‘God has a reason for keeping me alive’
• Survivor Of Calabar Viewing Centre Tragedy Recounts Experience
“It happened when NEPA took light. People had to run out for their dear lives and I was the last person to go out.
“As at that time, there was no casualty, but the viewers demanded that the owner should put on the generator, so that they can continue watching their match.
“People rushed in to take their normal positions and watch the match, but 15 minutes later, light came again and the high tension cable fell on the ground.
“So, there was a big spark, which blew the roof and people started running out in a stampede through the only exit and people were just falling over themselves by the door and dying.
“All efforts to switch off the light were to no avail. So, I decided to call the Police and they rushed down here and also called PHEDC officials before they came to switch off the light.
“Some of the people were taken away by their loved ones to hospitals of their own choice and that is why we cannot give account. But if we talk of the ones in the teaching hospital, they are up to 10 people, but the ones people took to different hospitals we don’t know. They are people living around here.”
This was the account of Ndabo Enobong Tommy, a community leader in Nyagasang and an eyewitness, regarding what happened when high-tension cable fell on a house where some football fans were watching the Europa semi-final match between Manchester United of England and Anderlecht of Belgium, leading to the death of many of them late on Thursday night in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.
Another eyewitness said while the match was on, there was a loud explosion from the transformer and power went out, while the cable landed on the roof of the viewing centre.
It was gathered that those watching the game were aware of the cable that landed on the roof, but being so eager to continue their match and thinking there was no current in the cable, as the power had gone out, urged the owner of the centre to put on his generator.
After the generator was put on, they all went back inside to continue watching the match and then power was restored by PHEDC and fire erupted in the building.
A Manchester United fan and also an eyewitness, Oka Timothy, said: “We watched the game for about 38 minutes and most of us that were there, especially those ones that were sitting around me, were dead.
“I cheated death because I believe God has a reason for keeping me, because I must fulfill my destiny”.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Nigerian Institute of Mechanical Engineers (NIME) have condemned the electrocution of the football fans, urging the Federal Government to come up with a regulatory body on viewing centres across the country.
State Chairman of NSE, Dr. Nsed Akonjom, said: “I want to say a lot of things put together has caused this problem. First and most important is that we have high-tension passing through streets and most of the roofs.
“The town planners have done their work, the approving agencies have done their work, so the big question we are asking is: are the landlords observing the rules? When we don’t adhere to engineering design and structures, this is what happens.”
He called on agencies in charge of demolishing illegal structures, especially under high-tension, to swing into action and sanction those violating the regulations.
“As we keep on evolving as a people, new forms of employment evolve. Five six years back we did not have viewing centres, but by the grace of God, we have developed to a level of having a viewing centre.
“There should be a regulatory body of these centres and there should be a standard of what you call a viewing centre, of what is expected, with entrance and exit. Some of them don’t have ventilation and sometime ago, some people died inside a viewing centre because of carbon monoxide from a generator.
“There must be a body to regulate their activities, especially for safety, and all of us must take responsibility. The government must enforce standards and the citizens must obey the law by staying off NEPA high-tension lines,” he said.
Akonjom who was present at the scene of the incident with his members and the National Chairman of NIME, Mr Ugochukwu Nzuruike, said: “I expect that organisations like PHED should have equipment that will cause alarm telling them something is wrong, even without anybody calling them…but because of carelessness somebody went on to put on the system without checking why it tripped off in the first place. This is what we call ineffectiveness and lack of concern and NSE frowns seriously at this and I want to say this is unacceptable. We are going to put a strong position on this. We will partner with all relevant bodies including artisans to get the right mix for building houses and tell them the dangers on them and in June we will hold a serious building forum were everything that has to do with building, including safety, will be discussed.”
On his part, the NIME National Chairman said: “This is a very painful thing that has happened. The Nigeria Society of Engineers is not happy with this. This is not a situation of NSE did not do its job. I think it is the situation of our own carelessness. This structure should not be right where it is because exactly what happened can happen again. Then PHED on their own have at their station a monitoring system that informs them of a fault.
“When it went off I am sure it was their system that went off and maybe the wrong person went to power it without identifying what the problem was. What NSE will say about this please, for the safety of life and property, let us understand that under high tension it is not fit for us to do anything? Whatever you are doing under the high tension, make sure that it is something that you can do very fast because anything can happen at anytime. It is a conductor and when the temperature is so high, it will cut and every person in the building is endangered. Looking at this structure it is not a normal situation where, if something happens, people can run in different directions.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Operating Officer, Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC, Mr. Kingsley Achife, has on behalf of the company commiserated with the families of those who died yesterday in Calabar as a result of the electrical accident and also sympathized with those who sustained various degrees of injuries during the unfortunate incident.
In a statement made available to newsmen, he said: “Our heartfelt condolences goes to the bereaved families. May God give the families the courage to bear the loss. We also sympathize with those who sustained injuries and wish them quick recovery”.
The COO who expressed displeasure over the incident, has assured the community that the said feeder line has been isolated to ensure that lives and property are secured, adding that an investigative team has been constituted with a view to finding out the remote and immediate cause of the accident. He also urged the residents to remain calm and law-abiding and to accord the team the necessary support during the investigation.
Achife thanked the law enforcement agencies who responded quickly and ensured that the victims were taken to the Teaching Hospital, and the Cross River State Governor, Senator, Ben Ayade, who through his deputy came to the scene of the incident and calmed the nerves of the affected community.