New evidence obtained by BBC Africa Eye contradicts the official explanation for the cause of an explosion which killed 23 people and destroyed a girls boarding school in Lagos, Nigeria, earlier in the year.
The blast occurred in Soba, a residential neighbourhood of Lagos, on March 15th, 2020, at about 8:56 am.
In its reaction to the incident at the time, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) claimed the explosion occurred as a result of a truck that hit gas cylinders near one of its petroleum pipelines.
But new evidence indicates that the NNPC explanation for the cause of the blast, that decimated over 100,000 square metres of Lagos, is incorrect.
A new video evidence filmed at the explosion site, five minutes before the blast, shows a catastrophic leak of vaporised liquid at the exact location where the NNPC high-pressure petroleum pipeline runs beneath the ground through that area.
The BBC found there was no gas processing plant at the explosion’s epicentre.
Moreover, analysis of gas cylinders found at the site after the blast indicates they could not have been at the centre of the explosion when it happened.
Three specialist engineers – including experts in LPG gas safety, petroleum pipeline safety, and explosions analysis – who have examined video footage all confirm the huge leak of vaporised liquid could not have come from gas cylinders.
The BBC spoke with eyewitnesses who corroborated this claim. None of them mentioned gas cylinders or saw a collision, but four of them independently said the leak was coming out of the ground beside the heavily laden truck.
The evidence the BBC has uncovered indicates the heavily laden truck stopped on an eroded, unsurfaced road that had been softened by rainwater. This could have pressured the pipeline to breaking point, releasing a cloud of vapourised flammable petroleum product that ignited.
Ambisisi Ambituuni, a petroleum pipeline safety expert, told the BBC the System 2B pipeline network has “been in existence for way over the lifespan of the pipeline”.
“How is it so difficult for the operator to maintain the safety of those pipelines?” he asked.
After watching the film, Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, Human Rights Activist & senior Lawyer says incidences of fire disasters have become commonplace for Lagosians.
“It just more or less reiterates the need for the government to be responsive and to hold accountable those who are working in the sector in terms of maintaining global best practice in their operation,” he said.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Environmental Rights Activist and Executive Director, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa says: “My first ask is that, for the first time, the government should sit down to watch this documentary and set up an independent panel on pipelines explosions in Nigeria and use this as a case study. Lagos State government too needs to start thinking how do we protect the people from these serial explosions.”
The BBC said the NNPC was contacted but it denied the pipeline was inadequately protected, reaffirmed their explanation for the explosion’s cause, and said there was no leakage prior to the explosion.
They also told the BBC that “NNPC pipelines comply with safety and regulatory guidelines” and that they “worked closely with the Lagos State Government in providing a N2bn relief fund for the victims of the explosion”.