Abule-Egba pipeline explosion: Survivors, victims recount experience … 10 years after
• It Was A Lucky Escape, Survivor
• We Were In Debt For Many Years — Victim
December 26, 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of 260 people in a pipeline explosion in Awori, a densely populated community in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos State, which resulted from a ruptured oil pipeline.
That Boxing Day tragedy will, for a very long time remain indelible in the minds of the people of the area, especially the survivors, who escaped death by the skin of their teeth, and those who lost their loved ones.
Mental images of charred human remains are still capable of forcing tears down the cheeks of their relatives.
According to reports, the gory incident happened when large numbers of residents resorted to scooping petrol, after an armed gang punctured an underground pipeline to illegally siphon refined fuel, at a time of immense scarcity of the product in the country.
After taking as much as they could under the cover of darkness, the criminals left the pipelines leaking, while greedy residents took advantage of it, and rushed to the sites with cans, bowls and buckets to collect as much as they could.
Segun Gabriel, a survivor, recounted his experience on that ill-fated day to The Guardian. “I scooped the product fill a 50-litres keg thrice and sold them immediately afterwards. It was quick money, and it was serious struggle to get the fuel because there were so many people struggling for the scarce commodity then. It was when I went for the fourth trip that something just told me to move away from the site.
“I moved to the roadside immediately and was watching others from a distance. Not too long, there was a deafening noise and everywhere was in flames. People scampered for safety, and then wailings began. It was a horror scene.
“For many days, after that incident, I could not come to terms with what I just survived. It was an experience that will for a long time linger in my memory. I only escaped due to mother-luck.”
Mr. Mudasiru Oseni, who resides along Aduke Adegbite Street, within the vicinity of the explosion site, said the explosion happened around 3:20pm, when hundreds of people were busy scooping the fuel.
According to him, over three hours before the explosion, lots of people had arrived from areas like Sango, Agege, Katangowa and beyond with their cars and motorcycles, and even thugs had started collecting gate takings before people these people were allowed to get access to the place. “Majority of the people affected came from other areas because people living here were afraid.
“We learnt that it was a telephone call that led to the explosion. Nobody at the scene survived. The only survivors were those who were by the roadside. The entire sawmill and mechanic workshop around there were also burnt.
“There was also a landlord who sent his four children to fetch the free fuel, sadly they all died in the inferno. That was what led to his untimely death. The dead bodies were taken to Owode/Ijako for mass burial. The sawmill would have ceased to exist, as the then Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, accused them of conspiring with the vandals. It took several months of pleading and intervention by some big-wigs in the state before the place was re-opened,” Oseni said.
Although, normalcy has returned to the area, and commercial activities both at the sawmill, mechanic workshop and other shops in the area in full swing, memory of the disaster is still yet to completely depart the area as many are still ruing their losses.
One of the mechanics, who gave his name as “Engr. Stone,” said over 50 vehicles, including his personal car got burnt in the explosion.
Stone, who was resident in Gengeto area of Agege at the time of the incident, said he was at home on the fateful day when he received a telephone call that his workshop was on fire.
“Immediately I got to Abule-Egba, I saw victims with peeled skins, even when I got here, there was no space to get access to our workshop, due to the large crowd. I saw roasted bodies everywhere. No one could actually point at the real cause of the explosion, what we learnt was that the explosion suddenly happened when people were scooping fuel and they were all burnt alive.
“One version of the story had it that the explosion was caused by electricity spark from one of the poles. So many people were affected, including people living around here. Over 500 people died, as against the official number of casualties released by the government, because we discovered human skeletons and heads littering the entire area.”
Stone said majority of car owners, whose cars got burnt in their workshop, collected some money from them, noting that the disaster actually forced him and his colleagues into debt for many years, adding that the Bola Tinubu-led administration promised to compensate them, but nothing was done until he left office.
He expressed delight that officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have been stationed in the area to ward-off intruders, who might be planning to embark on the criminal act.