According to the Guardian newspaper, 15 persons died in the fire explosion that rocked Abule Ado area of Amuwo Odofin Local Council Development Area (LCDA) in the early hours of Sunday, March 15 2020. Eye witnesses at the venue are however convinced that the death toll far exceeds the official account and as at mid-day on Monday, several online medium reported that more bodies had been recovered by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Among the dead is a family of four trapped in a car on their way to church and Rev. Sr Henrietta Alokha, the principal of Bethlehem High School on whose head the roof of one of the hostels caved in after taking time to rescue most of the children trapped in the dormitory as the fire raged. NEMA also announced that 50 houses were burnt in the explosion and more than 100 cars destroyed. Three schools were destroyed and several buildings with the vicinity may be unfit for human habitation due to the effect of the explosion.
There have been lots of questions concerning what happened yesterday in Lagos. Was it a petroleum pipeline explosion? Was it a bomb? Did the fire come from loads of dynamite packed in a truck and headed for delivery to a factory (or construction site) as an official at the site of the mishap told newsmen? Another account presented by the Guardian suggested that the fire incidence started after a tipper offloading sand around the area caught fire which spread to the pipelines. Other reports announced that the explosion was caused by the activities of vandals who broke the pipeline to steal fuel, an account dismissed by Valentine Buraimoh, the chairman of Amuwo Odofin LGA who told newsmen that vandals could not have been operating around the area at the time since there were soldiers guarding the facility.
The above leads to an entirely different set of questions and we shall look at a few: if what happened in Lagos on Sunday was a bomb explosion, who is responsible? Boko Haram? ISIS? Al Qaeda? A local terror group? Now in my opinion, this is very unlikely as no group has come out openly to claim responsibility for the attacks after more than 30 hours. Terrorists are known for taking responsibility for their actions and it is unlikely they would plan and execute an attack as “successful” and deadly as the Abule Ado explosion and not announce their “triumph” to the entire world.
Besides, there have been no reports of the operations of local or foreign terror groups in Lagos. The notorious Boko Haram sect has largely restricted its activities to the north east region of the country. They have not carried out any known attack in any part of southern Nigeria and for those who understand terrorism, the extensive logistics of moving materials and men from Borno to Lagos would discourage them from going further.
The other known international terror groups operating in the Middle East and parts of the Arab world do not yet have a base in any part of southern Nigeria. An Al Qaeda or ISIS operation is always followed by a video message from one of their leaders taking credit and making further threats unless certain demands are complied with. It is very unlikely that they changed their standard code of operations in this instance. Now we rule out the theory of bomb explosions until we know more.
Could a vehicle conveying dynamite to a site have been responsible for the explosion? Well, this is not easy to establish considering that the school of thought that made that theory never offered any proofs. Is there a construction site around the area requiring the use of dynamites? Did any public agency in Lagos approve the movement of dynamite within the area in the last few days as required by law? If such approvals were obtained, which construction company is the beneficiary? Are there investigations in that regard? Now this is not to be ruled out. More investigations would be required.
Was there a technical problem with the pipes that caused the pressure within to rise beyond the normal levels? If this is so, could NNPC not have detected it on time? What did they do? Would anyone be taking responsibility for the senseless loss of lives and property that carelessness has caused- assuming it is established that the pipelines were not in the best shapes?
Again we look at the theory that vandals were responsible for damaging the pipeline and causing the fire. Now pray, was that the first time? Were the pipes leaking before now? What measures were in place to keep vandals away? Well, if there are people charged with protecting the pipelines and they refused to do what was required of them, then they must be prosecuted and if found guilty, made to pay for the immense loss in lives and property.
Another angle is the theory of a tipper offloading sand and catching fire. The question should be: was there a fire extinguisher on the tipper- assuming there is one? Other cars around, were there fire extinguishers in them? Were they applied? What happened? Did they try to reach out to the fire fighters for help in time? Who owns the tipper and how can he explain his part in the events of yesterday?
At any rate, there are lots of issues to look into and none is an easy task. It is however important to ask a few more questions. The buildings affected by the explosion, were they erected on the pipeline right of way? If so, what did the authorities do when they noticed it? Were the occupants warned of the dangers of living on a building along a pipeline right of way? Perhaps we can also ask: who allocated the lands? Who approved the buildings? When will an inquiry into how people built on pipeline right of way commence to identify those who actions and inactions led to an escalation of yesterday’s tragic events?
Then lastly, the emergency response in Nigeria. How long did it take fire service officials to get to the scene of the fire? Could they have gotten there faster? Did they do all that was required of them? Isn’t it shameful that a few months after the Onitsha fire incidence where officials of the fire service watched helpless as lives and property were destroyed; another fire outbreak in Lagos led to the death of more than a dozen people? No lessons learnt, no precautions taken.
And lastly, emergency medical services. How many ambulances did NEMA bring to Abule Ado on Sunday? Were they in the best possible shapes? Were the emergency nurses and paramedics well trained for situations like what we had yesterday? Did they do their best to minimize the casualty figures? These and many more are issues a competent commission of inquiry should look into.
We must all be concerned at how cheap life in Nigeria is becoming. Boko Haram terrorists, kidnappers, armed robbers and all manner of sundry criminals are killing Nigerians everyday and the government appears either clueless or unwilling to help in securing the lives of Nigerians. It is very sad that in addition to these daily murders and deaths through road accidents, fire is beginning to count amongst the highest channels of death in Nigeria.
It is about time we woke up. Government and individuals hence must take nothing for granted. Whatever could possibly cost the life of any Nigerian however convenient must be avoided. Nigerians deserve to live a full life and die at the end of their cycle- not before. There is no country that devalues its citizens that ever makes progress on any score. If in doubt, look at the state of Nigeria.
To the dead, we pray for the peaceful repose of their souls, fortitude for their families and to those still battling to survive, it is also our prayer that they find help and healing in time.