‘I lost two family members, life has lost its meaning’
• Tears, grief as Lagos residents relive explosion, count losses
• Death toll climbs to 23, wife with first-class degree, husband die
• It’s like a war zone, says Sanwo-Olu, launches N2 billion relief fund
Twenty-four hours after an explosion rocked Abule-Ado in Lagos State, the tears of its residents continued to flow yesterday as they recounted the ordeal.
As the sun rose, the distraught residents besieged the scene trying desperately to make sense of the terrible devastation that has so far claimed 23 lives, shattered roofs and windows and brought the walls of many buildings crashing to the ground.
“Shoot me if you wish to. It’s the worst you can do. I lost two family members. Life has therefore lost its meaning and I don’t fear death,” said a dark-skinned man probably in his forties.
Loudly, he had protested against official accounts of the blast, which blamed pipeline explosion, and concluded he wanted to hear no more of the falsehood. For all he cared, the incident was the result of a bomb. At this point, security operatives nearby ordered him to shut up. Instead, he erupted in the discharge of angry words.
Few members of staff of Bethlehem Girls College located near the epicentre of the blast had a dry eye. Although they heard about the incident, they couldn’t comprehend the extent to which the school they happily left behind on Friday had been destroyed. Besides, never again would they set eyes on beloved School Administrator Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha, who died while helping to evacuate the school’s pupils.
With an anguish-laden voice, one Michael Abiye told how his cousin who lived with him has remained missing following the blast. “My cousin came two months ago. He told me that he worshipped in one of the Pentecostal churches in the area. But I don’t know the particular church. Since the incident occurred, I have not seen him, and his phone is switched off.
“I have gone to all the hospitals, including the naval hospital in Ojo, yet I couldn’t find him. I learnt that five more bodies were recovered today. But there is no information on where they took the bodies to.”
Kerry Chukwuma, a friend of the Udoakonobis, a young couple whose life was cut short by the blast, could hardly hold back tears. “The husband (Emmanuel) was a good friend of mine. They went to church that morning for the first service and arrived at home few minutes before the explosion. I am pained. He was the only son. He joked a lot and was very hardworking. Chisom (wife) graduated with a first-class degree in accounting. She was also the only daughter of her parents. So sad! Young promising lives were wasted just like that. May their souls rest in peace.”
An agitated mother, Kemi Kolaosho, also narrated how she rushed to the scene following the explosion and began searching for her daughter, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
As at yesterday, more bodies were still being pulled out of the rubble, sending a flurry of painful emotions through the minds of the residents. Two yet-to-be-identified corpses were recovered at about 11:00 a.m.
For Abule-Ado, the scale and reality of what had happened seem to unfold with bitter realities every hour, and for many of the residents, the tears might only have started to flow.
Sanwo-Olu sets up N2b relief fund for victims, briefs Buhari
LAGOS State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced yesterday that he had set up a N2 billion naira relief fund for the victims. Disclosing this when he visited the scene of the explosion, he said the state government would release N250 million into the funds to provide succour for those affected.
“I will confess that I have never seen anything of this magnitude before. It is like a war zone,” the governor said. He said: “The process of rebuilding this place is beyond what the government, either at the national level or state, can undertake on its own. Given the level of destruction, I am immediately setting up what I have called an Abule Ado/Ado Soba Emergency Relief Fund. It is a N2 billion relief fund and the state government will immediately be putting N250 million in that fund. Three banks have opened accounts for the fund.
“Setting up this fund is to give everybody the opportunity to be part of rebuilding this place and to be able to donate into it. The utilisation of funds, which will be headed by the deputy governor, will also be part of the responsibility that the fact-finding committee will be saddled with. To show our commitment to helping the victims recover, we have three bank account numbers already. The accounts are: Polaris Bank, 4030017510; Zenith Bank, 10171845716; and GT Bank, 0568615688.”
Sanwo-Olu also visited President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja and briefed him about the scale of the tragedy.Disclosing the outcome of the meeting, he said: “I had a very rare opportunity to brief Mr. President about the very unfortunate pipeline explosion in Lagos State. Mr. President was very gracious to receive me and asked me what had happened.
“I was able to show him pictorially the extent and the level of the destruction. It is a very unfortunate incident. It is not something that anyone could have imagined. You needed to be there to see the level of destruction.”
He said Buhari was interested and was looking forward to the findings of a committee set up by the Lagos State government on the disaster.
Explosion suspiciously different, says rights body
THE Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) asked the Federal Government to carry out a forensic investigation of the immediate and remote causes of the explosion.
The group in a statement issued in Lagos by Head, Media & Campaigns, Philip Jakpor, also called on Sanwo-Olu to set up a special task force on pipelines security with the aim of preventing such accidents in the state.
According to Deputy Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi, “There is something suspiciously different about this explosion. The scale of destruction is nothing like any of the pipeline explosions we have monitored and documented for several decades.
“The incident’s scale of destruction could only be likened to military grade explosions or aerial bombardment. We can’t treat this casually as an accident caused by a truck.
“With the current security challenges facing this country, it is extremely premature to draw conclusions without conducting forensic investigation of this particular blast. Not even the accidental detonation of bombs at the Ikeja cantonment caused this scale of destruction and ruins. Government must conduct a comprehensive investigation to establish if this was a crime or an accident.
“And there are questions begging for answers: Who drove the truck? What is the truck doing on a pipeline on Sunday morning? Was the gas plant opened on a Sunday? Was the content of the truck weaponised?
“And for the NNPC that has admitted some level of culpability by confirming that the primary explosion came from its gas truck, it should immediately initiate the process of providing remediation for the affected families and businesses while its officials found to have, through negligence, orchestrated this massive destruction, should be made to face the law.”
Gbajabiamila visits explosion site promises action
THE Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila yesterday visited the site of the explosion. Gbajabiamila, who was accompanied by some members of the House on the visit, bemoaned the number of people that died during the explosion.He assured those he met at the site that the government would not abandon the families of the victims to their fate as action would be taken.
“I want to assure the people here that the Lagos State Government is not going to abandon you, the Federal government, the NNPC GMD was the first to be here, you are not going to be abandoned, the local government chairman is here, your representative, Rep Oghene is here. You are not going to be abandoned.
“Right now in the time of sorrow, and a time of grief sometimes, God has a way of doing things. It is at times like this, that He brings us together that we remember that we are all one, and we must act as one. A time for finger-pointing will come later, but let us address this situation.
“We live in perilous times now. There are a lot of things going around, from coronavirus, to this, to that, and we have been advised by international organizations all over the world and every government, that we do not gather in groups like this but you cannot stop human kindness.
“We are all aware that we are all running a race, even as we stand here together but because of the importance of the lives that were lost and the damage, we do not care about that, we are all here, together as one.
“I’ve come to encourage you, do not be discouraged, do not be distraught, many lives have been lost. Those that lost brothers, sisters, family members, God will console you.
“We encourage you to be strong, and from Abuja, from the Federal government, I bring you the sympathy of the government, and we will do everything that we need to do, and is humanly possible, as far as the government is concerned,” the speaker said.
Gbajabiamila said he had been briefed by the relevant authorities about the incident, saying “I can assure you that an unfortunate incident of this nature is a lesson to all of us, and we must learn from it.
“This happened, and we must learn from it. Lives have been lost. One life lost is too many, not to talk of about 17 or the figures we’re hearing around 20. Twenty lives are too many, among whom there were children. May their souls rest in peace.
“The principal would have escaped, but she was trying to save her children. May her soul rest in peace,” he said, adding that this is the time to assess the damage and take appropriate action.
The General Manager of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Mr Femi Osanyitolu was on ground to receive the speaker’s delegation and showed them the devastation the explosion left in its wake.
He briefed the speaker on the extent of the damage caused by the explosion and also about the efforts of the all emergency responders, including the federal and state agencies and others working together to salvage the situation since the incident occurred.
Tinubu, Afenifere decry incident, want inquiry
THE national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, condemned the explosion.
A statement on behalf of Tinubu by his spokesman, Mr. Tunde Rahman reads: “All those who had a hand in the unfortunate incident must be punished no matter how highly placed. This tragedy should not have happened. Those who lost their lives in the unfortunate incident did not deserve to die so gruesomely.
“I strongly condemn this incident. I commiserate with families and relations of those who died. I also sympathise with those who lost their valued property. In their memories and in order to avert similar occurrence in future, the authorities must get to the root of this incident and curb incessant pipeline explosion in the area.
“All those who had a hand in this explosion, including those who acted in ways to put lives at risk and hard-earned possessions in jeopardy, must be punished, no matter how highly-placed they may be.”
The national publicity secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “Our hearts go to all the families who are victims of this great tragedy as we pray for the repose of all souls who perished in the sad occurrence. We call for an open inquiry into this incident coming three weeks after the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai announced the presence of Boko Haram in Lagos.
“The explosion targeting a missionary girls school and the impact of it being felt kilometers from the scene, with cars parked at far distance having their windscreens shattered, make us to reject the different causes ascribed without any investigation.
“We hold our breath until a forensic investigation is done to ascertain the real cause of this explosion that has left so many families bereaved.”
PDP laments spate of explosions, urge rejig of emergency response
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it was shocked and grief-stricken by yet another devastating explosion. It said the spate of explosions and other avoidable disasters, particularly in Lagos and other strategic states, raise grave public safety concerns.
PDP National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said: “Only in January, a pipeline explosion rocked Abule-Egba in Lagos State. Compatriots were killed in an inferno that razed valuables and brought anguish to m any families.”
The party called for a rejig of the national emergency response, saying, “Such an overhaul of the nation’s emergency management must strengthen quick responses to disasters by respective agencies of government and volunteer groups.”
It commiserated with the victims and “urged relevant authorities as well as public spirited individuals, groups and establishments to come to their aid.”
Muslim body, lawmaker mourn victims
THE Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) Nigeria expressed sympathy for the families of the victims and the people of Lagos State over the tragedy.MPAC’s Director Media & Strategic Communications, Abdulwarees Solanke, said: “We commiserate with the numerous families whose lives, homes and hopes have been shattered by the tragic incident with devastating effects. We take it as part of the trials and travails of life and pray important lessons are taken to prevent future recurrence.
“But as we counsel on patience, fortitude and forbearance in this trying moment and as we pray for the victims, we cannot but speak on factors that prompted these misfortune. Of course, security is being breached daily along the entire distance of pipelines across the country, requiring eternal vigilance, the fact still remains that much of the criminality in the land resulting in tragedies such as these are simply avoidable.
“All Nigerians must take precautions on environmental, health and safety issues and exercise discretion on where they choose to take up as residence or site their businesses.
“As we mourn over this incident, there is no compensation that can replace the lost lives and shattered dreams. This is a development that once again exposes the government as failing in surveillance, compliance monitoring and enforcement of health and safety standards.”
Also, a federal lawmaker, Senator Annie Okonkwo, issued a statement saying: “I feel very sad to read about the demise of Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha, the Principal of Bethlehem High School Abule Ado, who ensured the successful evacuation of most students from the wrecked building alive but couldn’t make it out of the fire. May her gentle, fearless and patriotic soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.”
Minister advocates posthumous award for school administrator
MINISTER of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu said Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha deserved a posthumous national award for sacrificing her life to save the children under her care.
His statement reads in part: “Mallam Adamu extends his heartfelt condolence to the executive governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the parents, the management and students of Bethlehem Girls College, Abule-Ado.
“In particular, the minister extolled the courage and bravery of the vice principal of Bethlehem college, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha, who died in the process of evacuating the students of the college who were under her care.
“The minister said he understands from media reports that the vice principal may have escaped the inferno if she had chosen to run away. Rather, she chose to risk her life trying to evacuate her students, thereby dying in the process ..”