Abule-Ado explosion: Picking the pieces after last Sunday’s explosion
• Amid Lamentations, Demand For Forensic Investigation Mounts
• Builders Canvass Strict Regulation For Infrastructural Setbacks
• Say Huge Resources Needed To Rebuild Community
Apart from the calamitous explosion that rocked Abule-Ado, Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos State last Sunday, victims of the incident appear to be getting deeper into confusion as the days pass by. No thanks to the mixed messages coming in from different government quarters.
Last week’s massive explosion leftover 200 houses either partially or fully destroyed, shattered hundreds of business outfits at the trade fair plaza, and rendered over 2, 000 inhabitants homeless.
All these notwithstanding, while the Federal Housing Authority is said to be alleging that landed properties at the explosion site belong to it, claims by the state government that it never approved for the buildings to be erected hence they were illegal structures, and another claim that owners of the structures refused to subject their buildings to an integrity test, have continued to unsettle the victims of the disaster.
Also, while there are growing calls for the integrity of structures in the affected area to be investigated considering the level of devastation, individuals and groups are calling on the Federal Government to carry out a forensic investigation of the explosion, which the National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) claimed happened when gas cylinders were hit by a truck in the area where its pipelines pass through.
Days after the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) called for a forensic investigation, Abule-Ado Stakeholders for Justice did the same while thrashing all talks about the explosion coming from NNPC pipeline.
The Oluomo of Abule-Ado Kingdom and Coordinating Chairman, Abule Ado Stakeholders for Justice, Aare Oladotun Hassan, who made the group’s position known said: “We demand an immediate forensic investigation of the remote cause of the blast, ancillary facts about the pre-blast and post-trauma management of the victims.”
Hassan, who is also the President, Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide (YCYW) added: “We were drawn back, and made to doubt media reports credited to NEMA and the NNPC on the cause of the inferno. We can also not fathom the magnitude of the wreckage when compared to what ordinary gas pipeline explosion would do. This, therefore precipitates the urgent demand for the Office of the National Security Adviser to the President to swing into action, by conducting a thorough review, analysis, on the remote cause of the blast.
“However, we equally demand that adequate cordoning of the entire area be carried out to forestall the evacuation of relevant information and material evidence connected to the heinous crime because we are in an era of terrorism threats. We shall appreciate a holistic investigation that would proffer both short and long-term panacea to these acts of incessant explosions and criminal activities around pipeline corridors in Abule-Ado and by extension Lagos State,” Hassan said.
The stakeholders, who frowned at President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to visit the area in the wake of the blast, called on the investigative committee set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to call for public hearings so that members of the public, victims of the tragedy, and civil society groups can make presentations, as well as appealing for an immediate relocation and resettlement of all the identified victims.
While appreciating the quick response, and intervention of the state government, aid workers for the support and medical attention for the victims, the stakeholders appealed to well-meaning individuals and corporate citizens to contribute to the emergency relief fund, even as they stressed the need for accountability.
Bethlehem College, owned by the Lagos Catholic Archdiocese is by far, one of the worst affected facility in the area. In expressing his grief, the Director of Education, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Monsignor Jerome Oduntan, told The Guardian: “We were told that it was pipeline explosion, but on getting here the scene presented a different impression, but I leave it to the government to carry out its investigation and let us know the truth. The government should be fair in its investigation; politics should not come in. If the blame is on the government, it should bear it, and if it is otherwise, they should let us know the truth. It’s not just for this occasion, but subsequent ones. The scene that I met makes me doubt that it was a pipeline explosion.”
On why many still do not buy the gas cylinder(s) explosion narrative, he said, “I don’t know the root cause of the incident either. But what I will say is that the government should please have more respect for human lives. If it’s true that we had pipelines buried in the community, we should find out when those pipelines were buried? Is it after the buildings were in place or before?
“We acquired this land around 30 years ago from the Federal Housing Authority, and not from the state government, and there were no signs of pipelines. They claimed that the pipelines were buried by the right-hand side, but look at where the school is. Is it not far from there? I would not conclude that this was a terrorist attack because one has not officially established that. So, people are free to have their opinions. For now, I have been briefed that this was a pipeline explosion. This is not my field, but when I came here what I saw gave me a different impression of what I heard, but who am I to say yes, or no? Since it is not my field, I implore the government to carry out a serious investigation into this and let us know what really happened.”
Speaking on the level of devastation witnessed in the school, he said: “We had nine structures and everything is gone. The state governor said that his government was trying to raise N2b as an emergency relief fund, but we spent more than N2b on the school. So, even if the state government gives us the whole money, we are still in deficit. You can imagine what Catholic school structures of old look like. More so, this is a boarding secondary school. If you had been here before now, you would understand what I’m talking about.
“Before the explosion, as soon as you enter the premise, by the left, we had the staff quarters; by the right, we had the administrative block, and behind the administrative block, we had three blocks of classrooms, and then the dining hall, a big chapel, the hostel, and the convent. These are the buildings that we have lost. The convent is still standing on one leg but the roof has been blown off,” he said.
On what form of assistance the school expects from the government and corporate organisations, he said, “we want the government and corporate organisations to help bring the school back to its feet. By the grace of God, my students are safe. Contrary to news that we lost some of them, all 268 of them are well, and alive. But it’s a pity that we lost five members of staff, including the principal, female security personnel, one of the cooks that were cooking for the students, the reverend father’s cook, and the store attendant. In all, about 50 students sustained injuries, and most of them were discharged that very day. Only three could not be discharged that same day.”
Pascal Igogwu, a staff of Vanguard Media Limited, who also commented on the tragedy said: “The late Festus Osie, an uncle of mine died in the incident, and on a day that his child was supposed to be dedicated. It was such a painful loss as he left behind a wife and four young children. His property on No1 Basir Street, opposite the guesthouse, was also badly affected. The family lost everything that they had, apart from losing their father and breadwinner. They are now homeless and live in a church.
“My appeal to the government is to try as much as possible to take charge of that environment. I think it’s a nice one that the Federal Government is saying that it wants to take over the place, it’s okay that this kind of avoidable human loses does not happen anymore. I must also add that its appropriate that the Federal Government should display a serious sense of responsibility by making sure that people, who were badly affected by this unfortunate accident are duly, rationally and promptly compensated. It won’t make sense if these people, who have suffered this great loss don’t get compensated, or get the compensation on time. A lot of them have all their investments buried in this place.
While lamentation continues, the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) is tasking the state government to embark on an immediate check and compliance with the standing rules for infrastructural setbacks for pipelines and other high tension facilities across the state.
The institute is at it expressed dismay that the unfortunate disaster could have been averted if residents complied with established standards on setbacks for pipelines and other facilities.
The President of NIOB, Kunle Awobodu said authorities must discourage housing developers and homeowners, who go against established rules of construction to forestall a reoccurrence of a disaster of such magnitude.
He stressed that the incident was an eye-opener for governments to get appropriate materials to encase pipeline infrastructure, especially materials that will not transit heat or fire.
“Those in the state’s Ministry of Physical Planning can still go around and check compliance with setbacks across the state. For instance, the setbacks from the Ocean is 150 metres, for lagoon is 100 metres, for river its 50 metres from the building lines. But people are not observing the standard, some even build adjacent to the river and that means there are so many buildings that would be pulled down. They can serve those living in these areas notices and take some legal actions afterwards.
“The Abule Ado incident happened to be a preventable calamity, and that won’t be the first time. We had it in Abule Egba repeatedly, and so the setbacks on those pipelines are not sufficient to prevent the fire from spreading far. We need to adhere to setbacks. Most areas where there are pipelines in Lagos and Ogun states, for instance, people have encroached on the setbacks. We need to look at the setbacks along with the pipeline infrastructure. The Oil Pipeline Law Cap 338 of the Federation 1990, states that the setback for oil pipelines should be 30 metres or some might say 27.5 metres to the building line. But if you go around places like Ejigbo, Warewa, and areas like Abule Ado, Omo-oniles are selling plots of lands close to pipelines, and regulations are no longer being observed.”
Speaking further, Awobodu said that a proper valuation of the extent of properties damaged in the Abule Ado explosion would only be possible if there is available pre-damage photography or drawings of the entire location.
However, with the extent of physical damage, he said funds required to rebuild the area might go beyond the N2b emergency relief fund.
“Huge financial resources that can’t be easily determined, would be required to rebuild the area. The Catholic school alone requires a lot of money to be brought back to its feet because so much money has been poured into the project gradually over the years. The primary question to answer, however, is which one came first in, addressing the situation. If development comes first, people need to be compensated. If the buildings were developed after the construction of the pipelines, that’s another issue.”
While probing whether those buildings on the explosion site were truly granted approvals or not, he stressed that it is also important to establish whether NNPC officials carried out regular monitoring of the pipelines for checks on the setbacks.
“If that had been done, hardly would we record the kind of calamity that we have as there would be sufficient space or distance between the pipeline and the buildings. We must, however, note that fire is a terrible thing. If you see serious conflagration, it could extend beyond 30 metres like the bush fire that occurred in Australia recently, where the fire went beyond many miles. So, setbacks might not even play a role here. So apart from blaming land speculators and Omo-onile, government officials that are supposed to ensure that setbacks are respected must be blamed. Government failure to safeguard the citizens from dangerous areas should be stressed and that is why demolition at times is carried out in areas, where people are not within approved setbacks.”
In the wake of the incident, the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory went round the area posting non-conformity messages on some buildings, accusing their owners of failing to subject them to integrity tests.
Awobodu, who is of the view that this amounts to exhibitionism, explained that “when buildings don’t have approvals and they are constructed, vigilance on enforcement must have suffered some compromise because it’s important to be vigilant and to stop construction works before project owners go beyond foundation levels. In Lagos, there’s a scarcity of land and limited space for development, and so there is a lot of work that needs to be done to prevent people from encroaching into setbacks, and this could be difficult. People are also difficult in the sense that they don’t obey regulations because of their needs, hence they breach laid down regulations. It is an attitude we need to discourage.”
SOME interest groups have criticised the N2b emergency relief fund at the behest of the state government saying it was a far cry from the huge amount needed to wipe the tears of the victims.
But the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, while shedding light on it said it was only meant to provide some form of succor to the victims, and not to compensate them for the losses suffered.
He added that the key issue should not be about naira and kobo, as whatever amount the state government puts down or generates cannot pay for the lives that were lost in the explosion.
Omotosho, who said the state government was already providing some support to the victims explained: “Some of the victims have been taken to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) centre, and counsellors have been sent to counsel them, and the committee set up by the government is meeting. So, there is immediate relief for them, but in terms of naira and kobo, let us not just look at it from that perspective. This aside, many companies have been coming to say that they would like to help and I hope we are going to meet the target. But do not let us look at it in terms of naira and kobo only.”
On why the state government resorted to crowdfunding to raise the targeted sum, Omotosho said, “it is the normal thing all over the world when an incident like this happens because no government can handle things like this alone.
“This is bigger than what Lagos can handle; it is unbudgeted for; it is a disaster; it is a calamity, and since we are currently fighting Coronavirus, we did not budget for it. So, this comes to you, and you have schools and houses to build for people. So, it is bigger than what Lagos can handle on its own.”
On what package the Federal Government delegation to the state, led by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq handed the state, Omotoso said the state government has not got any specific thing from the Federal Government, but the mere fact that the minister came on behalf of the President shows that it cares about Lagosians and what they are going through at this time.
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