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Nigerians face fire risks to save cost

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By Abraham Adekunle

Businesses are opting for fuel alternatives with higher risk of igniting fire.

Astonishingly, as of March 2023, no fewer than 54 market fires were recorded across the country in 15 months. This was from January 2022 to March 2023. According to investigations by the media, Lagos State is the first on the list of states where market fire has occurred. There were a total of eight cases. Anambra, Kano, Kwara, Osun, Yobe and Rivers also had their own share. Goods worth billions of naira and uncounted numbers of shops were destroyed by the fire outbreaks.

Once a fire starts in a market, it can be impossible to stop. It is every traders’ worst nightmare. Their life savings invested in storerooms filled with flammable stock as well as the maze-like passages make it hard for firefighters to get to the blaze, and for people to escape. Amidst all these issues, to keep their businesses going after the increase in the price of petrol, market traders and shopkeepers are turning to fuels that have a higher risk of igniting a fire and causing catastrophe.

Petrol-driven generators are being converted to gas.

Since President Tinubu stamped the removal of fuel subsidies in May 2023, businesses have searched for ways to survive. In Tinubu’s words, “Subsidy is gone.” Over 22 million petrol generators power 26 percent of households and 30 percent of small businesses in Nigeria. This underscores Nigeria’s dependence on premium motor spirit (PMS) even in areas that are connected to the national grid. But the price of PMS has skyrocketed since the policy. It has moved from its previous official N187 per liter to over N600 per liter.

So, businesses that depend on electricity, like frozen food vendors, tailors, and barbers among others are changing generators from petrol-driven to gas. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) is stored in tanks at high pressure. The conversion kit reduces the pressure of the gas as it enters the engine, allowing the generator to ignite it. After fitting a conversion, one only needs a refillable gas cylinder and a tube. This gas is also known as cooking gas. Many Nigerians in the South West now also use it in their homes. They argue that it is more economical to augment poor electricity supply from the national grid than petrol.

This conversion carries considerable risks if not done correctly.

However, using it to power a generator with a conversion done by someone who may not have done it correctly carries a risk. Even cooking gas in the home is handled with extreme caution by households. So, using cooking gas for something much comes with increased danger. A barber who spoke to news correspondents said that he had refused to convert his generator from petrol-propelled carburetors to gas. He said that he used to spend about N3,000 on fuel every two or three days as a result.

He heard about the conversion but was scared of the risk. “While alternative gas offers benefits such as cost savings, there are issues that need to be managed, including the risk of fire outbreaks, explosions, and improper handling of gas cylinders,” he said. In fact, experts in the field of firefighting agree with this barber. Seyi Ayeni, a member of staff of the Federal Fire Service, says that a spark or even just heat from the generator can cause a fire. He said that LPG carries more risks than petrol.

Experts agree that gas-powered generators carry more risks.

Some of these risks include the potential for explosion if not handled properly and the risk of gas cylinders falling down and releasing their content. The gas is also dangerous when it is left in the rain or in a humid environment. This is true as well when it is exposed to direct sunlight and/or excessively high temperatures. This could lead to an explosion. Ayeni said that he had seen firsthand the effect of a gas fire and been at the scene of an explosion. He urged the government to ban use of gas or gas stations in largely populated environments such as markets.

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