Analysis about the March explosion in Lagos
There is new evidence gathered by BBC Africa Eye about an explosion that occurred in Lagos. Image credit: BBC Africa Eye.

New evidence obtained by BBC Africa Eye contradicts the official explanation given by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) following an explosion that occurred Nigeria’s largest city Lagos, in March.

The explosion, which killed 23 people and destroyed a girls boarding school in Lagos, was said to have occurred as a result of a truck that hit gas cylinders near one of its petroleum pipelines.

However, according to BBC Africa Eye, new evidence indicates this official explanation for the cause of the blast, that decimated over 100,000 square metres of Lagos is incorrect.

The blast occurred in Soba, a residential neighbourhood of Lagos on March 15th 2020 at 8:56 am. 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.

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Arial view of the location where the explosion happened.
Image credit: BBC Africa Eye

Three specialist engineers – experts in LPG gas safety, in petroleum pipeline safety, and in explosions analysis – who have examined video footage all confirm the huge leak of vaporised liquid could not have come from gas cylinders. Eyewitnesses the BBC heard from corroborate this. 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.

But petroleum pipeline safety expert, Dr Ambisisi Ambituuni, told the BBC the System 2B pipeline network has: “been in existence for way over the lifespan of the pipeline”. He asked: “How is it so difficult for the operator to maintain the safety of those pipelines?”

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.”

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 about how do we protect the people from these serial explosions.”

The NNPC were contacted and 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 said: “NNPC pipelines comply with safety and regulatory guidelines” and that they: “worked closely with the Lagos State Government in providing a N2 billion relief fund for the victims of the explosion”.

Collage of images from the video. Image credit: BBC Africa Eye

Gathering of new evidence

  • How do you know the time of the explosion?

BBC Africa Eye: “We used two separate livestreams of Sunday services that were occurring within the blast shockwave’s reach. Both showed the moment the shockwave reached the respective buildings and both the times matched. In addition to this, we used the earliest mention on social media of the explosion to determine the latest time it could have happened. These, besides eyewitness testimonies and the metadata of the leak video, confirmed the time stated in the film.”

  • There were gas cylinders found at the explosion area after the blast. Couldn’t these gas cylinders have been at the centre of the explosion?

BBC Africa Eye: “We address this in the film available on the BBC Africa Eye YouTube page. We counted approximately 14 LPG cylinders which were up to 47kg in size. All were found more than 80 metres away from the explosion’s epicentre within 10m of one another. All but one was virtually undamaged (the one that was showed signs of implosion to external pressure not explosion). Moreover, the profile, intensity and volume of vapourised product seen in the leak video rules out gas cylinders.”

  •  How do you know some of the road’s surface, running over the pipeline, had been eroded?

BBC Africa Eye: “We used analyses of visual evidence taken from the site to identify the erosion of some of the road surface over where the pipeline runs in combination with topographical data.”

  • There are many incidents involving petroleum pipelines in Nigeria involving the loss of life. Why focus on this one?

BBC Africa Eye: “The explosion in Soba, Abule Ado, was widely publicised because of the scale of devastation, the number of people killed, and the destruction of Catholic girls boarding school Bethlehem Girls College. Moreover, for us to conduct our analyses using open source techniques, it requires a certain amount of visual evidence to be present. In the case of this explosion that threshold was met. We do speak about other incidents on this same stretch of the 2B Pipeline System to highlight the issues on this particular pipeline stretch.”