearby the truck. Moreover, the BBC shows that there was no gas processing plant at the site of the leak.

BBC Africa Eye consulted with three experts – one in petroleum pipeline safety, one in LPG safety, and another in explosion analysis. The three engineers analysed the footage and confirmed that a leak of such intensity could not have come from gas cylinders. Eyewitnesses also confirmed that a leak was coming from the ground and that they did not see gas cylinders or a crash involving a truck.

The BBC’s findings point to the explosion being caused after a heavily laden truck stopped on an unsurfaced road eroded by recent rainfall, pressuring the pipeline underneath to breaking point and causing the large leak of vaporised liquid. The leak was then blown downwind where it met the open gas flame of a tea seller on the side of the road and ignited.

The documentary goes on to explain that although responsibility can sometimes be hard to pin down, it is not in this case. The webpage of Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company (NPSC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, says that it is responsible for the maintenance and integrity of petroleum pipelines, including protecting them from washouts and being subjected to abnormal loads.

BBC Africa Eye concludes that despite the NPSC’s regulations and the fact that the pipeline ran through a densely populated area, the evidence shows that the NNPC did not appropriately address the erosion of the road surface, sufficiently protect the pipeline from the truck's abnormal load, and did not maintain the integrity of the pipeline.


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