Raymond Ozoji, Awka
The Independent Petrol Marketers Association of Nigeria Anambra state branch (IPMAN) recently held Anambra hostage following the shutting down of petrol stations across the state over what the association saw as unlawful and illegal demolition of petrol stations belonging to their members as well as non-compensation for destruction of their investments by the Anambra state government.
IPMAN in its position accused the state government of being insensitive to the plight of the citizenry especially the blight cast on some of its members as a result of what it described as wanton destruction of their means of livelihood without recourse to the attendant difficulties such demolition would pose on the families and dependants of affected marketers.
The petrol marketers in a bid to pay government back in its own coin, decided to vent its spleen on the populace by withdrawing their services in the interim only to cause mayhem in the state.
The impasse, though, was barely 48 hours, following the timely intervention of Governor Willie Obiano who calmed frayed nerves and assured petrol marketers in the state that the issue would be deliberated upon and amicable resolutions reached.
This however saw the setting up of a committee by the state government to address the matter. The move led to the compulsory truce reached between IPMAN and the state government. But the question is, was the Anambra state government right in the demolition of fuel stations?
Chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers Awka branch Engr. Edmond Chukwuemeka Nkalu said the position of engineers in the whole saga was that the siting of petrol stations in unapproved areas was inimical to public health but he also said that the bulk of the problem lies on the absence of building control units in the state.
Nkalu also noted that the approval agency is expected to look at the total masterplan of an area prior to siting a gas station adding that filling stations should not be located in residential areas.
He however stated that the Nigerian Society of Engineers supported the idea of the Anambra state government to remove petrol stations sited where they were not required while calling on the approval agency not to take decisions unilaterally but endeavour to visit sites for environmental impact assessment adding that cases abound where petrol stations were situated close to schools, hospitals and a host of other public institutions; that such arrangements would jeopardise the lives of members of the public.
Also, the General Manager of the Anambra State Physical Planning Board Mr. Victor Osita Okpoko said the state government does not demolish approved structures and that the law requires that people should get approval before siting petrol stations and other structures across the state.
The state physical planning helmsman explained that even when government served stop work notice on those building without permit, such individuals flouted government orders and proceeded with the projects illegally.
He said demolished petrol stations in the state had no government approval just as he informed also that many filling stations were operating in Anambra and no agency of government had attempted to demolish them because they have their permit.
Okpoko further noted that petrol stations were highly inflammable and that if they were sited in unapproved areas, they would pose dire consequences on the general public. He said the location of a gas station also entailed that the Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR) would be consulted for Site Stability Approval (SSA) to guard against unforeseen contingencies.
Although he said he was not competent to venture into issues of compensation for victims of demolished structures as it does not fall within his purview, he pointed out that government also helped to cushion effects of demolition of structures through alternative arrangements.
When contacted to give the position of independent petrol marketers in Anambra state on the extent to which the state government has responded to their demands following a two-day industrial action embarked upon recently over what they termed illegal destruction of filling stations in the state as well as the extent to which they considered possible environmental hazards in the siting of petrol stations, IPMAN chairman in Anambra comrade Cletus Obiokafor declined press interview on the condition that he was not the government that demolished petrol stations.
While some members of the public who spoke in anonymity decried vehemently the location of filling stations in densely populated areas, they urged government to regulate as well as keep the activities of petrol marketers in constant check to avoid catastrophes.