October 17, 1998
On this day, at least 500 people were reported killed and a further 1,000 wounded when a leaking petrol pipeline exploded in Jesse, a town in the Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta, near the state capital, Warri, in South-Western Nigeria. Many of the dead and wounded were apparently collecting the leaking petrol in order to sell it in the black market. The leak had been caused by vandals attempting to distrupt oil production in the Niger Delta. Some critics said that the pipeline ruptured due to a lack of maintenance and neglect, with a cigarette igniting fire. What was certain, however, is that a major oil pipeline passed through Jesse carrying petroleum products from the oil refinery in the city of Warri to Kaduna, nearly 400 miles away.
With barely five-month-old then, the military Government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) believed that the explosion had happened after illegal oil bunkerers intentionally ruptured the pipeline with their tools and ignited the blaze.
At the end of it all, over 1,000 people were reported to have died in the explosion that raged for five days at various hospitals in the area and in the city of Warri, in some cases, entire families were wiped out.
So far, that particular explosion has been described as the most deadly pipeline explosion to have occurred in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the explosion was caused by tools used by oil vandals which created a spark, setting the pipeline alight. Many of the dead were villagers who had been going around for daily livelihoods or sleeping when the fire spread to meet them. Pipeline vandals also died in the inferno, bodies had been found clutching small basins, cups and buckets ostensibly used to collect oil from the broken pipelines.