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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Pipeline blast recalls Nigeria's ills
Man walks on pipeline at Atlas Creek
No-one has been prepared to talk about what happened

The explosion at an oil pipeline at Atlas Creek outside Lagos on Friday which left at least 150 people dead is just the latest in a long series of tragic incidents.

As with previous explosions, it has been blamed on the glaring inequalities of an oil-rich country, millions of whose people live in poverty and where officials rarely seem to be held accountable for even the most catastrophic incidents.

The grisly scenes - of dozens of charred bodies strewn over a beach - only serve to accentuate the sense of inequality resulting from an apparent government failure to plough billions of oil dollars back into those parts of the economy that desperately need it.

Many of those who died are thought to be local people simply taking advantage of the leaking pipeline to supplement their meagre incomes with illegally siphoned petrol.

"This is caused by hunger and greed. If you've got no job and you're hungry you take advantage of anything to feed your family. Anyone who takes this kind of risk is desperate," Olanrewaju Saka-Shenayon, a Lagos State government official, told Reuters news agency.

Writing at the time of a similar incident three years ago, the BBC's former West Africa correspondent Dan Isaacs says that the industrial and agricultural sectors, so crucial for generating jobs and economic growth, have been allowed to wither and decline over the decades, while oil revenues have made those with access to power fabulously rich.

Meanwhile, he says, a gross lack of investment in the country's education system has meant that young men and women who want to better themselves and their communities find it almost impossible to do so. Schools, colleges and universities, once the pride of the nation, are in decay and disrepair.

Lessons to learn

Although the pipeline was probably ruptured initially by thieves, local people had come to the area in their hundreds in the dead of night to siphon off the fuel.

Dec 2004: At least 20 killed in Lagos
Sept 2004: At least 60 killed in Lagos
June 2003: At least 105 killed in Abia State
Jul 2000: At least 300 killed in Warri
Mar 2000: At least 50 killed in Abia State
Oct 1998: At least 1,000 killed in Jesse
Despite the risks, they left their homes in a nearby village with jerrycans and gathered round the high-pressure pipeline, which serves a nearby oil depot supplying the whole of the south-west of the country.

It is not known how long the pipe had been leaking when the explosion took place. In previous similar incidents, local officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to leakages for weeks at a time despite warnings of impending disaster.

Also, correspondents at the scene point out that there is a police post not far from the pipeline breach, raising the possibility that local security forces may have refused to intervene on this occasion as well.

No survivors were found at the scene. Judging by some burnt clothes found nearby, it is thought that those who escaped the fire fled immediately to avoid detection.

No-one has so far been prepared to talk about what happened.

And if the experience of similar pipeline fires is anything to go by, even if there is an investigation there will be no reprimands or prosecutions.

It seems no-one can guarantee that appropriate lessons will be learnt from this latest tragedy, or that it will not happen again somewhere else.

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