From Joe Effiong & Gabriel Efo, Uyo,
A bigger word than‘disastrous’ would better describe the situation in which six people from two families were burnt to death over land dispute in the heart of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.
Innocent children as little as two years old, who knew absolutely nothing about the land dispute and probably may have grown older to become rich to buy the land they wanted, were among the people murdered in their sleep.
Perpetrators of this attack obviously, did not take into consideration that even though they had a feud with the family at which the attack was targeted, their rivals were not the only ones occupying the affected building. Neighbours who may not have known anything about the tussle also suffered casualty.
This is the ugly scene residents of No. 33 Ntia Street, Ekpri Nsukara in Uyo local Government area, woke up in the early hours of Friday, April 8, 2016 to behold.
Saturday Sun learned that it was a case of suspected arson by a neighbour known simply as Akan James who had earlier threatened the landlady of the burnt building, that her days were numbered for daring to drag a portion of land with him.
It was also learned that a bottle of Schnapps filled petrol and a bullet, which the police recovered from the scene according to neighbours, was used by the suspected arsonist to burn down the two apartments that claimed the lives of five children, an adult, and leaving two others (an elderly woman and a child), critically injured.
By the time Saturday Sun arrived at the scene, the bodies of the deceased had been moved to the morgue, and the survivors taken to the hospital for treatment. Relatives and neighbours however, obliged to speak on the matter.
One of them, Mr Ekemini Obot, who is the grandson of the landlady, Madam Monica Effiong, whose house was engulfed by fire narrated to Saturday Sun how the fire started about 2 am on Friday morning. According to him, the fire was first noticed by his wife who had gone outside to urinate around 2 am. She saw the fire in the next compound and raised the alarm which attracted neighbours to the scene.
By the time the neighbours arrived, it was already too late because according to him, the fire had already consumed seven persons who were sleeping in the rooms.
Obot said he had to pull out his grandmother and rush her to the University of Uyo Teaching hospital for medical attention.
“We noticed that the compound had been sprayed with petrol which helped the building to burn easily,” he alleged.
The eye witness gave the names of those that lost their lives in the inferno as; Daniel Sampson, Helen Sampson Itohoinyene Sampson all grand children to the landlady Madam Monica Effiong. Others included; Nsikak, Queen, Nsisong and their mother Happiness, who were ten, all tenant.
According him, they suspected the incident was masterminded by a man who was involved in land dispute with his grandmother and threatened to revenge.
He said that the police had picked the corpses and deposited them at a mortuary along Atiku Abubakar Way in Uyo.
In his account, Mr. Ime Effiong, the father to three of the deceased children, said he lives in his village while his wife and children stayed in the affected house because there is no space to accomodate him in the village. He explained that he received a call about 3a.m. on that day. He however, rushed down and joined the people who were battling to put off the fire.
Effiong said his pregnant wife narrowly escaped from the fire but hit her stomach while rushing out of the house to safety. She was in serious pains and was rushed to the hospital for medical attention.
He disclosed that his family and that of the suspect, Akan James, who had since absconded, were struggling over a piece of land due to the fact that government had brought development to the area. They had taken the case to court, but while waiting for the court to resolve the issue, James, who is said to be the prime suspect swore that he would wipe out the entire family, a threat, he eventually carried out.
“He is nowhere to be found. He has run away but I know he will not run forever. The police will soon catch up with him. They are fighting over that land because they had realised that government is poised to develop the area. He swore that he would kill all of us and now that he has pleased himself, I’m sure he’s at peace with himself now”.
The state Director of Fire Service, Mr Ndarake Ukpe said he had only learned about the incident on the afternoon of Friday.
Ukpe lamented that the residents of the area could not reach the fire service on time because they did not have the service’s phone numbers. He said that it was the police on patrol that alerted the firemen to the scene of the disaster.
“My Commander has just informed me but he has not given me the details. We are investigating the cause of the incident. The residents of the area did not have our phone numbers, it was even the policemen on patrol that informed us.
The state Police Public Relations officer, Codelia Nwawe, (ASP) could not respond to our several calls and a text messages on the incident.