Residents of Osun State are worried about the indiscriminate construction of petrol stations in residential areas but the regulatory agency maintains that such practice do not constitute any threat to public safety, health and the environment.
Radio Nigeria correspondent visited Osogbo, Iwo, Ilesa and Ile Ife cities to find out more about the situation.
Mrs. Nofisat Adigun was a petty trader who sold bread beside a petrol station, directly opposite Osogbo High School in Osogbo, the Osun State capital.
Unfortunately, the inferno that ravaged the petrol station on September 23, 2016 also terminated her bread business as she lost everything to the fire.
Two girls of the same parents equally lost their lives as they were consumed by the fire inside the supermarket in the petrol station.
The story of residents of Lagere in Ile Ife is quite pathetic as a fire incident, which gutted a petrol station in the crowded street left seven buildings completely razed.
Mr. Tunde Elujoba who witnessed the disaster that sent panic down the spine of residents of the ancient community seven years ago said the damage was colossal.
Mr. Saheed Adeyemi who resides close to a petrol station in the Old garage area of Ilesa, also told Radio Nigeria that he had stopped using water from the borehole in the area due to the change in taste of the water.
When contacted, Service Manager of the petrol station, Mr. Rasheed Gbenga insisted that none of their functioning tanks was leaking, adding that the one that had a leak, had been abandoned.
These are just but a few of the experiences of many other residents around petrol stations and some citizens who believe the indiscriminate location of petrol stations in residential areas portend great risks.
Confirming the fear of the people, a Professor of Environmental Studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Bioye Aluko argued that siting filling stations in residential areas constituted serious hazards to human health, safety and the environment.
Professor Aluko maintained that the only way to avoid the time-bomb, which the siting of petrol stations in residential areas portends is to adhere strictly to the rules guiding the establishment of petroleum products stations.
Radio Nigeria obtained a document from the Department of Petroleum Resources Ibadan titled the “Petroleum Amendment Decree No 37 of 1977 Safety and Regulations” which contains the criteria used in granting of license to build and operate petroleum products filling stations in Nigeria.
The Criteria as contained in Rule one paragraph one to eight says, the total number of petrol stations within two kilometres stretch of the site on both sides of the road will not be more than four including the one under consideration.
It also says the distance between an existing station and the proposed one will not be less than four hundred metres, while the distance from the edge of the road to the nearest pump will not be less than fifteen metres, and they must not be located near schools and other crowded facilities.
However, sixty of the eighty-five petrol stations inspected in Ilesa, Iwo, Ile Ife and Osogbo failed to meet twenty percent of these requirements.
For instance, in many populated parts of Osogbo, the state capital, including Old garage, Station Road, Ogo Oluwa and Oke Baale, filling stations crowd beside each other with less than a fifty-metre distance between them, while some were built together with Hotel facilities and residential apartments.
Similarly in Ilesa, Iwo, and Ile Ife, petrol stations are constructed closeto motor parks, schools, markets and places of worship.
Interestingly, according to Rule two paragraph A-J of the Petroleum Amendment Decree No. 37 of 1977, before a dealer can be licensed to build and operate a petrol station, he must compulsorily undergo nine stages of certification, ranging from Local Government authorization, Police report, Fire report and certificate, approved building plans as well as Land and surveying approvals from Ministry of Lands and Urban Planning, which are thereafter presented to the Department of Petroleum Resources for final approval.
Across the petrol stations visited by Radio Nigeria, the Service Managers and owners maintained that they were duly certified to build and operate petrol stations in those locations.
Chairman of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN, Ibadan Depot Branch, Alhaji Raimi Tayo argued that if any filling station was wrongly located, it was the fault of the approving agencies and not the marketers.
Did these petrol stations built indiscriminately in residential areas and against the rules receive approvals for such construction?
Radio Nigeria met with the Operation Controller, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Ibadan Field Office which supervises Oyo and Osun states, Mr. Olayemi Olaonipekun, described the DPR as the last clearing house, following the presentation of evidences of other approvals before the agency’s inspection and final certification to build and operate a petrol station.
Mr. Olaonipekun blamed the state approving agencies, particularly the Urban Planning Ministries who conspired with highly connected business men to secure approval of locations against the regulations.
The DPR boss explained that cases of fire incidents recorded in parts of the country were not caused by the issue of location but the failure of tanker drivers to adhere to the two hours plus delay before discharging the product at petrol stations.
When contacted, Public Relations officer of the Osun State Police Command, Mrs. Folasade Odoro declined comments on the role of the police in the approval process, but the State Director of the Osun State Fire Service, Mr. Michael Ogundipe expressed his frustrations over what he described as maneuvering of the certification process by dealers who are highly connected.
In all of these approving agencies, the Ministry of Land, Urban and Physical Planning plays a key role in determining the suitability of a particular location for Petroleum products Filling stations based on the Master Plan of the affected state.
However, officials of the Osun State Ministry of Lands, Physical Planning and Urban Planning Development refused to speak with Radio Nigeria.
The Commissioner, Mr. Akintunde Akinajo did not pick calls, respond to messages or allow Radio Nigeria access to his office over the matter.
Meanwhile, in an interview, Chairman of the Osun State House of Assembly Committee on Lands, Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Nuraini Adebisi who agreed that such filling stations in residential areas in major cities of the state were wrongly constructed, blamed the development on corruption and uncoordinated relationship among the approving agencies.
Findings equally showed that despite this growing concern about the danger that construction of petrol stations in residential areas portend, the Osun State government is not in any way looking in the direction of revoking the licenses of some of these erring stations, as the Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Commerce and Industry, Mr. Tunde Olatunji submitted that such would amount to driving investment away from the state.
In order to provide enabling Environment for petroleum businesses so as to increase government revenue, the regulations are being flouted with impunity, while the public continues to be endangered.
At the moment, congestion of petrol stations in cities, which is increasing geometrically is seen by some people as a time bomb, waiting to explode.