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When Burglarproofs Turn Deadly Enemies

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The burnt building

House gutted by fire in Jos, Plateau State…recently PHOTO: ISA ABDULSALAMI AHOVI

GETTING trapped isn’t always between the idiomatic devil and the deep blue sea. Sometimes, occupants of buildings are caught in the dilemma of warding of burglars, as much as it is possible, without violating the limits of safety.

The bitter irony is: iron bars and other protective measures, while keeping away the danger lurking from outside the house, often bar occupants from fleeing the emergency within. Fire gutted a flat in Jos, Plateau State, on Saturday, May 2, 2015, killing six people.

The building was located in a compound, which housed 15 other separate flats. At the time of the inferno, the man of the house, one Alhaji Ahmed, was away.

The merciless blaze ensured it was the last time he saw his wife, children and housemaid. The fire was said to have started midnight after electricity supply was restored, following an outage.

The residents had retired to bed without switching off their appliances. They never anticipated that power would return with a surge. The deceased included grandsons and daughter of one late Dr. Dalhatu Arab.

They were: Mrs. Habiba Ahmed Dalhatu, Maryam Ahmed, and Ahmed Ahmed Dalhatu. The two others were: the younger sister to Ahmed’s wife, Rukayya Umar Hamza, and their housemaid, Maryam.

The flat was deserted when The Guardian visited and there were no signs of attempt at renovation. One amazing discovery in all the flats is the absence of any exit. According to an occupant of one of the houses,

“The way you go in is the same way you follow when you have to come out. There is just no other door.” Jos-based journalist, Jude Owuamanam, who once lived in the compound, corroborated the non-availability of an exit route. A family man, Owuamanam compared living in any of the buildings to putting all of one’s eggs in a basket.

“I knew him (Alhaji Ahmed) when he moved in there,” said Owuamanam. “I was living in the compound when he packed in. In fact, I was in that house when he married his wife. That was around 2008 before I packed out in 2010. The lady died with her three children, sister and a maid they had just brought newly.

I was made to understand that the man left Friday for his home town in Lafia, Nasarawa State.” He explained further: “The story was that electricity was restored around 2am. And about 20 minutes later, cries for help were heard. A gas explosion followed.

I think it was the explosion that exacerbated the fire. Besides, help did not come to the family in time. Had help come immediately, the deceased would have been saved.” Owuamanam described the affected flat as over-protected, faulting its use of the only entrance as exit.

He said: “Yes, the place was over-secured because there was only one way in and one way out. If there had been another way, the wife and others would have escaped through a rear door.

In fact, in that very compound, when I moved in, the first thing I did was open up a door through the kitchen, because I know the importance of having a second door as emergency exit wherever you live. All the flats in that compound have no exit doors. “

I was told that when the fire was eventually put out, the woman was found near the door. Apparently, in the confusion that ensued, she couldn’t locate the door. Her son was found strapped to her back. She died, while trying to escape with her son.”

According to Owuamanam, balance must be struck between the urgency to secure a house with iron bars and equally provide an emergency exit in the event of a fire. “Much as we want to secure ourselves with burglarproofs, we must make sure it is possible to open them up and flee. After all, even buses have emergency exits. There is something you pull and the safety contraption gives way and you escape,” said Owuamanam.

He added: “It doesn’t make any sense building a house that has just an entrance. If there is any problem and that entrance is blocked, there would be tragedy. That was what happened in this case. There was no way out and the entire family perished.

It was unfortunate the husband of the woman was not around. Had he been around, he might have rescued his people. But again, he might also have died. Really, nobody knows what would have happened. It is a very unfortunate incident.”

A retired civil engineer in Bauchi State who is an indigene of Plateau, Mr. Samaila Johnson, said there is need for planning authorities to make sure houses are built according to specifications.

“The people saddled with the responsibility of inspecting buildings, making sure they conform with specifications, are not doing their jobs.

Yes, the place was over-secured because there was only one way in and one way out. If there had been another way, the wife and others would have escaped through a rear door. In fact, in that very compound, when I moved in, the first thing I did was open up a door through the kitchen, because I know the importance of having a second door as emergency exit wherever you live. All the flats in that compound have no exit doors.

They just give licenses to people to build, without inspecting the projects. They don’t come around to ensure safety measures are followed. That is why there’s need to tackle corruption in this country because some people will just sit in the comfort of their tables and approve things without going there. It is very unfortunate.”  

Town planning officials could not be reached for reaction, as an indefinite strike ensured all ministries remained under lock and key.


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