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Why discordant narratives continue to trail Abule-Ado explosion

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Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu addressing residents during his visit to the scene of the incident

Tears flowed freely from many residents of Soba area of Lagos State minutes after last Sunday’s explosion that not only rocked their community but also neighbouring communities. For many of these people, it was either they lost a loved one or life long investment or they could not comprehend the magnitude of wreckage that stared them in the face.

The explosion at Soba community was earth shaking. It was felt in many areas of the state with residents thinking the inferno was just metres away.

Persons, cars and structures within 10 to 20 metres away from the point of explosion not only felt its impact; they either collapsed, died or got thrown off from wherever they were. Some buildings collapsed on their occupants while others were gutted by fire.

The fire that erupted from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as a result of the explosion was not put out until about 9:00a.m the following day.  Initially, none of the emergency responders could provide the casualty figures but when they finally did, 170 buildings, 43 cars and 23 persons were lost to the incident.

The emergency responders that ensured safety of the area after the explosion included the Lagos State Emergency Authority (LASEMA), the Lagos Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), the Lagos State Fire Service, the Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS), the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigerian Civil Defence (NSCDC), the Nigerian Navy the military, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Red Cross.

After five days, many people are still visiting the site to have a glimpse of the impact of the explosion. This has made Soba community a tourist’s destination of sort in the past few days even as community members gradually come to terms with the reality of what has befallen them. Many of the visitors after taking a tour of the scene formed their opinions on the likely cause of the explosion. So, it has been narratives and counter narratives since the incident.

The first narrative that came was that it was an NNPC pipeline that got ruptured. The story around this was that an articulated vehicle carrying stones was about entering a street but got stuck, and in the process of getting out, the truck ruptured the NNPC pipeline within that corridor, which led to the explosion. This account of the incident also claimed that the impact was devastating because some gas cylinders were close to the spot, the pipeline got busted and this aggravated the situation negatively. This narrative is the official position of the government on the likely cause of the explosion though the Lagos State government has set up a committee headed by the Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, to look into the root cause of the incident and advise on measures to take to prevent a reoccurrence.

Another narrative was that the incident was an implosion. This narrative was from an agency of the Lagos State government, the Lagos Fire Service, though it later backed down on its position. The statement it issued about two hours after the incident that Sunday morning said: “Implosion in Lagos; Lagos State Fire Service is assuring the general public that the implosion is not connected to pipeline but buildings on fire in Ado Soba, Abule Ado, Amuwo Odofin and the situation is under control.” This position was also adopted by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), when it said the explosion was not caused by a disruption of the NNPC oil pipeline.

Acting Coordinator, Lagos Territorial Office of NEMA, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said that contrary to information earlier put out on the social media, the explosion, which occurred about 9:00a.m. was unconnected to pipeline vandalism.

“From the information given by officials of the Lagos State Fire Service who are currently on ground, the implosion is not connected to pipeline but might have occurred in a factory located in the Abule Ado area.

“Emergency responders are on ground while others are still on their way to the scene. The situation is under control and we hope to get more information soon to ascertain its cause,” he said.

However, residents of Abule-Ado and Soba communities had their own narrative. To them, the incident was a bomb blast. They held that bombs were planted around the corridor of the pipeline, saying the magnitude of damage could not be a pipeline explosion. The residents believe that the Bethlehem Girls College was the target.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, has dispelled claims the incident was a bomb blast, saying it was pipeline explosion.

Speaking when he visited the scene of the explosion, he said gas cylinders in homes and buildings aided the devastation. He said there was no truth in the speculation that it was a bomb blast or activities of Boko Haram.

His position was also corroborated by the Commissioner of Police (CP) in charge of the Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Maikudi Shehu, who said there was no presence of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at the scene, adding that his men were still conducting investigations from samples collected.

Also, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, who was on ground during the rescue operation, said the explosion was caused by gas leakage.

Furthermore, the Lagos State Management Emergency Authority (LASEMA) said: “Upon the arrival of the LASEMA Response Team (LRT) at the incident scene, it was discovered that a raging fire had displaced several residents who fled their abodes for fear of being caught up in the inferno.

“The primary cause of the explosion is unknown. There were a number of secondary explosions, which have caused significant damage to multiple buildings including the leveling of a church to ground zero and the destruction of St Margaret’s Girls’ hostel. The causes are yet to be determined.”

Though Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, did not speak about the cause of the incident when he visited the scene, the committee he set up has been saddled with finding the root cause of the incident.

There was also confusion about the name of the community where the incident occurred. While the media and non-residents were referring to the area of the explosion as Abule-Ado, residents and indigenes of the community maintained that the place is called Soba town.

It almost amounted to a debate when the governor visited the scene of the incident. Anytime Sanwo-olu mentioned Abule-Ado during the visit, residents, especially the chiefs and indigenes of the community would interrupt him, maintaining that it was Soba town. At the point when the governor announced the setting up of a N2 billion Relief Fund for the victims, the interruption was so tumultuous that Sanwo-Olu visibly got irritated but only remarked that the name was not an issue in setting up the fund. From then on, whether the place is called Abule-Ado or Soba has remained an issue.

Findings by The Guardian revealed that the two communities are not the same. Although they shared boundaries, they have different traditional rulers who superintend over their affairs.

Providing some historical perspective about Soba town, the Baale of Soba, Chief Jimoh Rahim Agbebeji, disclosed that their great grandfather, Chief Agbebeji, Idowu Fatosa, who migrated from Oyo founded the community about 17th century.

Agbebeji disclosed that the town was named after an Hausa man who was a close friend of the founder of the community. He added that Soba was the name of the Hausa man who came to live with their great grandfather. “He was a very close friend of Agbebeji, but the Hausa man died without an issue. So, to honour him, Idowu Fatosha said they should name the community in his name.”

Giving more historical insight about the town, he said their village was initially sited in the area now called Trade Fair before the Federal Government acquired the land. He added that they moved to their present location in 1973.

“So, Soba is a different community entirely from Abule-Ado. We have separate locations and each has its traditional ruler, though we share boundary,” he said.

Scene of the explosion

He maintained that there was no need for the Abule-Ado and Soba controversy if the media had been diligent. “It is a mistake to say this place is Abule-Ado. This is Soba, Abule-Ado is the other end of the community. All the people affected in the explosion are my subjects and tenants. They are not Abule-Ado tenants; they don’t know them there. We have a common boundary between ourselves and Government Technical College, Ado-Soba, was given that name to make the two communities distinct,” he added.

On the incident that occurred on Sunday, Agbebeji said the community had never experienced such even though they had had two pipeline disasters in the past wherein no life was lost.

The setting up of a N2 billion relief fund for the victims by the Lagos State Government was another issue that stirred controversy.

“The 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,” Sanwo-Olu said.

But some residents kicked against it, with some saying the government should foot the bill alone while others felt the damage was more than N2 billion. Even the Catholic Church has come out to say the extent of damage in its Bethlehem Girls College alone was about N2 billion.

The citizens, who took to twitter shortly after the governor’s visit to the scene, accused the government of crowd funding.

@ulsherlan in a response to the governor said: “I would have contributed mine but my transport cost has gone up 300 per cent ever since you banned Keke and Okada in Lagos state. Thank you sir.”

Asegun Tolu Adekolu, @ToluAdekolu said: “The government shouldn’t be asking for donations. This is nonsense. We pay taxes!!! Non Government Organisations (NGOs) may do so but not the state government.”

@architectsunepa, inquired: “What about money gotten from toll fees? NURTW collections and also several taxes imposed on the citizens by Lagos state government?”

@Opemssssss said: “Why is the state government crowd funding? In Lagos where taxes are aggressively collected sef.”

@OchuRasheed said: “They have money in store and they are demanding from the citizens they have impoverished again.. arrghh!!! Why are these people heartless? His father “Tinubu” would give out N5B in a blink of an eye. He should go meet him.”

Samuel Onemu @efeoghene4god, said: “It’s so easy to release billions for SUVs but difficult to release money for emergency relief right?
But the state government was not alone on the matter, especially if the comment of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk, who visited the scene on behalf of the Federal Government is anything to go by.

She said: “I will say that seeing is believing; if we have not come here, we would not have understood really the extent of the devastation and damage here. I want to use the opportunity to tell you that I am here with my DG, NEMA and other relevant agencies. We are going to join hands with the state government to see that we bring succour and relief to the affected victims, in terms of food and non-food and medical supplies to the hospitals.

“We are going to be part of the committee that will come up with strategic ways of addressing these issues so that we avoid a repeat of this incident. We offer our deepest condolences. We are going to work together with the state government to bring support and assistant to the affected victims,” she said.

She added that the Federal Government would work with the state government to investigate the root cause of the incident to avoid a repeat.

Tales Of Woe By Abule-Ado Residents
By Kehinde Olatunji
In the aftermath of the incident, residents of the affected areas are still counting their ordeals. Below is what some of them told The Guardian during a visit.
After the explosion, we came down here trying to see how we can assist, when we called their phones it rang but nobody answered. When we successfully entered into the house, I saw my in-laws lying helpless. Looking around we saw the wife; when we checked around, we saw the cousin half burnt. Some media houses have doubled this pain for us by a hundred times by not telling the world the exact thing that took place here. What happened here was a bomb blast; it is clearly seen. Every human being knows that if it were anything connected to oil, people living about 10 kilometres from here won’t see the impact. Some houses in Ajegunle were affected. Initially they said 17 people died but I’m telling you, people that perished here are over 300. I lost three people in the same house; the house beside it had about seven people. So, if you continue to go from house to house, you will understand that the media is not fair by saying 20 people. — Cletus

We don’t know that pipeline passed through this place. On Sunday morning, we just came out and all of a sudden we heard an explosion. It threw people away. Many souls were lost as a result. It affected my building but thank God my children were outside. If not we would have been gone. The government needs to help us at this period. I want the government to assist the masses. Mrs Sanusi Sulaimon

I have a building project in this community. I live at Ikotun but I came here on Sunday to check on the labourers working on my project but I didn’t see them so I decided to go outside. All of a sudden I heard a blast. I went to a military school and I was trained but it is unfortunate that I’m not a military man. From my experience, I can detect the sound of an explosion. When I heard the explosion, immediately I saw the oxygen in the air, it has a lot of particles in it. What I saw that day was a bomb blast. The explosion happened after some minutes that this truck drove in (pointing at the destroyed truck). I thank God I’m alive. — Emmanuel

I heard a deafening noise. I didn’t smell gas at all. I started shouting. I called my male neighbours. They came out. This time, we couldn’t see one another again. The whole place was full of that whitish substance. We all managed to go out. On getting to the end of that street, we heard a heavy bang. The force threw us away. That woman (pointing to her neighbour) was naked because she only tied a wrapper. By the time we knew what happened, we had lost everything. In our compound, four people are in the hospital and one person is still missing. I’ve been sleeping in my younger brother’s house since Sunday. — Linda Adanma

What gets me angry is the claim that 17 people died. Over 100 lives were lost in this unfortunate situation. We personally pulled out 19 lifeless bodies yesterday only. We are not happy with what is happening. This is not a pipeline explosion; our community was bombed. The people at the helm of affairs know what is happening. Pipeline doesn’t blow that way; it couldn’t have affected all these houses if it was a pipeline explosion. We were the ones that carried the corpses of a young Rev. Fr and two Rev. Sisters out of the destroyed building. — Chimezie

I went to the school compound to give the late Rev. Sister some pawpaw that I harvested from my farm. She asked if I wasn’t coming for mass and I told her I wasn’t. While leaving, I noticed there was a trailer packed close to the school that was bringing out smoke. In less than 30 minutes, everywhere was blurry. A light started from where an ‘aboki’ was selling bread and tea and found it way to the trailer. That was how it exploded. There are three missing men that I suspect are under the ruins of the building but the people in charge here have denied me audience since. — Bethlehem Girls College Gardener

From the look of things, this is beyond pipeline explosion. It is similar to what we see in Syria and Gaza; the way they launch rockets. If you see how the buildings were brought down and how many buildings were affected, you would discover it had nothing to do with pipeline explosion. We have been hearing about pipeline explosions in Nigeria, none has reached this magnitude we can see here today. Why are they deceiving us Nigerians that this is a pipeline explosion? You can see the level of damage that was caused. It is high time our government told us the truth because we don’t know what is next. We are fed up of this; there is no security of lives and property in this nation. Since the inception of Boko Haram, they have threatened to come to Lagos to cause havoc. They have started what they promised. — Sandra


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