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How Abule-Ado explosions shook Lagos

For Victor Eze, his wife and their two children, there would be no church service for them last Sunday March 15, 2020. Like many families…

For Victor Eze, his wife and their two children, there would be no church service for them last Sunday March 15, 2020. Like many families in Soba, a community in Abule Ado, Amuwo-Odofin Local Government, Lagos State, Eze and his immediate family members were gaily dressed on the Sunday morning, headed for church about 9am. But cruel fate had its own package for them, as it did for the hundreds of residents of Soba.

A calm, serene Soba was suddenly turned into a gory scene of death, blood and screams when deafening sounds of explosion rent the environment, reverberating in far areas more than 10 kilometres from the epicentre of tragedy. Residents in communities like Iyana Ipaja, Ebute Meta, Agege and Yaba, more than 10 kilometres away from Soba, are still recalling how the unsettling sounds of the explosion jarred their ears and the earth seemed to them to be quaking.

Yet, it was no earthquake, even as speculations remain rife about what caused a destruction of such magnitude. Twenty persons had so far been confirmed dead. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) gave the official figure of houses the explosion destroyed as 50 but the residents maintained it was more than 70, with more than 30 cars ruined. The Director-General of the Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA), Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said that 468 people were displaced, with 100 of them now in relief camp.

Like the Eze family, the Catholic Church is still counting its losses in the disaster. Its greatest loss was the life of the principal of the Bethlehem Catholic Girls’ High School, Henrietta Alokha, and a security guard who paid the supreme price in their efforts at saving the lives of about 300 students of the school. The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Martins, confirmed that no student died in the tragedy.

The school, however, lost its hostel buildings, staff quarters, administrative building and refectory to the explosion. Only the convent housing the nuns in charge of the school is still standing in the chaos.

Also dead was the Udoakonobi couple; the wife, Chisom, pregnant when the incident occurred, was described as a first class accounting graduate.

Most of those injured in the explosion were rushed to the Nigeria Navy Hospital Reference Hospital, Ojo. Our correspondent, who visited there on Wednesday reported it was a sight of swathes of bandage on hands, legs, bodies, heads and even the private areas of the victims who were receiving treatment.

It was indeed a pathetic sight to behold. Some of them sat on the bed absent-mindedly and lost in thought, while others shifted in pain every now and then on the bed.

Nurat Jimoh, a middle-aged woman who lives at No. 16, Otunba Ganiyu Adams Road, Abule Ado, is a widow whose four children and one grandchild suffered injuries in the explosion. Jimoh said her house, her only means of livelihood for herself and her kids, fell on her during the explosion. Sitting on her hospital bed in the female ward, she recounted her experience to Daily Trust Saturday, “I was at home in the bathroom having my bath. I perceived a strong odour of fuel and went outside to see what was happening and check up on my four children and granddaughter. When I saw smoke, I ran back inside to wear clothes and take one or two things. Before I could get outside, the house had collapsed on me. Honestly, I really don’t know how I was able to get out of the premises. In my house, we all had injuries because the building was near the site of the explosion. My first daughter, Damilola, who is also injured, is admitted here. Another one is at another hospital, while my granddaughter too is at another hospital.”

“I only remembered vomiting blood”

Another victim, a 38-year-old businessman, Idorenyin Edet Jacob, who lives at No 1 Linus Street, giving his own account said, “I was in the house dressing up for church service when I started perceiving fuel. I went into the sitting room and it was as if they poured fuel in the sitting room. I then went outside and saw there was smoke everywhere. My wife and I finished dressing up and went outside. My wife remembered she forgot her phone and ran inside to take it. As she was coming outside, the explosion took place. The impact was so much that the explosion threw me away and all the clothes on me tore to pieces except for my boxers, singlet and shoes. My building went down completely.”

Jacob dismissed the speculation it was a bomb blast. “I believe that if it’s a bomb, it will explode once. But this one, there was smoke everywhere and it lingered for five minutes before the explosion. The smoke was so much to the extent I could not perceive fresh air again. Instead, I was perceiving only fuel. Before I knew it, the explosion took place.

“While I was running, I was vomiting blood and blood was coming out of my ear after the explosion. That was the only thing I remembered. Since the explosion took place, I have not set my eyes on my wife. I am worried about her though I have spoken with her already. I was told she is at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital,” he said.

At the Navy Hospital was another patient, Ugochukwu, who was the only student left on admission. She is in SSS2 at Bethlehem Catholic Girls’ High School, and the Head Girl. She was asleep when Daily Trust Saturday visited the hospital, but her mother, Mrs Ada Nnaji, spoke with our reporter.

“I was called by a good Samaritan who told me my daughter had been rushed to the hospital. I was at home (at Alaba International) getting ready for church. The woman picked her where she was bleeding and called to inform me that my daughter had been rushed to the Navy Hospital and we should come over immediately. She didn’t even tell me what really happened to her.

“I took a bike and rushed to the hospital. When I got there, I saw her covered with blood. Oblivious of the explosion, on my way to the hospital, I had seen a very thick smoke at Abule-Ado but the bike man said it was a market that was burning. I never had an inkling that it affected the school where my child was,” she said.

Mrs Adanma Uche Ogbonnaya and her son were also victims of the explosion. She had bandages on many parts of her body and her eyes were as red as burning coal. Though her son had been discharged, she was still on admission when our reporter visited the hospital.

Mrs Ogbonnaya said, “It was a terrible experience. I’m feeling better. People say it’s pipeline explosion but I believe it’s a bomb blast. I was inside the room with my son when it occurred. The explosion blasted the wall, raised us up and threw us away. It carried us for a long distance and smashed us on a glass outside. There were bottle injuries all over my body. If someone had said I would survive, I would definitely argue it.

“The explosion blasted my vehicle too. My son and I were shouting in pools of blood but nobody helped us. We ran a long distance with blood all over us but there was nobody ready to help. Everyone was running too until I saw a good Samaritan who helped us and took us with his tricycle to the Navy Hospital. To make matters worse, some people were so wicked to enter my apartment and cart away all my belongings. It’s double tragedy for me. I’m alive but where am I going to start from?”

The Acting Commander of the Hospital, Aliyu Abubakar, said on Wednesday that 56 victims were attended to, with eight out of them still on admission, while six dead bodies were deposited in the hospital’s morgue.

A civil servant with the Federal Ministry of Transport, Madukwe Hyacinth, who claimed to have lost two houses and four vehicles in the incident, said he started perceiving smell of gas at about 8am.

Hyacinth said, “Thinking that the smell of gas was coming from the kitchen, I quickly instructed my gateman to put off the generator. This whole incident is just like a movie scene. I just came back from London this morning and was relaxing in my bedroom when this happened. My wife and my children had gone for morning service and it was just me and my gateman at home. There was no light then. I was thinking the gas leakage was from my house. But shortly after, I heard the sound of the explosion.

“The entire roof of my two buildings went off and the windows were broken. All I can say now is that I am lucky to be alive. What if my children and wife were around? Only God knows what would have happened.”

  Entrance to the Bethlehem Girls College Abule-Ado destroyed by the explosion
Entrance to the Bethlehem Girls College Abule-Ado destroyed by the explosion

The chairman of the Nigeria Automobile Technician Association (NATA), Trade Fair branch, Prince Muritala Olawoye, said hundreds of vehicles were vandalised as a result of the explosion. He said the mechanic village lost three ovens worth over N10m each, while calling on the government to come to their aid.

After witnessing the magnitude of the destruction on Monday, Gov Sanwo-Olu immediately set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the cause of the explosion.

The committee, to be chaired by both the Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat and Commissioner for Special Duties, Mr Omotayo Bamgbose-Martins, was given 14 days to submit its findings.

Sanwo-Olu also announced a N2bn Emergency Relief Fund, with an initial provision of N250m for the Fund to provide instant relief for those affected by the explosion.

Amid all sorts of speculations, the governor promised that the state government would unravel the root cause of the explosion, adding that recommendations from the investigation would be implemented to prevent re-occurrence of the incident.

He also flew the same day to Abuja to brief President Muhammadu Buhari on the incident. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, led a delegation to the site on Wednesday where she assured the victims that the Federal Government would rebuild the houses destroyed in the explosion.

Hajiya Sadiya, representing President Buhari, said the Federal Government would partner with the state government to investigate the actual cause of the explosion.

Describing the explosion site as “devastating”, the president said, “It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation. It is a good thing that our agencies – NEMA, LASEMA, the Federal and State Fire Services and others – joined hands to respond immediately this incident happened.

“Meanwhile we are joining hands with the state government to support the victims of this incident, those that are in the hospital and those that are now displaced because of this explosion.

“We will bring relief materials in terms of food and non-food materials. Then, we can now see how we can support these people to rebuild their lives. We have pledged our commitment and we will support them in whatever way we can.”

Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba social-cultural organization, believed that only a forensic investigation could unravel the cause of the incident.

“The explosion targeting a missionary girl’s school and the impact of it being felt kilometres from the scene with cars parked at far distance having their windscreens shattered make us to reject the different causes the explosion has been ascribed to without any investigation,” the spokesman of the organization.

“We hold our breath until a forensic investigation is done to ascertain the real cause of this explosion that has left so many families bereaved,” Mr Yinka Odumakin said.

Also speaking on the incident, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Babatunde Gbadamosi, said a thorough investigation into the incident would prevent a reoccurrence of such disaster.

The Deputy Governor of Lagos, Obafemi Hamzat, who conducted the minister round the explosion site, said, “We will see how to assist the people in this area and use the opportunity to see how we can maintain the physical development of this community.

“People should have dignity in death. On Monday, there will be a mass for people that have died and after that we can talk about property and money. It is important we account for every human being in this area first.”


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