The family of Abigail James, 41, did not know that tragedy lurked around for their dearly loved mother of two when five days earlier, she was welcomed back to her paternal Oshigbudu home in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State.
Sadly, Abigail’s kinsmen were not yet done consoling her over the loss of her beloved husband when cruel fate dealt another blow on their family.
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The 41-year-old woman was among 11 others who lost their lives in the unfortunate tanker accident which occurred on Sunday, April 18, 2021, but no life was lost to the second incident which happened on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, barely two days after the first tragedy.
Her cousin, Noah Umaru Enokela, explained amid grief that the deceased lost her husband only recently which informed her relocation from Ekor – marital home back to her own parents’ house to enable her to start a new life all over with her children.
“On that fateful Sunday, she (Abigail) had just returned from church, then went out with the intent to buy tomatoes across the road to enable her to cook food. She stood by the side of the road waiting to cross to the other side of the junction where traders sold food items.
“It was in her process of waiting that the ill-fated tanker’s driver lost control of the vehicle and fell down exactly where she stood. She had made an effort to run away but fell into the gutter as well as trapped by the vehicle which, at that point, spilled its content, then went up in flames.
“That was how we lost Abigail. She had lost her husband not long ago. She had three children but lost one, remaining two between the age brackets of five and three. She packed from her husband’s place, Ekor village, in this same Agatu, back to her Oshigbudu home town just five days ago and now she is dead.
“As we speak, her (Abigail’s) mother had an accident and is lying critically ill. She has been the one nursing/catering for the mother until this incident. We have not been able to break the news to the old woman who since the incident has been asking about the whereabouts of Abigail.
“We buried Abigail on Tuesday, two days after the incident. But the pain has become unbearable for us. It’s so sad for our family,” Enokela narrated.
Similarly, a widow, Obiye Sunday, 25, who is a mother of five children, though was fortunate to escape from the terrible tongues of fire on that fateful day, lost nearly everything she laboured for to the inferno.
Obiye told our correspondent that she was at home when suddenly the bangs, screams and loud noises jerked her up from a sitting position to scamper for safety.
She said, “I ran away. I took to my heels before I could ascertain whatever went wrong and that was my saving grace. My house was consumed but we (including children) are safe.
“The boutique and medicine store which we rely on for income are all consumed. That’s where I earn my living from, but I thank God nothing happened to our life. We are all safe. I am now packing to my sister’s house. I have five children – two are in school. I have earlier lost my husband so I’m a widow.”
Like Obiye, there were many other residents gnashing their teeth after the tanker fire incident wreaked havoc on the rural town but while the dust of the Sunday explosion was yet to settle, another tanker again said to be conveying kerosene on Tuesday emptied its content on nearly the same spot in less than 48 hours of the first tragedy in Oshigbudu just as it yet bursted in flames.
A respondent, Yahaya Ochekwu, said his four-bedroom flat was razed in the second inferno which happened while he was sleeping and helpless.
“I’ve lost over 100 bags of rice, sorghum and yams, he said, adding that the twin tragic incident has cut off electricity from Oshigbudu rural vicinity and Obagaji, the Agatu LGA headquarters, and has further caused the villagers to wallow in darkness and serious hardship.
For Alechenu Mohammed, who lost his motorcycle to the first incident, life would certainly take a new meaning for him except for divine intervention as he believes nothing around him will ever be the same again.
Mohammed, a commercial motorcyclist survives economically with his bike which he bought with the money he had saved over the years to enable him to generate more income to thrive against hardship in his Oshigbudu rural environment.
Apart from those like Mohammed who lost their livelihood to the incident, others lost their entire shelter; what they have known as their home from time immemorial in a twinkling of minutes as it were razed into shreds before their helpless selves who scampered for safety when the fire raged like hell.
Sunday Oteyi, the Secretary of Agatu LGA, whose niece’s house was completely brought down to rubble by the fire, however praised God that the lives of the occupants were saved.
“What saved most of us was because the churches were still in session except for the few ones like Catholic Church which closed earlier around 12:00pm. If it were not church time, I’m sure the sorrow which would have befallen Agatu could have been unimaginable.”
According to Oteyi, the area where the second incident occurred was not quite populated like the first so that could be attributed to the minimal damage the residents recorded.
“We don’t understand why the tanker, having travelled through many villages all the way from Otukpo would choose to come and fall in Agatu and in Oshigbudu just within two days intervals. We are thinking this is not ordinary. This is not ordinary!” Oteyi added.
A commercial motorcyclist, Olobo Ali, 32, who has been doing his business for five years in the area, said he witnessed how the diesel-loaded tanker was approaching with speed when suddenly the vehicle failed break and stumbled right in front of their park where he and other colleagues parked their bikes while they waited for passengers.
Meanwhile, at the General Hospital, Obagaji, a staff member who declined name on print informed that only one patient who was said to be the conductor of the first tanker was brought in and given an emergency treatment before he was referred to a tertiary hospital in Makurdi due to the degree of burns.
“We, however, received information that he (conductor) did not make it to Makurdi because he died on the way,” the hospital worker said.
Undoubtedly, the tragic incident which the people of Oshigbudu testified was the first of its kind to happen in their surroundings has left them with so much pain that they would continue to recount for a long time.
Vice Chairman of Agatu LGA, John Ikwulono, had earlier told our correspondent that no life was lost in the second incident, “but several houses were burnt. Though we are not yet certain about the numbers of buildings affected, they are not as many as those of the incident on Sunday.”
However, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in Benue State confirmed only two buildings burnt in the second tanker explosion in Agatu’s Oshigbudu.
On the part of the Chairman of Agatu LGA, Sule Adoyi, the first incident involved a fully loaded diesel tanker said to be heading for Abuja on Sunday, failed brake and crashed into some shops at Oshigbudu – Obagaji junction in Agatu.
He told our correspondent by telephone that eight of the deaths recorded were buried on Tuesday morning.
It would be recalled that the FRSC Sector Commander in Benue, Mohammed, had earlier confirmed 12 people dead from the first crashed tanker. Mohammed said the 12 deaths included eight adult males, three adult females and one male child.
To this end, the council chairman added that so far 72 houses were burnt down completely, and 20 motorcycles razed by the tanker fire to ashes.
Meanwhile, the FRSC has warned petroleum tanker owners to ensure the use of safety valves on their vehicles to avoid spillage in the event of an accident, emphasising that those found wanting of the instruction would be dealt with according to laid down rules.