He wandered up and down, rummaging through the rubble, dipping his fingers in block fragments in a desperate attempt to salvage some of his valuables. But the more he tried, the more fruitless his efforts were.
Sadly, the property that 71-year-old Sunday Adesanya, and his wife, Esther,
The father of eight later left the rubble after several minutes of futile search, stood some metres away and gazed in amazement at what had become of the eight-room building, shops and grinding machines the family lived on. “All my fortune is gone,” Adesanya, a subsistence farmer, croaked amid teary eyes, taking a temporary break before he went on to share his grief with our correspondent.
“I was on my farm at Ajegunle, Ilaro in Ogun State when I received a call from one of my sons that our house was on fire. I left the farm immediately, but by the time I got home, everything was gone. We could not pick any valuable from the rubble. My wife, children and our tenants scaled the fence with the aid of a ladder to escape. I thank God none of them died.
“Some of them, including my wife, fell from the ladder during the ensuing confusion and they sustained minor injuries. My wife has been treated value and she is now at our son-in-law’s house. My wife had two shops in front of our house. She used one to sell food items and the other for grinding. She had three grinding machines. Everything was burnt.”
At a point, the septuagenarian could no longer control his emotion. He broke into tears when our correspondent asked him where he would pass the night.
“It is unfortunate that I would have to go sleep in my son-in-law’s house together with my wife. I have already sent two of my children to our village. The adults would sort themselves out. I don’t have any other clothes except the one I have on, likewise my wife and children. The house and shops we survived on have perished. We need help no matter how small it is,” the displaced landlord lamented as tears ran down his grey beard.
His wife, Esther, told Saturday PUNCH that in addition to goods worth N100,000 in her shop, she had bags of garri and rice worth N150,000 on Tuesday evening – some hours before the tragedy struck – so she could have enough to sell as Yuletide was fast approaching.
But when the fire broke out around 2am on Wednesday, the stock went down the drain, leaving the 63-year-old with a devastating loss.
“I ran out of the room with a piece of cloth wrapped around me. It was a neighbour who gave me one of her clothes to wear after I escaped the fire. There is nothing for the family to fall back on. All our properties were burnt. That we are alive is the only grace we enjoy now,” the elderly woman added, sorrowfully.
Untold story behind the explosion
In the early hours of Wednesday, news filtered in that oil pipeline vandalism at Tipper Garage, Awori, Abule-Egba had resulted in an explosion. The perpetrators had reportedly attacked the pipeline installation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in the neighbourhood, streaming fuel into two tankers they had allegedly brought to the area.
They were however overwhelmed by the pressure of the petroleum product which made the fuel to spill into the drainage there. It travelled down to Abattoir, a neighboring community, where it attracted fire from a burning cow skin.
The fire traced its way to the pipeline, ravaging vehicles, shops and houses it met on the way. By the time the fire was put out by firefighters around 6am, about eight streets were affected while properties worth millions of naira had been destroyed. No life was lost.
A car slot inwards Abule-Egba was the worst hit with all the 15 cars of different brands in the slot trapped in the inferno. The dealer reportedly slumped on sighting the damage and was subsequently admitted to an undisclosed hospital.
Our correspondent, who visited the vandalised spot, saw a burnt container around the pipeline. It was learnt that the container was mounted sometime last year with “For Sale” and a phone number written on it, indicating that it was there to be sold. A hole dug by the vandals to access the pipeline was reportedly found under the container.
A resident, James Ochapapa, told Saturday PUNCH that the unidentified owner of the container scared every potential buyer away with outrageous prices.
Ochapapa said the incident was a sad reminder of the December 26, 2006 explosion in the community, which claimed several lives and properties.
He recalled, “I scaled the fence with my wife and three children to escape. Luckily, our apartment was not affected. The container had been there since last year. The owner of the number written on it usually requested between N250,000 and N300,000 which scared people away. It was when the explosion happened that we realised the price might have been a gimmick. Nobody suspected something illegal was going on there.
“Initially, I learnt that the container was meant for a barber’s shop. This problem started last year when the Tipper Garage was relocated to this place from Oja Oba. Some containers started springing up and all sorts of things were being sold there. We tried to send them away but we were not successful. We reported to the police at the Oko Oba division but nothing was done. I suspect those vandals had the backing of some strong people.
“To me, the police were aware of the illegal activities going on there. They always patrolled this place around 10pm and asked people to go inside. I also learnt that some residents knew about the vandalism, but they were afraid to speak up. From 10pm till dawn, we noticed movement of vehicles around the garage. I will relocate my family very soon.”
Business owners, artisans lament losses
In the wake of the ill-fated explosion that raged for hours, many business enterprises and workshops had been brought to their knees, with victims thrown into tremendous losses.
A single mother, Mrs Esther Durosinmi, had lost her voice to excessive wailing after her store was engulfed by the fire. Apart from 55 kegs of palm oil and vegetable
oil worth hundreds of thousands she lost to the inferno, a cash sum of N100,000 loan she had collected a day before the disaster to augment her capital was also burnt.
But that was not all. The 52-year-old woman, who was one of Adesanya’s tenants, had nowhere to sleep. Her apartment was among the eight rooms that were razed to the ground.
“I had 30 jerry cans of vegetable oil in the store and each contained 25 litres. I also had 25 jerry cans of palm oil. That was my only source of living. I am relocating to our family house in Idi Iroko (Ogun State). Three of my sisters’ children live with me and I have four children. I am the one taking care of all of them. The most painful thing I lost is the N100,000 loan from a microfinance bank I collected on Tuesday. My phone was also burnt,” she added.
Like Durosinmi, Ismail Tiamiyu, a tailor on Adepegba Street, was contemplating relocation to his hometown in Oyo State. The 32-year-old father of two was in a deep sleep when he was jolted awake by a distress call around 3.30am that his shop was up in flames.
In the dead of night, he rushed down from his residence in Ipaja – a distant community – thinking he could rescue his machines and customers’ clothes trapped in the raging fire.
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It appeared that distraught Tiamiyu was at crossroads following the overwhelming loss the disaster had heaped on him and his five other partners.
Tiamiyu said, “We were six in the shop. We had 12 sewing machines and two of them were industrial. Each of the ‘ordinary’ machine cost N45,000. All the customers’ clothes were burnt. Most of them wanted to use the clothes for Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations. With this monumental loss, won’t I go back to the village?
“We planned to start working overnight on that day because we had a lot of jobs. We shifted it because we wanted to service the generators. The two generators were also burnt. The fire would have consumed us if we had worked overnight because we normally closed the shop. We have been working here for nine years.”
Mrs Itunu Asonye was lost in brooding silence as she sat in front of the remnant of her boutique on Adepegba Street. Aside from the thought of how she would get back on her feet, she had no inkling of the means to repay the N1.5m loan she collected from a microfinance bank to start the venture nine months ago. “I am confused; I don’t know the way forward,” the pregnant woman broke the silence with a deep sigh.
She continued, “I started the business in March this year. I sold ladies’ wear, jewellery, shoes and bags. My goods were worth over N2m. Just last week, I stocked the shop with new dresses in anticipation of Yuletide sales. I started the business with N2m. I obtained N1.5m loan from a microfinance bank and my mother lent me N500,000.”
A mechanic on Owode Street, Ismaila Raufu, was moving aimlessly around the wreckage of three burnt vehicles in his workshop when our correspondent approached him.
He shook his head repeatedly in utter dejection as he bore his mind on the pains the wild fire had inflicted on him.
Raufu said, “Out of the four vehicles (Mitbushi, Ford, Honda and Toyota Hiace) in my workshop, three were burnt. One of the owners had come. He saw the wreckage and left. I don’t know my fate now; it is only God that can see me through the loss this incident has brought to me.”
At two mechanic shops on Santos Street, 16 vehicles of different brands were burnt down while several cars parked on the street had also turned to carcasses.
Mrs Bose Boboye, a 63-year-old grandmother, whose son’s car parked by the roadside was razed, said the incident spelt doom for the family.
“The car was what my son used to take care of me and his family and pay our rent. I am a widow and he is the breadwinner of the family,” she added.
We had a revelation about the fire – Pastor
A pastor of Celestial Church of Christ, Oke Abiye Parish, Abule-Egba, Mr Rufus Ojugbele, said a prophetess in the church had a premonition of a fire disaster and enjoined members to pray against it.
Although the church gate and its Sunday school used by children were affected by the fire, Ojugbele said the destruction would have been more serious without the prayer.
He said, “The prophetess said on Sunday that she had a vision that smoke filled the church and members could not see one another. She told us to pray with candles. On Tuesday evening, my colleague reminded me of the prayer and I told him to go ahead with it.
“A boy wanted to urinate at that time when he saw fire at the Sunday school. There was power supply then. We came out and saw that the fire was coming towards the church auditorium. We quickly disconnected the wire. We wanted to escape through the gate, but it was already on fire. We had to scale the fence. We thank God that nobody was injured. The Sunday school had burnt down before firefighters came, but they eventually put out the fire.”
The pastor urged the government to establish a security post within the pipeline zone to find a lasting a solution to the incident.
“When a similar incident happened in 2006, soldiers were deployed in the spot, but after two years they left. There should be a security post in that area,” he said.
Victims’ loss, scrap collectors’ gain
While victims were grieving and busy estimating their losses, scrap collectors stormed the disaster scene to pick burnt auto parts, metals and remnants of households.
However after the scrap collectors picked freely from the rubble for some time, a mild drama ensued as victims started demanding money for the remnants.
On Santos Street, Saturday PUNCH saw a man and a scrap collector negotiating back and forth over the price of burnt sewing machines, roofing sheets and an aluminum door.
It was later discovered that the man was a middleman between a tailor identified simply as Tosin and the scrap collector. The middleman eventually insisted on selling the metals for N5,000, to which the collector agreed.
Another scrap collector was seen dismantling a carcass on Segun Akinola Street under a close watch of a man, who appeared to be the owner. The duo, however, declined comments when our correspondent approached them.
An air conditioner repairer, Johnson Isaac, whose shop got burnt, also offered the wreckage for sale, asking a scrap collector, Mohammed Samaila, to pay N9,000.
“I am not happy to sell the debris, but there is nothing I can do. If I did not sell it, they (the scrap collectors) would come at night to take them,” Isaac quickly told this reporter before he resumed the negotiation.
He later sold the debris to Samaila for N8,000.
Asked how much gain he would make from the deal, Samaila said he would not accept anything less than N11,000 at a collection point in the Abattoir area.
Hoodlums wanted to steal victims’ property at night – Firefighter
The Commander of Operation, Lagos State Fire Service, Mr Olokungboye Pascal, who led a team of emergency responders to the scene, has shared his personal experience with Saturday PUNCH.
Pascal, who described the fire as massive, said fire trucks from five fire stations battled for four hours to put out the flames.
He said, “We received the distress call at about 1.58am and rushed to the scene immediately. We left from Agege Fire Station and got to the scene timely. On arrival, the fire had engulfed all the area. It was a wild fire. In fact, before we arrived there, we had seen the magnitude from afar.
“We immediately requested assistance from other fire stations. Fire trucks from four other fire stations were deployed. I also requested assistance from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency and University of Lagos and they brought their fire trucks to complement our efforts.”
While condemning hoodlums who wanted to cash in on the tragedy to steal, Pascal said he shared the pain of those who lost their properties in the fire.
He recalled, “As at the time of the operation, I felt I was doing my normal job. It was when I got home that I felt the pains of the loss and the fumes I inhaled. At that hour of the night, our concern was to ensure that no life was lost. If not for the grace of God, a lot of lives would have been lost. Nobody suffered burns.
“After the operation, we started receiving calls from people close to us whose shops and houses were burnt. Emotionally, I was seriously touched. It was unfortunate that some hoodlums wanted to use that opportunity to steal people’s properties and disturb our operation. But with the intervention of security agents, they could not have a field day.”
He said 55 vehicles, five tricycles, six residential buildings 60 shops and 33 containerised outlets were burnt.
The Police Public