…Lagos, Kogi explosions’ survivors recount ordeals
• How a family lost six children
Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja And Christopher Oji, Lagos
The atmosphere was thick with sadness and sorrow. Men, women, children old and young, wailed their hearts out. Some of them mouthed inaudible utterances that seemed to place a curse on the day of the fatalities. Call it the day emotions ran riot, drawing into its forlorn fold everybody, like the raging tanker fire did some hours earlier. It was so overpowering that some bystanders could not be man enough to stand the emotional outpourings. You instinctively joined!
But yours cannot be compared with the distraught men at the centre of the wailings: Abdullah Salihu, 45, who lost four of his children in the inferno and his cousin, Idris Yusuf, who lost two. Both men live together in the same house with their immediate families and relate more like twins from the same womb than as cousins.
Owing to the school distance from their house, they contracted a tricycle operator to be taking their children to school and back everyday. But on that black Wednesday, the tricycle carrying the children was among the first vehicles to be hit by the NNPC tanker that crashed and caught fire at Felele along Abuja-Lokoja highway. Consequently, they were all roasted in the ensuing raging inferno.
Aisha, an SS 2 student and the eldest of the children schooled at Army Day Secondary School, Zango while five others, namely Wosilat, Faizan, Mutalib, Ibrahim and Aisha Jnr schooled at the Muslim Community Secondary School, Lokongoma. Whereas the first four children belonged to Abdullah, the last two belonged to his cousin, Idris. Frantic efforts made by this reporter to speak with the two grief-stricken men were rebuffed by sympathisers who stressed that they are too overwhelmed, to speak at that moment.
Sure. Abdullah was seen burying his face between his legs as sympathisers huddled around him while Idris’ eyeballs were bloodshot, apparently from long hours of weeping. Their wives who could not bear the shocking news, it was learnt, collapsed on hearing how their children, the joy of their lives were roasted alive in the raging inferno. Sources say they are now being treated of shock and trauma at a private hospital.
Death of “Manager” and his two sons
Others who suffered similar fate include Sunday Tete popularly known as “Manager” and his two sons, who, like the children of Abdullah and Idris were also on their way to school. Bubbling with life, Tete was said to have a day earlier hosted some friends at a relaxation spot opposite Baptist Church, Lokoja, during which time he expressed how he would celebrate the forthcoming Christmas. But alas, it was not to be as the 55-years-old man, a native of Isanlu in Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State, was not allowed by fate to see the Christmas that he spoke so enthusiastically about, muchless celebrate it.
“Manager,” was last seen in a Keke NAPEP, alongside his two sons, as he headed to school with them. But for a passerby who confirmed seeing him boarding the tricycle along with his children nobody would have been able to know what happened to them or account for their missing, as they were burnt beyond recognition in the inferno.
Tragic death of fashion designer and his family
There is also the case of Samson Ajala, a native of Ogbomosho in Oyo State. A renowned tailor and sewing machine merchant popularly known as Sabere Dowo, he was said to have lived in Lokoja for more than 25 years before death came calling in such a cruel and gruesome manner.
A struggling man who exerted all his strength to make a name in his chosen enterprise, he was said to be at the edge of breakthrough when he lost his life is such a callous way. He reportedly just completed and packed into a three-bedroom apartment, which he began to build, 14 years ago, and acquired a Highlander Toyota Jeep to ease his movements and that of his family. His is said to be a household name among those whose livelihood revolves around tailoring and fashion business in Lokoja and its environs.
A source says Samson; in his mid-forties a dyed-in-the-wool family man had some days earlier gone to his hometown to bring his over 80-years-old father who had been sick and bedridden. But the man and his lovely wife from Calabar, called Patience and four of his beautiful children, two boys, Joshua and Isaiah, and two girls Elizabeth and Mercy perished in the merciless inferno. It is so pathetic. In his household, the only survivor is his 26-years-old boy called Isaiah who is said to be away in a boarding school in the South West. At his house, situated beside 4-Season Restaurant under the Race School at Felele, were a beehive of sympathizers when this reporter visited.
A neighbour who identified herself as Mama Elijah and who was seen weeping uncontrollably, said they lost a gem, a dependable and reliable neighbour. She said when the family left the house some minutes after seven o’ clock, they had bade them goodbye not knowing that was going to be final. She added that Samson who came to that area of Lokoja before his family later joined him had lived together in peace with his neighbours around the area for more than 15 years. According to her, throughout those years, “I never saw him or his wife having altercation with anybody. They are such a peaceful people who mind their business.”
She spoke further: “It is lamentable for the entire family to be burnt alive in the ghastly tanker accident; it is not only a bad omen for the family but also for the entire humanity. But I’m glad that his only surviving son Isaiah was schooling in a boarding school at Ogbomosho in Oyo State and I pray for him to have the fortitude to bear the loss. As a Christian, we cannot question God. But all I have to say is for God to forgive their sins and accept them into his bosom.”
At the Baptist Group of Schools, Lokoja, it was learnt that five of their students also died in the ugly incident. The same thing goes for Kogi Polytechnic, Lokoja. Five of their students also lost their lives. Their deaths made the management of both schools to shut down temporarily.
Blame for the government
One Mr. Sunday Adewale who lost a loved one in the accident blamed the government for not equipping fire service agency in the state. He decried and denounced the actions of both the Federal and state fire services who he said lacked necessary equipment to do their jobs. He added that had it been the fire service was functional, the number of casualties wouldn’t have been so high as some victims were trapped and cried for help for hours without getting the needed help from the agency saddled with the responsibility. The man, who was visibly angry, gave a thumb down for the fire service men who refused to appear at the scene that lasted for hours.
A survivor and mortuary attendant’s accounts
Speaking with this reporter, one of the survivors, Mallam Raji Eneye Musa, Deputy Registrar, Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, attributed his narrow escape to the handiwork of the Almighty God. He recounted what happened, the much he could recollect: “We were five in my Mecedez car with my daughter and some of my staff going to work. When I entered the expressway from my house I didn’t see any tanker coming. But when I slowed down to negotiate a bend to the road leading to my daughter’s school, I noticed that my car had been hit from behind, by a petrol tanker. The force of the hit pushed my car out of the road, which in turn forced my car to cross a culvert that led to a hotel where we eventually escaped to. I thank God that, at this point, the petrol was just splashing and has not caught fire. That was our saving grace.”
Speaking with this reporter, a mortuary attendant at the Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, who participated in the mass burial of the victims said he personally counted 46 corpses and this is aside seven other corpses that had been claimed by family members. The attendant who does not want his name in print was furious, saying that the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), sector commandant in the state was economical with the truth about number of casualties affected by the fire incident.
Victims of Lagos gas fire count losses
In Lagos, victims of Thursday’s Iju gas explosion have been counting their losses. A victim , Oseni Suleiman who suffered severe fire burn, said he has every reason to thank God. “ I thought my life was finished. I did not know that I would survive the fire incident. I was in my shop where I sell electrical parts when I heard a bang like a cannon gun, and when I looked outside, I saw people shouting that the gas plant was burning. Everybody was running as if it was war. I had run away when I remembered that my neighbour left his two kids under my care. I had to run back to the shop to rescue the kids. It was in the process of rescuing the kids that I was caught in the web of the fire.
“ I am grateful to God that the fire did not touch the kids; they were not consumed by the fireand this I see as a great work of God. I am grateful to God , because I am alive to tell the story. I have been treating myself but some officials of Ifako General Hospital came today to treat us, but they ended up recommending some drugs for me”.
For Jide Olanipekun, a choirmaster with an affected church, Gospel Progress Assembly, the church is grateful to God because no life was lost. According to him, “two of our members were praying in the church when the fire incident occurred. The two took to their heels. We had no church programme and I thank God that a primary school that is close to us had not resumed classes, otherwise there would have been serious causalities. It was like Armageddon because I saw something like an aircraft flying with fire in the air, so everybody was running for safety. It was later that we knew that it was part of the tanker. It landed in a compound. Even though we were too far from the scene but there was serious heat all over the area. I saw many people being taken away by emergency workers, but I can’t say if anyone died, but the victims were in critical conditions”.
A politician living in the area, Mr. Saheeb Ayomide, blamed the fire incident on the owner of the gas plant and those who sold the land to him:” Let’s be frank, how could a reasonable person sell land to an operator of gas plant in a residential area with narrow road and how could a responsible businessman who knows the danger of locating a gas plant in such an area agree to the purchase? When the land was about to be sold to the man, we opposed the idea of siting a gas plant there, but because of money, the people did not listen to us. Each time a tanker come to deliver gas to the plant, there is always traffic because it is always difficult for drivers to navigate the road. The road is too narrow and bad’’.
However, Chairman, Nigerian Association of LPG Marketers, Mr. Ogundare Adebayo, disagreed.
“There is nothing wrong in having gas plants in residential area. The only thing that is necessary is putting in place safety measures. The gas plant owner has put in place all safety measures. What we frown at is people operating gas plant and filling station together. It is dangerous to have two highly inflammables ventures located within the same vicinity.We blame bad road as the cause of the tragedy. Lagos state government should do something about the road. The plant owner brought development to the area. He spent money expanding and maintaining the road. Let the state and local governments live up to expectations and do the needful by taking care of the roads”.