Five persons have been confirmed dead, just as houses, shops, and vehicles were razed after an explosion of a pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in Lagos.
The explosion, which occurred at about 8pm on Sunday, shook the Abule-Egba community in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area in the state to its foundations. It came like a bang that for a moment sent every resident wondering what was amiss. But before anyone could say Jack Robinson, the community was enveloped in thick smoke.
It was gathered that the inferno was caused by vandals who had ruptured a petroleum pipeline in a bid to scoop fuel. The fire devastated belongings worth millions of naira.
The pipeline, which is from Fagba, extended through Abule-Egba, Ekoro Road inwards Baruwa in Alimosho Local Government Area.
Eyewitnesses described the scenario as something similar to an Armageddon that left many people in the area running helter-skelter. Some quickly took a few of their belongings and dashed out of the vicinity. Some others reportedly fled the area half-dressed, leaving behind their valuables.
Many people have described the incident as one fire outbreak too many. In December 2018, at least 100 houses, scores of shops and 50 vehicles were burnt due to activities of vandals, who burst a pipeline in the same axis that led to an explosion.
Director-general and CEO of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osayintolu, said there were five fatalities, three adult males, one adult female and a five-year-old girl. He added that 20 people were treated for minor injuries and discharged at the scene. He also explained that 150 people, including children, have been displaced by the disaster.
Oke-Osayintolu noted that a storey building was burnt on 18, Musa Erimo Street, while another, 7, Joel Nnadede Street, suffered a similar fate. Other buildings (bungalows) burnt on Joel Nnadede were No. 20, No. 1 and No 2.
“On Ahmed Sadiq Street, two bungalows were affected on No. 8 and No. 4, while a two-storey building was burnt on No. 2. Also, at NNPC Powerline Road, three bungalows were burnt on No. 45, No. 47 and 49,” he said.
He noted also that 17 shops were razed; 33 trucks, three cars and three tricycles were also burnt.
Oke-Osayintolu said the safety of life and property should not be left in the hands of government alone. He advised residents to cooperate with security agencies to report any criminal activity, for the safety of life and property.
“No matter the level of equipment the state purchases to combat insecurity, the safety of life and property should be paramount to all residents of Lagos State so that we would not be contending with what we have at the moment,” he said.
In a telephone conversation, the acting coordinator of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos Territorial Office, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said that three churches and a hospital were among the buildings affected in the inferno. He corroborated Oke-Osayintolu’s briefing on the number of casualties.
A member of a Pentecostal church very close to the spot where the fire started said, if not for the quick intervention the church made, the loss would have been more than what was recorded. He said the church quickly put a call across to the NNPC at Ejigbo to cut off supply from the main station.
“Because our church is close to the pipeline, we have a good relationship with the NNPC officials. We had to alert different authorities because lives were at stake. Thank God they responded almost immediately,” he said.
It was learnt that a woman and her baby were caught in the fire while she was trying to escape with the baby strapped to her back. They both died in the inferno.
When the reporter visited her house at Sadiq Ahmed Street, off Pipeline Road, hundreds of sympathizers were gathered in front of the house. It was said that no property was recovered from the house.
However, the owner and all the occupants of No. 7 on the same street will for long be thanking God for how the house miraculously escaped being razed. Despite the fact that the house was in-between two houses that were completely burnt, no single part or property was affected.
Speaking with Daily Sun, an occupant of the lucky house, Mr. Eniola Adeniyi, said that God would forever be praised for delivering him and his family from the disaster.
“This is like a story of the three Hebrew men in the Bible. The same way they were delivered from the furnace is the same way God delivered us yesterday. The two immediate houses by our left and right got burnt. God has shown mercy on us and it is a great testimony for us,” he said.
Many shops on Balogun Crescent and Ahmed Sadiq Street and other adjoining streets were burnt. The owners of the shops were seen picking the wreckage of their goods.
Some residents told the reporter that there was a leak in the pipe, which resulted in the explosion. They blamed NNPC for the negligence of its sensitive property.
But a top official of the NNPC, who didn’t disclose his name, said that the accusation was laughable.
His words: “There is no way that there could have been a leakage. The thickness of the pipe is not what can ever rust or be easily punctured. This is clear to everyone. It is an act of vandalism, which should be condemned by all.
“Thank God for the people who swiftly alerted us, if not, we would have been saying something else by now. It is sad that we still lost some persons despite the prompt response by different responders.”
A shop owner who sold truck spare parts on Pipeline Road, Mr. Ejike Ugo, said he lost over N3 million worth of goods to the inferno. He said before he got to the shop when he was told of the incident by a friend, everywhere, including his shop, was already burnt.
He pleaded with government to help with any amount so that he could start all over again. He said that his wife and two children depended on the shop for daily survival.
An eyewitness, who gave his name as Taye, said two mechanics in one of the workshops along Pipeline Road were burnt to death in the fire. He said some of the artisans normally slept in the abandoned trucks on Pipeline Road, and when the fire trapped one of them, his friend quickly ran towards him to help. But just then, there was another round of explosions, which claimed them on the spot.
Another resident, Lekan Adeyemi, said that the vandals started working on Saturday night. He claimed strange faces were parading the area for some days before they eventually carried out their plans.
“Many people were aware of this thing that happened. The very spot they siphoned the petrol was covered with a long truck. People that are in charge of the neighbourhood security cannot deny knowing what transpired because they always patrol this particular pipeline day and night,” he said.
A commercial tricycle operator, who plied the Ile Epo-Ile Iwe route, Ezechukwu Chijioke, said a baby was stolen in the course of the confusion. According to him, a woman in one of the houses that got burnt gave her baby to someone in front of her house while she ran inside to rescue her other children, but when she came out, the baby and the supposed sympathiser had disappeared.
Spokesman for LASEMA, Nosa Okunbor, said the agency quickly activated the state’s emergency response plan when it was alerted. He said that the LASEMA was able to curtail the inferno due to its swift response, in collaboration with other responders.
He stated that the process was fast and smooth.
“This collaborative act by the NNPC eased the entire recovery process in no small measure, as supply of the highly inflammable fluid was cut off at source, which contributed immensely to curtailing the resultant fire from acts of the pipeline vandals,” Okunbor said.