■ Survivors tell sad tales
By Sijibomi Fatayo
the fire incident which occurred on October 29, 2016, at Kirikiri roundabout in Apapa, Lagos State recorded loss of lives, destruction of property worth millions of naira and left some who could not escape the inferno quickly enough injured.
The fire was caused by a tanker, which fell into a pothole on the road. The tanker storage carrying petrol broke from the axle of the tanker, overturned and immediately caught fire, devouring everything in its path.
Mrs Idowu Rueben, an Egan woman from Badagry and seller of liquor and soft drinks, was one of those who suffered immense loss even as her granddaughter suffered burns in the incident. The little girl is currently admitted in a hospital where she is receiving treatment for burns. Idowu was in her shop with her daughter, Rachael, when the tanker overturned. Luckily for her, the shop had two doors with one facing the main road and the other on the side of the shop. As the tanker caught fire and engulfed the front door, she and Rachael escaped through the side door. However, Rachael’s daughter, one-year-old Chioma, was playing in front of the shop of her grandmother’s neighbour, a Calabar woman. The Good Book says a mother can forget her suckling child but God will not forget His children. The Calabar woman who owned the shop also took to her heels as she got burns all over her body, forgetting that a toddler came over to her shop to play. However, her assistant cook, Ima-obong turned back and saw Chioma running towards the fire, fascinated by the heat and beauty of the flames. Fearful for the little child, Ima-bong ran back to pick up the girl. At that moment, the fire from the petrol tanker had engulfed another tanker carrying diesel and it exploded. Flames from the burning diesel flared out like a lighting streak towards the old woman and the toddler, and their clothes lit like dry tinder soaked in petrol, burning them badly. Despite that, Ima-obong struggled to get herself and the girl to safety.
Meanwhile, Rachael and her mother had gone hysterical and crazy after realising that they had escaped without Chioma and fully convinced that she was trapped and consumed in the inferno. In the ensuing minutes, Rachel’s younger brother made heroic efforts to rescue Chioma dead or alive from the fire but he was restrained by people.
Recalling what transpired in the very critical moments of the monstrous emergency, Mrs Idowu told Sunday Sun: “I thank God for not taking one child and replacing with another child. The fire covered my door as the tanker fell. If we waited, we would have been engulfed in fire. My daughter and I ran through the other door but we could not go through the fire to check on Chioma. We could not even pick a pin. Even my neighbour who Chioma had gone to play with forgot her and ran. We were already crying saying we had lost Chioma when someone called me to come and see a baby in one woman’s arms. When I got there, it was the Calabar woman working for my neighbor who Chioma went to visit. I thank God for touching her to take the child for me. All I need now is money for hospital bills because the woman got burnt on her face, hand and legs. Even my Chioma got burnt on her face and stomach and we did not take a pin out of the shop when the fire started. We have been begging left right and centre for money to continue the treatment of the child at Navy Town Hospital.”
As pain wracked her body at the New Nigeria Hospital Services, Kirikiri, where she is on admission, Madam Ima-obong, who became the human angel God used to save Chioma, revealed to Sunday Sun in a barely audible whisper what propelled her to risk her own life in the heroic act to rescue the toddler: “I no fit leave am. I see say she dey run go the fire, na him I turn back, run go carry am. As I turn, na so the tanker burst, fire come burn us. I no fit leave am o. I no fit.”
Idowu disclosed that Madam Ima-bong’s boss was in Aminat Hospital receiving treatment. She further mentioned that she owes the hospital money, adding that divine favour has enabled them to get the little medical treatment they had received so far.
Meanwhile, a young man who was burnt to ashes in the inferno has been identified as Thomas, known around the area by nickname, “Nigger-all”, an indigene of Imo State who earned a living as a general driver, who helped to move vehicles in the place. Until the incident, he was squatting with a shop owner at Kirikiri roundabout. On the fateful day, Thomas was said to be taking a nap outside the shack when the fire disaster occurred. Sadly, he never got the chance to wake up and run for his dear life as the fire totally engulfed him, and reduced his body to ash and bones within a short time.
For Emmanuel, who sells motorcycle parts, the aftermath was a tale of woes coated with gratitude to God. He had just returned from the market to re-stock his shop with goods worth N157,600 when the fire disaster occurred and reduced his shop to rubble.
His words: “I wanted to take a little over N200,000 to buy goods, but something told me to leave N70,000 in the shop. I came back and even arranged my wares. Immediately the tanker fell, I took to my heels and almost got to the filling station there. Then, I remembered the N70,000 in my shop and ran back to pick it. As I got out of the shop, the tanker blew up. I thank God that I even came back because the money belongs to a group of people who gave N10,000 this month. How would I have explained to them if it had got burnt?”
He also recalled that a police officer was eating when the tanker fell. He ran away, leaving his rifle. When the fire reached the place, the gun discharged and shot sporadically.
Madam Patience Michael and her son had come to her shop, where she sold cold drinks, beer, water and hard liquor. That fateful day, she was frying groundnut when the saw the tanker overturn. Forgetting the goods and the N22,000 she wanted to pay to a supplier for more drinks Patience picked up her son and ran to safety. “See, it was only my son I could take. I could not go in to pick anything for fear of dying,” she said.
Ikechuckwu Nketere, a motorcycle repairer and welder had to demolish and wet his own shop with water to stop the fire from getting to other shops along the bend. The Delta State indigene worked with his assistant to quickly pack all his tools outside his shop and scooped water used by the firefighters to put out the fire burning his own shop. To get it done properly, he broke down the parts that had caught fire, thereby, putting an end to it on that side.
“We saw the fire and we had so many motorcycles and instruments for work so we moved them to the other end and I had to break my shop to stop the fire from coming towards the area,” he said.
A car dealer, Alhaji Saliu, who lost four vehicles was expectedly devastated by the disaster. The Ilorin indigene was at the scene when the fire started and had to call on some Hausa men in the area to help him move some of the vehicles to a safe place by breaking the windscreen. In the process, he got burns and blisters on his hand. “I had 14 vehicles in that place. It was the Hausa men that helped me to remove some of them. However four got burnt (a Golf 4, Nissan Xterra, Honda Baby Boy and Audi 80. I have been on drip since Wednesday,” he said.