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Weary Nigerians shrug off deadly pipeline blast

Written by: Staff
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ABUJA, May 13 (Reuters) A pipeline blast that killed up to 200 people near Nigeria's biggest city Lagos yesterday 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, unrecognisable corpses on a sandy beach about a mile from Lagos city centre 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 yesterday 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 interpretation.

''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 today said.

''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.

REUTERS OM RN1611

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