No one can say the precise cause of the earth-shaking blasts, which ripped through Abule-Ado in Amuwo-Odofin area of Lagos State, on Sunday morning, March 15, 2020. The blasts destroyed scores of houses, killed 23 people, including a family of four. The blasts were such that they shattered glasses nearly two kilometres away, creating a mini-tremor, whose reverberations were heard in half of Lagos, up to 22 kilometres away. To those who witnessed them, they appeared apocalyptic enough to be likened to the arrival of the Armageddon.
The closest to an official account was given by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the oil behemoth, whose pipelines pass through the area. Its unverified account was that a truck had accidentally struck a gas facility igniting some gas cylinders which, in turn, ignited the oil pipelines. People in the neighbourhood said the culprits were pipeline vandals, who habitually breach the oil pipes to steal fuel. Now, the vandals habitually operate at night. This happened, not just in broad daylight but on Sunday morning. Pessimists think that bombs must have been set off by some terrorists.
The explosions brought its own tragedies, including the death of an entire family of four: a man, his wife and their two sons. Not less heart-breaking was the loss of Rev. Sr. Henrietta Alokha, the outstanding hero of that Black Sunday,l. She was the administrator of Bethlehem Girls’ College, who survived the blasts but perished while trying to rescue her trapped students. A picture of a newly wed couple also went viral in the web. The two young people also perished in the disaster.
Eye witnesses regretted that it took nearly an hour for the first responders to arrive.
By LASEMA’s account, 57 people were rescued and sent to hospitals; 47 were treated and discharged, and 10 are still receiving treatment at various hospitals. A total of 170 houses were affected, including 93 which were mildly affected; 43 moderately affected and 33 that were severely affected. But eight schools were severely affected: the Bethlehem Girls’ College, Grace Academy, Kosmos School, Rosamond School, Lindave Schools, Precious Schools, AUD Primary Schools and Michlion School. Similarly, “six churches and a mosque, one shopping complex, a hotel, and 43 vehicles were severely damaged by the explosions.
We commend the Lagos State Government for its timely attention to the disaster and for constituting a committee to co-ordinate all the state’s efforts to be jointly chaired by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Khadiri Hamzat and the Commissioner for Special Duties, Engineer Bamgbose-Martins. LASEMA also enumerated the total number of victims, including children, who lost all their possessions, their homes and their livelihood. It found that 437 persons were internally displaced. Subsequently, the Lagos State Government has directed that the government’s relief camp in Igando be re-opened to accommodate the newest displaced persons.
We commend Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for setting up the N2 billion Abule-Ado Pipeline Explosion Disaster Relief Fund and for mobilising it with N250 million. Also, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has donated N200 million to the fund. We urge the Federal Government to contribute generously into the fund knowing that the responsibility for the welfare of the victims falls equally on both governments. Above all, the Federal Government should honour and immortalise Rev. Sr. Henrietta Alokha for making the ultimate sacrifice while trying to save her wards. It is not only patriotic, it is indeed the ideal. That is what we expect from the best among us.
We appeal to the NNPC to do all within its power to ensure that no one is staying near, not to speak of within oil pipeline; that the deaths at Abule-Ado would be the last of its kind. It is cold comfort to be told that those pipelines have been breached 45,347 times. It is a matter of corporate responsibility to prevent the deaths of Nigerians by not turning a blind eye to Nigerians who practically daily sit on a keg of gunpowder.
This is the fourth pipeline disaster in Lagos. It is still fresh in our memory that barely two months ago, on Sunday, January 19, pipeline vandals ruptured a pipeline that led to explosions, which killed five people, destroyed 11 buildings, 17 shops and 36 vehicles at Ile Epo, Abule Egba, Lagos. Before then there was a similar disaster at Isheri. We know that when these pipelines were planned and built the country was different from what it is today. Today’s challenge, therefore, is to modernise these pipelines, watch them with diligence, and ensure that they do not constitute a danger to the society.
We also think that given the confusion as to the true cause of this disaster, a judicial commission of enquiry would be the best method to unravel the truth and ensure that this kind of disaster never happens again.