SON, Customs trade blame over influx of substandard gas cylinders

Oredola Adeola

Nigeria has become a dumping ground for obsolete gas cylinders , and this constitutes a threat to the safety of the Nigerians who often don’t understand the hazard behind using potentially dangerous outdated products.

EnergyDay Investigation shows that cylinders manufactured in the 70s are still in circulation across Nigerian markets, despite having a 15- year lifetime.

Amidst the rising cost of Liquified Petroleum Gas(LPG), the demand for gas cylinder has grown exponentially due to Nigerians’ adoption of LPG as domestic fuel.

The local consumption has grown from 70,000 metric tonnes in 2007 to about 600,000 metric tonnes as of 2020 and the figure has continued to rise by the day.

Meanwhile, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and the Nigerian Custom Service have both denied knowledge of how the cylinders managed to enter into the country.

SON had recently revealed that substandard gas cylinders imported from China are being sold to Nigerians. The agency emphasised that most importers prefer to go to China to bring substandard cylinders into the country.

The agency warned roadside welders to desist from refurbishing these cylinders, vowing to unveil standards for welding and to sanitise the industry.

SON, Nigerian Customs Service(NCS) react

Mr. Bola Fashina, Head of the Public Relations department and Special Assistant, Media to the Director General/CEO, ‬SON, in a chat with EnergyDay disclosed that SON approval is only given to importers to import approved grade of cylinders to the country. He added that the SON only give documentation and clearance to Customs to clear the cylinders at the point of entry.

He, however, denied knowledge of how the substandard cylinders managed to enter into the country, noting that the agency does not have capacity to effectively check the influx of substandard products into the country.

He said,“ SON has vacated the ports, following what was seen as ‘a proliferation of agencies at the ports in 2011. We don’t have capacity to properly inspect and approve imported products.

“It is the duty of the Customs to inspect the influx and protect the country from substandard goods, because they are the security agency at the borders and ports.

“ SON only acts on information available to the agency on the movement of substandard cylinders in the country. We deploy our facilities to track them and ensure that we confiscate them before they get to the warehouses or the markets.

The SON’s spokesman however claimed that some of the substandard cylinders available in the country did not pass through the right channels, as most of them did not have their (SON’s) certification.

He said, “Product importations into the country are multifaceted, sometimes some of the containers carrying the substandard cylinders are falsely declared. Erring Importers often issue forged declarations and documents to the security operatives in order to evade detection. Other cylinders are smuggled into the country through the porous illegal channels, he said.

According to him, SON relies on information from the general public on substandard cylinders , he promised that the agency would continue to monitor, track and confiscate these goods in the markets. He noted that the agency is challenged by its absence at the point of entry.

However, the Nigerian Custom Service(NSC) in a conversation with EnergyDay denied the allegation that it is responsible for allowing substandard gas cylinders into the country, claiming that cylinders that do not have SON Conformity Assessment Programme for Exports to Nigeria (SONCAP) are usually rejected by the Service.

Mr. Joseph Attah, Customs, National Public Relations Officer (PRO) in a conversation with EnergyDay said , “Whenever any cylinder is imported into the country, importers or agents are required to present clearance from SON, before being allowed to move their goods from the ports.

He said, “it is not our duty to determine the standard of any cylinder. Our mandate is to ensure that the consignments meet the clearance guidelines and approval from SON and other relevant agencies. Our duty at the port is to collect import duties from the importer and clear those that meet SON’s approval.

Attah however restated the Service commitment to 100 percent physical examination of every container coming into the country, but refused to take blame for proliferation of substandard cylinders in the country.

Explosion associated with Substandard Cylinder

In August 2015,one Charles Obidigwe and eight members of his family, reportedly burnt to death in a gas explosion which occurred in their three- storey building in Lagos.

In 2015, a gas explosion led to the death of five persons at Eliozu area in Port Harcourt when a gas retailer was refilling another cylinder and suddenly, the cylinder exploded killing the victims on the spot.

In 2017, another gas cylinder explosion killed about four persons, at Okpokiri Fuel Station, at Amawire, Orji Road in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo state. Findings showed that the explosion occured when one of the gas cylinders in the premises leaked and exploded injuring many people.

In 2018, three siblings, aged four, three and two, died tragically in Sara, Jigawa State, when their gas cylinder exploded killing the three and leaving two other children in the house with varying degrees of injuries.

Another family of nine was in that same year wiped out by same gas cylinder explosion in Lagos. The mother of the kids was said to be preparing lunch for the family when the cylinder exploded and razed their flat.

An explosion by leaking gas cylinder at artisan’s shop in Ajara Vetho area of Badagry, Lagos, in January 2018, killed four persons and left several others with severe burns. Six buildings located near the workshop and six gas cylinders were destroyed by the explosion.

In 2019, at Ogunmokun Street in Mushin area of Lagos, a seven-year-old girl and a stroke patient were severely burnt after a gas cylinder in the house exploded. The raging fire also razed two buildings.

Same year, one Mrs Nneka, a resident of Ogba, in Lagos also lost her life to explosion which occurred from leaking cylinder in her home.

In October 2020, around Baruwa area of Ipaja, Lagos State, there was a gas explosion at a gas retail shop that claimed eight lives, got many injured and destroyed 89 shops and 44 buildings, among others.

In April 2021, a gas explosion occurred at a gas dispensing shop in Agboju area of Oriade Local Council Development Area. Some residents suffered minor injuries while trying to put out the fire.

There are other undocumented cases of explosions due to leaking cylinders as many Nigerians, mostly women and children, have lost their lives through similar explosions that now seem very common.

Unfortunately most are associated with the quality of cylinders and accessories

Gas importers optimising gains

EnergyDay findings showed that importers of substandard cylinders have capitalised on the inconsistent government policies, exchange rate volatility and Nigerian’s porous borders to import lower grade cylinders into the country without regards to the safety of the end-users.

As a result of this rising demand for LPG, importers of gas cylinders have taken advantage of this to fill the market with varieties of cylinders irrespective of safety concerns.

Evidently, while there are standard gas cylinders available in the market, most Nigerians are attracted by prices of cheap and foreign-used cylinders some of which are almost half the price of new ones.

Most cylinders retailers have their stores stocked with second hand cylinders because of prices, while Nigerians are not mindful of the inherent dangers of using these facilities in their homes.

Some of the dealers who would not want their names in print told EnergyDay that it is more cheaper to import second hand cylinders to Nigeria because of exchange rate which has doubled the price of new gas cylinders.

Mr. Emeke Ejike, a gas retailer and dealer in Ojuelegba area of Lagos state disclosed that market for foreign used 3kilogrammes, 5kgs and 6kgs gas cylinder sizes are booming than new ones.

According to him, the prices of the range of cylinders have doubled due to exchange rate and customers prefer cheaper cylinders. Mrs. Fidelis Ngozi, a gas cylinder merchant in Sango area of Ogun state claimed that the demand for imported/ fairly used cylinder in her store has risen lately because of its cheaper price in comparison to new ones.

According to her fairly used 6kgs bottle of cylinder is sold for N10,000 while the new one of that same volume is sold for N16,000.

She noted that her warehouse is stored with imported cylinders since the demand for them are rising. She, however, claimed safety of the cylinder is determined by the usage and not quality.