President Buhari, speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, about the incident, had expressed regret over the “unnecessary loss of lives and property as a result of the pipeline explosion.
However, in expressing his regrets, President Buhari said that “preliminary reports by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation showed that the incident was not an accidental explosion, but a result of vandals who pilloried the pipelines to scoop the products.”
Expressing its opinion, Access to Justice in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Joseph Otteh, referred to President Buhari’s statement as rather unfortunate.
“The President’s message to the victim families of this large-scale and horrendous tragedy is deeply unfortunate,” Otteh said.
“The President’s Statement reads in a way that suggests that the victims were pipeline vandals themselves and were responsible for the tragedies which befell them.
“Even if the victims were pipeline vandals as suggested, the President’s Statement would be no less troubling, given that there are still, under his watch, many Nigerians who face excruciating levels of poverty that force them to undertake high-risk behaviours for survival,” Otteh said.
He, however, added that there is nothing to suggest that the victims of that pipeline explosion were either the pipeline vandals or were scooping petroleum products at the time of the incident: on the contrary, the evidence points to a different scenario.
“Some of the victims were not within the immediate proximity of the pipelines but were caught in the consuming rampage of the fires which erupted from the pipelines. The victims included nursing Mothers and Soldiers of the Nigerian military,” Otteh noted.
“The President said he reached his conclusions after reviewing the preliminary reports of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). It is deeply unfortunate that the President would rely on reports that are, first, developed by an entity that has a huge interest in not being blamed or implicated in the explosions, and second, characterized their reports as “preliminary” and not conclusive.
“The sanctity of human life, should, at the very least, demand that Nigeria’s government reach the very roots of the incident and clarified the full circumstances of the explosions before arriving at a judgment,” Otteh said.
He further noted that the President has decided to side with the position of the NNPC, a party that several court judgments have found to be negligent in a number of cases of pipeline explosions, against victims of explosions who are mostly poor, powerless and voiceless. The President’s Statement criminalises those victims.
“Rather than issue hasty, inordinately judgmental Statements that are capable of prejudicing efforts to transparently determine the true circumstances of the pipeline fires, the President ought to have set up an independent, impartial and prompt inquiry into the cause(s) of the explosions,” he said.