A bold inscription at the entrance of the estate welcomes visitors into the relatively quiet neighbourhood.
Designed with white painting cast on a black background, the inscription depicts an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. “Welcome to Peace Estate,” it reads.
Located within the larger Baruwa Community in Alimosho local government area of Lagos State, Peace Estate is one of the neighbourhoods hosting oil pipelines in the community. But as PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed, a casual walk down the far end of the estate showed that life is everything but peaceful.
“That place is not peaceful at all,” said John Chidi, an Okada rider stationed at the entrance of the estate gate.
“Pipeline vandals just operated there some days ago and set the place on fire. You may need to be extra careful if you want to go there.
“The underground water in this house opposite us has been polluted; it smells of oil. Water pollution is a common thing around here. It’s almost everywhere here.”
Oil pipelines run through the Baruwa community through the estate. The high-pressure pipelines, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, were linked from Atlas Cove through Baruwa and Mosimi, a major petroleum product depot.
This has exposed the community to the illicit activities of bunkers and other oil pipeline vandals. Aside from pipeline vandalism, the community also battles underground pollution.
PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that beginning in 1996, due to leakages, water sources across different parts of the community were contaminated.
Interviews with more than two dozen residents, political leaders and scientists, and a PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation have shown that despite repeated promises by the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) and other government agencies, oil pipelines in the area have remained broken and obsolete.
The leakages have led to the contamination of underground water with petroleum hydrocarbon and its attendant health complications for residents.
Petroleum hydrocarbons are complex substances formed from hydrogen and carbon molecules and sometimes containing other impurities such as oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen. The health effects of hydrocarbons have been noted in occupational exposures to tetramethyl lead, benzene, among others.
Hydrocarbon vapours can cause health effects like irritation. Other effects could come in the form of eye and respiratory irritation caused by photochemical smog.
Ahmed Baruwa, the secretary of the community association and son to the community head, said the underground water pollution started around 1996.
According to him, trouble began in the community when residents complained of the smell of oil in their water.
“Before then (1996), this community had existed for over 50 years without any such (leakage) issue,” he said of the leakages.
The incident, he said, did not generate serious concerns until December 1998 when tests were conducted by the community showing that water sources have been contaminated in the community. They promptly made it known to the government, he added.
“After complaints were sent to the relevant government agencies, they all promised to help alleviate our peoples’ suffering and replace the rusty pipelines. But that has turned out not to be,” he said.
Najeem Ajelanwa, the head of Ajelanwa community of Baruwa, confirmed Mr Baruwa’s position in a separate interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
This newspaper also confirmed the information from interviews conducted with random community residents.
Following a series of complaints, the NNPC sunk three boreholes in the community, according to Mr Baruwa.
PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that the three areas where the facilities are located included Fashanu Street, Baruwa Compound and Olaogun Street.
The community head noted, however, that when samples of water from the borehole were taken for testing and the result showed that it was not suitable for human consumption, the borehole facilities were shut.
To address the concern around water shortage, Mr Baruwa explained that the Lagos State Water Corporation promised to supply water to the community. The exercise, which some residents claimed was fulfilled for a short period, has since stopped.
“Our people now buy water from young men who go about with gallons of water, in wheelbarrows,” Mr Baruwa told PREMIUM TIMES. “They sell to them at N300 per ten gallons or so.”
For several weeks, multiple requests sent to the Lagos State Water Corporation were not attended to. Emails and calls placed to the agency’s known addresses were also not responded to.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the pipeline located in Baruwa receives products from the Atlas Cove in Lagos and Mosinmi, in Ogun state. From these places, petroleum products are transported to other parts of the South-west.
The pipelines are located particularly in a part of the community called “Gate”, from where it passes through the rear end of Peace Estate and other parts of the community. PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that after several years, the pipelines became rusty and leakages led to pollution.
Last year, a team of researchers published a report on Baruwa water contamination.
The researchers were led by Samuel Ola, a professor of Geotechnical and Geo-Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA).
The report was published after four years of research undertaken with the support of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) to remediate groundwater polluted by oil spillage using 21st-century technology.
The research found that hydrocarbon product was found on top of the groundwater in wells in the community isolated for the research.
Although the report said a decontamination exercise was conducted for a short period by the researchers, it could not be sustained because the source of the contamination of the groundwater in the community was the oil spill from ruptured NNPC pipelines which remained unfixed.
”Groundwater pollution from leaking NNPC/PPMC underground pipelines in Baruwa community has been continuous and the leakage source persistent as evidenced by fresh petroleum product detection in the groundwater at some of the observation wells after the successful clean-up of the pilot scheme area by experts using modern remediation methods,” the researchers said in the report.
They also discovered that the groundwater pollution problem discovered in Baruwa was already extending to other areas of Lagos such as Diamond Estate, Isheri Road and Gowon Estate.
Due to the contamination, Mr Baruwa also said that different health complications traced to the water source have been detected in the community.
Many months after the report called for urgent intervention into the crisis, PREMIUM TIMES can report that the situation still persists.
A member of the FUTA research team, Tope Oluwalope, told PREMIUM TIMES about efforts made to address the leakage.
He said: “Initially when we got there (Baruwa community), it was really glaring that the water contained hydrocarbons because the oil was floating on the water. It was really serious. We remediated and got about 30 kegs of oil.
“Afterwards, the chemists began to do remediation with the use of potassium permanganate. I did some in the laboratory and some on the field. By then, the water was getting clearer, with a reduced amount of hydrocarbons.
“Later, we were told that there was another leakage and they said it was from another broken point. So we had to start all over. We were able to remediate a substantial part but the major issue was the need for the pipelines to be fixed, as contained in our recommendation.”
Mr Oluwalope explained the hazards involved in the people’s continuous usage of the contaminated water, adding that the government must intervene.
“I advised that residents should not make use of the water, for drinking. They are not supposed to use the water to cook, even,” he said.
“Some of them are using it to cook. The thing is, some of them may not really know (the level of contamination ) until they see the oil content, vividly. But when we did our own analysis, we knew that the water contains petroleum hydrocarbons.
”Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be when you see the oil floating on the water, but many of them do not know.”
Helpless residents; silent officials
Although residents of the community have decided to live with the danger of the contaminated water source, Mr Ajelanwa told PREMIUM TIMES they still suffer from the pollution.
“Wells dug in this community through Baruwa to Gate area are all contaminated,” he said. “You don’t need any test to confirm the contamination; it is very easy to perceive and smell it from the water. We have samples everywhere. Our people are helpless.”
Another resident, Kukoyi Azeez, said residents are tired of talking about the pollution ”as it has become a way of life”.
He said: “People here don’t talk about it again; it’s now a way of life. We live with it and new residents coming in also accept it that way. It is sad.”
Efforts to speak with the NNPC proved abortive as messages sent to the corporation officials were not responded to.
Similarly, four weeks after questions were forwarded to the PPMC, the agency has not replied to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiry.
Meanwhile, Mr Oluwalope called on the government to address the plight of the community dwellers.
“I will say the Nigerian government should always respond (quickly) to things that can harm their citizens, without wasting time,” he said.