Gyang Bere, Jos
Six weeks after the strange fire incident that brought massive destruction to Gyel community, in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, the women who lost their spouses to the raging inferno are still struggling to put their lives together.
The fire outbreak which occurred on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at about 6:30pm, roasted their husbands and sons, 12, in all, till death. Though rescued half-dead, they later died slowly of pains and anguish at the Intensive Care Unit of Jos University Teaching Hospital. The carnage occurred in a one-room apartment turned relaxation spot where men usually converge at the end of the day’s work to unwind before returning home to their loved ones.
An eyewitness’ account
Narrating what happened, 39-year-old Victor Zang, who owned a barbers’ salon adjacent the spot, said he was outside cracking jokes with friends when he saw thick smooth coming out of the spot. Though the source of the fire is yet to be established, he suspects that the shop owner was trying to pour fuel from one container to another when the fume sparked off the fire that later engulfed the entire spot.
To worsen the matter, its male-patrons who were already in various states of intoxication lost more of their senses after inhaling the dangerous fumes generated by the fire. He said the smoke was noticed 20 minutes after fire engulfed the place and roasted in the process the victims who were battling to come out of the room.
His words: “We were sitting outside because I have a salon adjacent the room which was also gutted by the fire. I know that people used to drink inside the place. Unfortunately, the room has no window and it is not easily accessible.”
About 12 persons, he said, were inside: 8 from Gyel community and 4 others, including an Igbo man who is resident in the area and also an Okada rider who went in to collect his change.
“Suddenly, we saw smoke coming out of the place and people were crying and wailing for help. We rushed there but we couldn’t enter because of the heat. We had to break the wall before we could remove the victims who, by then, had suffered heavy burns.”
Zang said they were rushed to Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) but they later died from the asphyxiation. Nine-months-old pregnant woman, Hannatu Solomon who lost her husband, Solomon Danboyi, in the raging inferno said if she had known that he was going to die that fateful day, she would not have allowed him to step out of their house.
A meat seller’s wife’s story and regrets
Danboyi, 37, a meat seller, who reportedly left his house to hawk meat was, allegedly, said to have entered the place to collect his change from a friend who bought some from him. But he never made it out alive as he perished in the inferno in circumstances that are still not too clear. His shocking death has left his wife, Hannatu, mother of five, speechless and restless particularly as the time for her delivery draws near. On the day our correspondent visited the family in Gyel community, she found her surrounded by her children some of whom, especially the younger ones, were yet to fully grasp the full import of their father’s untimely demise, on their future.
She narrated her own side of the tragic story: “My husband left home that evening to sell meat as usual, only for me to be called some minutes later to be told that he was burnt in a fire incident. When I got to the scene, I was speechless. I cried and said if I had known, I wouldn’t have allowed him to go out. I was told that he went inside the place to collect his change. I saw him and some of his friends on the floor crying in anguish as a result of the burns. We took them to Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) where he spent two days before giving up the ghost and leaving me with these children.” They are, namely: Musa, 15; Doris; 12, Nerat, 10; Jessica, 8 and Christiana, 4.
Hannatu who is still battling to put herself together before her delivery, lacks words to describe her situation as she does not have any business or handiwork to fall back on. The widow who is knowledgeable in mining said that is her last resort. She was waiting to finish mourning her husband for two weeks before going out to engage in the business to enable her get something in preparation for her child delivery when news came that the state government had declared total lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, she is wondering what she would do if the little foodstuffs her husband left for her and the children get exhausted. She would probably die with her pregnancy, she said, if no help comes for them from anywhere. Describing her experience during the lockdown as something else, she said there are days that she drinks only boiled water with her children and sleeps. Like others, she is waiting endlessly for the state and Federal government promised palliatives.
The bricklayer’s wife’s pathetic story
The story of a 32-year-old mother of three, Simi Kim, is not, in any way, different. She recalled that her husband, Kim Mamman, a bricklayer returned from work that evening and decided to go out to the place, to have some good time with his friends. But not too long after they left home, she was shocked to receive a strange call saying that her husband was dying from fire burns.
She said: “I was called to the scene. But when I got there, I saw him and his friends crying in pains. I was confused and crying helplessly as I did not know what to do. If I had known from the beginning, I wouldn’t have allowed him to go out that fateful day. I started begging people to help take them to the hospital. Eventually, he was taken to JUTH and admitted at the Intensive Care Unit where he died two days later.”
Simi who is left with three children, Miracle, 8, Endurance, 6 and Doris, 2, said that her main concern now is how to fend for the children and to keep the family hope alive. And, to do that, she would need more than endurance; she would need a miracle.
And nobody seems to know where that is going to come from. At present, she sells clothes in a clothing shop owned by a woman at Bukuru Low-Cost. And, she receives N5, 000 monthly pay for her service. She needs help and she is calling for assistance from the state government and public spirited individuals to enable her take care of the children left behind by her husband.
A mother’s double grief
If she had a choice, the 85-year-old Vou Gyang, would have preferred to have died instead of her 40-year-old son, Dalyop Gyang. And, as if to worsen the situation, he died unmarried, without a wife. Hence she is regretting that, not only that he died in the inferno, but also that he died too early, when he was unable to give her a grandson.
A wife’s sad tale
Lyop Amos, mother of four, said the incident will remain evergreen in her memory. Right now, her concern is how to start eking out a living, now that her husband, the breadwinner of the family, is no more. She said she can’t bear the burden of being a breadwinner as she was not doing anything before her husband suddenly died. She noted that her children, Rose, 13, Jeremiah, 10; Jessica, 4 and Bright, 1, may have to drop from school immediately as she has no money to keep them there anymore. She explained that her husband died in pains at the ICU of Jos University Teaching Hospital two days after the incident happened. But not before she had spent all that she had taking care of him. She earnestly pleaded with government to assist them with funds to enable them start a new life.
The death toll and medical doctor’s advice
Names of some of the deceased were given as: Dalyop Gyang 40; Solomon Danboyi, 37, Kim Mamman, 37; Mr. Philibus Pam Tasha Fwol, 41; Musa Dalyop Zi, 63, among others. A consultant surgeon, Plastic and Reconstruction Surgery Unit, Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Dr. Akintunde Akintayo, who treated the victims said they were badly burnt.
He advised members of the public to be careful of going near fire, with inflammable materials, because of its devastating effect. He regretted that there is no adequate sensitization on the dangers of fire in the society and added that this ignorance has led to the increasing cases of fire incidents in the country. He noted that people are usually helpless and lack sense of what to do to prevent serious burns during fire incidents. He, therefore, called for public sensitization that could equip the poor masses with knowledge of what to do to get out of dangerous situation during fire outbreak.