May 13, 2006

Weary Nigerians shrug off deadly pipeline blast

ABUJA (Reuters) - A pipeline blast that killed up to 200
people near Nigeria's biggest city Lagos on Friday caused a
ripple of sadness but no great outpouring of emotion among
Nigerians who are accustomed to such tragedies.

The pipeline blew up while thieves were drilling into it
for fuel, leaving charred, unrecognizable corpses on a sandy
beach about a mile from Lagos city center by boat.

"Of course, it's sad. But these things happen all the time.
We are used to it," said Ihezue Obi, a newspaper vendor in the
capital Abuja, after perusing Saturday's headlines.

Theft of petrol and crude oil from pipelines is common in
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and top oil producer
where the vast majority of people live in poverty.

Deaths in pipeline blazes caused by thieves are so frequent
that they are usually reported in a few paragraphs on back
pages of local newspapers, if at all.

One local government official at the scene of Friday's
blast said the fact that people were prepared to take such
risks was a sign of poverty and desperation, but Femi
Fani-Kayode, a presidency spokesman, contested that

"These things occur as a result of criminal activity. When
people are hell-bent on doing such things, there's very little
the government can do," Fani-Kayode said on Saturday.

"Criminal activity cannot be justified on the basis of
poverty," he added.

Only two major national newspapers dedicated their main
headlines to the pipeline blast.

The other papers had the story underneath articles about an
ongoing political debate on a constitutional amendment that
would allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to stay in power for
longer, while one had no story about the pipeline fire.

Obasanjo was on a visit to Indonesia and there was no
formal condolence statement from the presidency or from any
other government department.

Nigeria has seen a series of disasters on such an enormous
scale that the figure of 200 deaths does not have the impact it
would have in most other countries.

In Lagos, a dilapidated port city home to an estimated 13
million people, a blast at a munitions dump in 2002 killed more
than 1,000 people.

In Jesse, in the southern state of Delta, a pipeline fire
also caused by vandals killed about 1,000 people in 1998 and
another 250 people in 2000 in similar circumstances.

The country has also experienced outbreaks of religious,
ethnic and communal violence that have killed about 14,000
people since the return to civilian rule in 1999, according to
conservative estimates of human rights groups.