On September 10, 2018, a gas explosion at the Millionaire’s Quarters of Lafia killed numerous people. According to reports, 10 people died on the spot.
Eyewitnesses said the figures were higher. Many other victims later died in hospitals. Twenty-two months after, Daily Trust revisits the scene and some of the people affected by that tragic incident.
September 10, 2018, started off like any other day for Mubarak Bala.
As usual, he was trading in second-hand electrical items close to Natson Filling Station on Jos Road in the Millionaires’ Quarter highbrow area of Lafia, Nasarawa State, when a gas explosion ended the lives of about a dozen people and changed the lives of many more.
Though it has been nearly two years since the tragedy, the memories of the incident are fresh in Mubarak’s mind
“I have never seen a disaster like that,” Mubarak said.
He recounts how a faulty gas tanker and a commercial motorcyclist triggered the explosion.
“The petrol dealer had brought a friend who installed an LNG plant,” Mubarak told Daily Trust.
“They have been in business until a truck filled with cooking gas was brought, but it was said that a valve developed a fault and it did not discharge from the vehicle to the storage tank for 24 hours.
They brought a technician from Kaduna who said he had never seen such a fault and that the truck should be taken out of town and the content discharged into the air.”
Dauda Zakari is someone whose life has been massively affected by the tragedy.
Even though he was not at the scene at the time, he gathered that people tried to convince the truck driver to leave the area for the safety of everyone, including his mother who was passing by at the time.
The crowd had convinced the truck driver to leave and he was already driving out of the filling station when an okada rider was said to have charged into the crowd, frightening people out of the way and crashing against a metal barrier.
That triggered a spark, which in turn triggered a massive explosion.
Mubarak, who was watching from his place of business a few meters away, saw the okada rider go up in flames.
He died on the spot, screaming, Mubarak said.
The eyewitness said nearly two dozen people died in the explosion but the official figures varied between nine and 10.
Many others were rushed to the hospital and the government said a total of 36 were affected by the incident.
Some of them would later die in the hospital.
One of them was Hulairatu Zakari, 51, Dauda’s mother.
“My mother left her matrimonial home at house number 26, Old Barracks Road, in the middle of Lafia to Nasarawa Eggon Local Government where she worked, which is about 30 kilometres from Lafia,” Dauda said.
Due to a pressing family emergency, his mother had taken permission from work to return to Lafia but the commercial bus she was travelling in got caught up in the gridlock in front of the gas station as volunteers tried to steer the truck away from the crowded area.
The explosion killed the driver of the bus on the spot and injured the passengers.
The carcass of the bus is still parked outside the station up until today.
Dauda Zakari was at work that time and it was a friend who told him that there was a fire at Millionaires Quarters and he left his work place to see what was happening, not knowing that his mother was a victim.
While at the scene, he received a call informing him that his mother was involved and had been taken to the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital, (DASH) in Lafia.
When he found her at the emergency unit of the hospital, she had suffered burns on all her limbs and part of her face.
Incidentally, on the day of the explosion, then-Senate President, Bukola Sarki, had a scheduled engagement in Lafia and paid a visit to some of the victims.
He asked that some of the victims be transferred to hospitals in Abuja.
On the directive of then-Governor Umaru Tanko Almakura, patients with severe burns were transferred to the National Hospital on that day while Hulairatu and other patients with less severe burns were transferred the next day.
Dauda Zakari said his younger brother stayed with his mother at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital at Gwagwalada while he visited every weekend for two months until she died.
He said most of the victims died one after the other in the hospital.
But while she was there, Dauda said, government officials shuttled between Nasarawa and Abuja to settle the bills.
But when there were urgent demands, the hospitals asked the families to buy these and keep receipts for reimbursements.
This, according to Dauda, never happened.
The receipts now form reminders of the loss of his mother.
But in Lafia, reminders of the deadly explosion linger at the scene.
It is deserted with the charred carcass of the VW Sharon bus conveying Hulairat Zakari and other passengers before the explosion.
These dreadful remainders the tragedy have kept the memories of the incident fresh in the minds of people and even the state government.
Recently, the Operations Manager of the Department of Petroleum Resources, (DPR) Abdulrahman Muhammad went round LNG selling outlets in the state and seized items used by LNG sales outlets that do not have clearance from the DPR.
He also advised people to ensure that their gas cylinders are not expired to avoid losing their lives and their property.
For the households that lost loved ones in the tragedy, nothing can bring back their loved ones and that is a fact that people like Dauda Zakari would have to live with for as long as they live.