A spark neglected makes a mighty fire. — Robert Herrick
Houses, vehicles, shops and household belongings worth hundreds of millions naira were on Wednesday destroyed in a pipeline explosion in Awori/Abule-Egba, Ojokoro Local Council Development Area of Lagos State.
As gathered, the disaster was caused by criminals who had gone to scoop premium motor spirit (PMS) in the area and thereafter left the vandalised pipeline of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) open.
Call it a midnight disaster, you would not be wrong. Most of the goods and property had been destroyed before many of the owners arrived the scene.
Residents said they were awoken by a sudden blast at about 1.30am, which threw them into confusion. While people ran out of their houses, the community was already enmeshed in thick smoke from every direction. While they were scampering for safety, many, Daily Sun learnt, sustained varied injuries.
The act of vandalism, which was carried out at a tipper garage behind a branch of a popular bank in Awori, later spread the petrol through a gutter towards Agege. It continued to flow till it was stopped by the canal at Abatoir
Market, having travelled about 10 kilometres.
There was a similar incident in the area on December 26, 2006, which claimed hundreds of lives and property worth millions of naira.
At the garage, where the nefarious act was carried out, there was a block factory and other businesses with artisans working in makeshift shops.
Many of the residents who spoke to the reporter said the perpetrators had for long placed a huge container on the spot where they dug to scoop the fuel. They said though many buyers had indicated interest in the container, no one was ready to give it out even for any amount.
The havoc spread across Shobowale, Arowole, Adepegba, Iyalode Abulegba, and Wamontaofeek streets. Other areas affected were Santosi and Owode roads. Eyewitnesses said the first started around 1.30am.
“Some persons came to inform our people on Tuesday evening that they should get into their houses as early as
possible. They claimed some robbers were planning to rob the community that (Tuesday) night, unknown to us that the vandals only used that as tactics to deceive us.
“I strongly believe that the operation was well-coordinated. The people worked with different syndicates. The security personnel cannot be exempted from this wickedness because they always patrol the area.
“All we are asking for is a thorough investigation so that all the people connected to the crime can face the music. How can the greed of a few people lead to pain for many people who are legitimately going about their
businesses?” a resident, Tokunbo Dada Okunlade, said.
Another angry resident who pleaded anonymity said: “I believe there were people that knew about it.” It was gathered that the criminals dug more than six feet before getting to where they could tamper with the pipe.
“Three months ago, the people also came to scoop fuel on the newly constructed road at Awori Road. There was no disaster and the people went scot-free. The people who carried out the act are highly technical and experienced people,” another resident claimed.
One of the victims, Mr. Ezeoke Basil, who had a shop where he sold cosmetics and drinks wholesale and retail, told Daily Sun that he was finished by the inferno.
He said he lost over N25 million worth of goods to the disaster. Most painful to him, he said, was the N2 million worth of goods he added to the shop three days before. He said he did the stocking in preparation for the usual Christmas and New Year rush.
“On Sunday evening, some people told us that robbers were coming to rob our area that night, but when we asked around on Monday, there was nothing like that. Many people were aware of the pipeline vandalism.
“We heard that some people called the police, but the police said it was beyond them.
“I’m left with only N20,000 in my bank account. I’m finished. Where do I start from with my wife and children all depending on this shop?” he lamented.
Shaking and pacing about the burnt out shop, he sobbed like a baby, even as friends and neighbours gathered to console him. He asked the state and federal governments to assist those who lost goods and property to the fire.
Chairman of Taiwo Adewole Residents’ Association in Abule-Egba, Mr. Adekola Olabanjo, said he suspected high-level conspiracy in the crime.
“We gathered that, on Tuesday, the police came to patrol the area. But they refused to alert any emergency service or people in charge of monitoring any damage on pipelines to check if something was amiss. “The people operating the tipper garage, landlords close to the scene and artisans there cannot tell us that they were ignorant of the bunkering. We also discovered that all the tippers in the garage were relocated within these few days.
There was just one left. That couldn’t have happened by coincidence.
“We need a thorough investigation on this because the people were aware. According to my investigation, it was when they couldn’t stop the flow at the spot they were siphoning it that it began to pour into the gutter.
“All through the night, we thought our end had come because the fire was massive. The people have kept quiet for long and this is the consequence.”
The high-tension cable passing through the area was also burnt by the inferno, throwing the people into darkness. A shopping mall, Just Rite, miraculously escaped unhurt. It was discovered that the flowing fuel and fire passed under the gutter in the premises. Because of the thickness of the slabs covering the gutter, the fire couldn’t escape let alone escalate to the building.
A man operating a car shop in front of Samar Petrol Filling Station, which was beside the Just Rite Shopping Mall inwards Agege, lost 16 vehicles. They were all razed.
According to residents who spoke to the reporter, the owner of the business fainted as soon as he rushed to the scene and discovered that all his years of investment were gone in minutes. Interestingly, a dog was also consumed by the raging fire. Close to a mechanic workshop, a resident, Mrs. Caroline, said the dog rushed out in the middle of the night, perhaps to save some of the items that were being destroyed, but it was burnt beyond recognition.
The general manager of the Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, who was at the scene, said the agency, in collaboration with other stakeholders, responded to the fire outbreak, which occurred at about 2am.
He noted that no fatality was recorded and that the few people injured were immediately attended to by the Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) and LASEMA’s paramedics.
Tiamiyu further said: “The incident occurred at about 2am, Wednesday, December 19. On arrival at the incident scene, the spillage from the bunkering activities came in contact with an ignitable source; the impact resulted in an inferno as it ravaged several houses and cars.
“Prompt intervention by the Lagos Fire Service men and LRU firemen, who immediately deployed fire trucks and personnel to combat the inferno, curtailed further spread to adjoining buildings and also the nearest filling station in the area.
“The loss and damaged inventory of the inferno, which ravaged nine streets is as follows: 38 vehicles were destroyed, four tricycles were destroyed, 71 shops destroyed, 30 rooms destroyed, two blocks of flats destroyed, one church auditorium destroyed.
Several other properties were salvaged around the axis, including the Just Rite Mall, petrol stations and other facilities around Abule-Egba Bus Stop and Awori U-turn.”
The LASEMA boss noted that investigation was still in process on the cause of the inferno as well as those that might have been responsible for the incident.
He assured residents that the situation was under control, noting that people should go about their normal business, urging Lagos residents to always report any suspicious activities through the emergency toll-free line 112/767 to avoid a recurrence.
Among emergency officials on ground were men of the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, LASEMA, Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps, Nigerian Red Cross and the Lagos State Fire Service.