From Desmond Mgboh, Kano
A patch of darkness, interrupted by a cast of pale stars, wrapped Sabon-Gari area of Kano metropolis on May 17.
Many relaxation spots did not open for business, like shops and kiosks, either as a result of fear of the unknown or the proprietors were simply traumatized. A few of them that opened, particularly pubs and bars on the busy Enugu Road, suffered low traffic and poor patronage.
Many residents of Sabon-Gari, Jaba and Panisau areas in the state stayed indoors that fateful Tuesday night. A number of them sat in front of their premises, talking about the tragic event of the morning. They were recalling the chilling images of mangled bodies lying on the street, the cries of injured pupils and the agony of women crying over the loss of their relatives.
At about 9am, just as the city was springing to life, as well as the residents looking forward to a prosperous day, a huge explosion rocked the metropolis. It happened somewhere around No. 1 and 2 Aba Road, by Court Road, Sabon-Gari.
The blast was at a one-storey building opposite a primary school, Winners School, and behind a popular nightclub, African Centre.
The impact was so immense that it shook the foundation of many houses in the neighbourhoods and beyond, jolting residents from their homes and shops in panic.
In terms of the impact, the explosion threw dust into many homes and properties, shattered glass windows, shook doors and knocked down several persons that were bear the scene. It blew off the roof of the affected building and collapsed the first floor.
Opposite it, the debris of the explosion flew wide and far and hit hard on the the primary school, injuring several pupils who were in their classes. Those lucky to escape from harm were so traumatized that they could not speak for long after the blast.
The first people to arrive the scene were neighbours and sympathizers, including some mechanics from a nearby workshop. Those who saw what happened were dumbfounded. They were apparently confronted by the unimaginable.
Without waiting for emergency responders, they swung into action, rushing some injured pupils to nearby private hospitals in No Man’s Land general area and reviving others. They also organised themselves to evacuate those who were trapped in the collapsed structure.
Not long afterwards, as the news of the blast spread, health and security officials, including the anti-bomb unit of the Nigeria Police, the Army, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Red Cross Society, all rushed to the scene.
But out in the city capital, the tragedy had already sparked off fresh panic in many places such as markets, as traders hurriedly shut their shops, terminated their transactions and fled in all directions.
Motorists, private and public, including commercial tricyclists, raced crazily to escape the enveloping confusion. There were those who raced to safer areas as they were not sure of the reactions that would follow the blast.
The Hausa drivers of commercial tricyclists, for instance, raced out of Sabon-Gari, while the non-indegenes in “unsafe locations” raced away to friendly areas. Eventually, the tension subsided and all attention turned to the scene.
At the site of the explosion, there was a crowd of residents that surged to the spot to see what really happened.
The crowd was angry, having learnt from an eye witnesses that it was a bomb blast. They felt frightened the more and wondered aloud how to cope with another season of blasts in the ancient city.
They recalled that the last time they experienced such a tragedy was years ago and felt bad that it was happening again.
Daily Sun observed that there were different accounts of what caused the explosion. The initial explanation was that it was a bomb. That view was generously shared by the witnesses at the scene of the explosion.
One of the witnesses, who escaped death by the whiskers, told the media in Hausa: “I went inside the shop to carry my load and when I came out, I heard a loud sound and the building fell on me. When I came out, I heard some people saying that it was a gas explosion. But to me, it was a bomb that was brought and detonated here.”
However, as the day advanced, other possibilities as to the cause of the explosion began to emerge.
Kano State Commissioner for Police, Sumaila Sha’ubu Dikko, in an interview at the site, confirmed the death of four persons, saying they included one female and three males.
On the possible cause of the tragedy, he said, “We had the information of an explosion. We rushed down with our EOD personnel and they said that it was a bomb explosion. But, sincerely, it was not a bomb explosion. It was a gas cylinder explosion.” The police boss added, “we are making efforts to make sure that we evacuate the whole place (structure) and find out what was there.”
In its initial response to the sad development, Kano State Government, through the Information Commissioner, Mohammed Garba, said the incident happened in an animal feed store opposite the school, along Aba Road.
He explained that, while the cause of the explosion and the damage it had done were yet to be ascertained, investigation had commenced to determine the cause, impact and measures to be taken.
Later that afternoon, he issued another statement where he stated that “five corpses have so far been recovered from the scene of the gas explosion. The incident occurred at a welding workshop owned by 25-year-old Vincent Ezekwe.”
He further disclosed that items discovered at the said workshop included a “welding cylinder, carbide and other welding items.”
Another update regarding the explosion came from National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Abuja. In a press release from its Abuja office, it disclosed that the agency recovered a total of nine bodies from the scene of the explosion, which affected many schoolchildren.
NEMA also said the bodies were deposited at the morgue of the Armed Forces Hospital, Kano, adding that three of the bodies were shattered beyond recognition.
NEMA noted that the director-general of the agency, Mustapha Habib Ahmed, was at the site of the incident and personally coordinated rescue operations.
In his reaction to the tragedy, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condoled with the families of victims, while calling the people of the state to continue to pray for the God’s protection.
In a similar manner, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was in the state to meet with delegates of his political party, visited the location of the tragedy.
Accompanied by the governor of the state, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the deputy governor, Nasiru Gawuna, and a number of party officials, he prayed for the souls of the deceased and asked God to grant them eternal rest.
Meanwhile, some relatives of the survivors have expressed gratitude to God for rescuing their own, despite the injuries sustained.
“We thank God for sparing my child’s life. It is just a minor cut and, by God’s grace, it will heal with time,” said a parent of he school-age child.
This is just as many private primary and secondary schools in Sabon-Gari were shut the following day. The schools sent messages to parents cancelling academic activities for the day, while hoping to resume classes on Thursday.
Despite the assurances of the government and the seeming resumption of normal activities in the metropolis, many residents of the affected area have resolved to tread cautiously.