A contraband fuel depot exploded into flames in Benin near the Nigerian border on Saturday, sending black smoke into the sky and leaving dozens of charred bodies at the scene, government officials and residents said.
Locals said the fire broke out at a smuggled fuel warehouse in the town of Seme Posi in southern Benin, where cars, motorbikes and rickshaws had come to stock up on fuel.
Nigeria is a major oil producer, and fuel smuggling within the country and along its borders is common, with illegal refineries, fuel dumps and pipelines sometimes causing fires.
Local carpenter Innocent Sidokupohou said: “We are still in shock. We could hear people screaming for help. But the flames were not strong enough for people to approach.”
“I was filling up my motorcycle with gas to go shopping. When I got out of the car, I heard an explosion five meters away. When I turned around, I saw black smoke.”
Benin’s Interior Minister Alassane Seydoux told reporters that a serious fire had broken out in the town, but he did not give the exact circumstances.
“Unfortunately, 34 people, including two infants, died. The cause of the fire was fuel smuggling, and the bodies were charred,” the official said.
The minister said a further 20 people were being treated in hospital, some of them in critical condition.
“I live not far from the tragedy,” said Semebo Nunanyong, a local cyclist.
“I can’t give details about the cause of the fire, but there is a large gasoline warehouse here, and cars, tricycles and motorcycles come here from morning until evening.”
For decades, Nigeria’s subsidized, low-cost gasoline was illegally transported by land to neighboring countries, primarily Benin, where it was resold on the black market by informal sellers.
When Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu took office in May, he abandoned years of subsidies aimed at keeping gasoline prices artificially low for Nigerians.
The subsidies cost the government billions of dollars a year and Mr. Tinubu called them the first in a series of reforms aimed at rebuilding Nigeria’s economy and attracting more investment.
The decision tripled the price of petrol in Nigeria, but also affected the price of black market fuel smuggled across the border to Benin and other countries.
Nigeria’s subsidy decision highlights Benin’s heavy economic dependence on its giant neighbor, with a population of 215 million, the continent’s largest economy and status as one of Africa’s leading oil producers. did.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)