Police spokeswoman Irene Ugbo tells The Associated Press that 12 people are dead and 22 badly burned in the blast Friday evening in Odukpani in Cross River state.
But some residents put the death toll closer to 60.
Witness Richard Johnson says many people were burnt to ashes, leaving little to recover. He says dozens of people had been scooping up fuel and it was unlikely any survived the blast.
Johnson suggests the blast was caused by an electrical generator brought to the scene to help pump the fuel.
Hundreds of people have died in similar accidents in recent years in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer.