…as traders, govt, police trade blames over incident
It was an unpleasant end of the year experience for victims of the Sunday, November 28 tanker explosion at the popular Lafenwa market in Abeokuta North Local Government Area of Ogun State. The fire incident dashed the hope of many of the victims who had hoped to make a fortune from the usually frenzy Yuletide shopping by stocking their shops with goods. No fewer than 200 stalls and shops with goods worth millions of naira were destroyed by the raging inferno.
Even when it seemed that many of them had lost everything, their losses are nothing compared to that of Aremu Musibau, who lost both his wife, Sidikat, and granddaughter to the blaze. Unlike others who made it out of the market alive, 51 year-old Sidikat and her granddaughter were unfortunate as they were burnt to cinders by the fire. Sidikat, popularly known as ‘Iya Arike’, before her death, was a petty trader who sold seasonings and other soup ingredients at the market. According to eyewitnesses, Sidikat might have survived had she not tried to save her 10-year-old grandchild who fell inside the gutter when people were scampering for safety.
It was learnt that she was rendered immobile by the thick black smoke coming from the fire. “Everybody was running in all directions for safety when her (Sikidat’s) grandchild fell inside a gutter close to the petrol tanker. “Iya Arike, however, could not save herself and her grandchild because of how heavy the fire was. “We were together when we got to know that some shops in Lafenwa have been gutted by fire.
“Immediately, we all ran for our dear lives, but Iya Arike while trying to save her grandchild who fell inside the gutter met with this unfortunate incident,” one of the eyewitnesses, Shalewa Ogunsola, narrated. Another eyewitness, who simply identified herself as ‘Iya Gbenga’, said she advised the deceased to take another route, but she declined. She said: “Immediately we saw that some parts of Lafenwa had been gutted by fire, I told Iya Arike to let us go through the market which is a few metres away from the road, but she insisted she wanted to pass the main road.
“While I passed through the market to run for my dear life, I later discovered that Iya Arike and her grandchild were burnt to death. It was really unfortunate.” When New Telegraph visited the deceased’s residence in Sabo area of the Abeokuta, the state capital,Musibau’s eyes were bloodshot, an indication that the grieving man had just finished crying for the loss of his wife. Scores of sympathisers thronged Musibua’s residence wearing sad faces and condoling the man who had just lost two precious jewels – his wife and granddaughter.
Looking dejected and empty, Musibau could hardly complete a sentence without sighing heavily. He often felt lost and absent minded during the short conversation. Sometimes, he just replied to a question with a nod. Getting Musibau to talk to our correspondent was like squeezing water out of a rock.
The fifty something year-old welder said the loss of his wife, who he admitted was the breadwinner of the family, hit him hard and is yet to come to terms with her departure. “Her death is very painful to me. It is a huge loss to the family because she has been the one taking care of the family. “From the little she earned from her business, she took good care of the children and the grandchildren and even paid their school fees when the need arose. “She was running her business with thrift from cooperatives yet she carried on with joy. She never allowed her situation to affect her.
“On that fateful day, I left her in the house praying. I had informed her about the tanker incident and she insisted on going to the market that morning. “I told her not to worry, that there was no cause for alarm, but she insisted that she had to go because her daughter was in the market to get some things. “So, she told me she was going to the mar-ket to make sure that her daughter was safe. I left her at home praying. I never knew that was the last time I would see her,” Musibau said, fighting back another round of tears. He described her wife as an easy going person who was unfortunate to have met with such an accident.
Musibau also appealed to the state government to come to the aid of the family. However, traders in the market and the police have been trading blames over who was responsible for the fire incident. While some traders, and even the state government, have blamed the incident on the negligence and unprofessional behaviour of the men of the Lafenwa Police Divisional Headquarters; the police, however, claimed that the tanker was set ablaze by hoodlums who were scooping petrol from the tanker.
The police also claimed that the hoodlums had taken advantage of the incident to loot some shops in the market. The tanker, fully loaded with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol, in early hours of the morning, overturned when its axle broke while making its way inbound Rounder from Oju-Irin, Lafenwa, spilling its contents. The tanker exploded when officials of the state Fire Service, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE) and other security agencies were trying to trans load the content of the tanker into another one. New Telegraph learnt that, the police shot two of the hoodlums in the cause of controlling the situation while some others were arrested.
Five men of the fire service in the state were beaten by the hoodlums while attempting to put out the fire ostensibly for not arriving on time to save the lives and property that were consumed by the inferno. The angry mob also destroyed the vehicles of the fire service men and the patrol vans of TRACE while some security operatives who were on rescue operation were also pelted with stones.
One of the fire service men, who was injured by the hoodlums while narrating his near death experience to New Telegraph, blamed the police for mismanaging the incident, saying he and some of his colleagues were beaten right in front of the police station in the full glare of police officers. According to the fire official, who spoke on condition of anonymity: “When we were being attacked by the hoodlums, I and others ran to the police in front of the station for safety, but the police just stood there and did nothing to help us. “I don’t even want to talk about this issue again.
I almost lost my life on that day, the most unfortunate thing is that the whole thing happened exactly at a police station with the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) just sitting there and watching. “It was an ambush with a death sentence. We were seriously injured and taken to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Idi-Aba for treatment.
“The scene at Lafenwa confirmed that we have no Nigeria and it is quite unfortunate. Those behind the accident did not want the fire extinguished. We were attacked, no glass on our fire truck was spared as the hoodlums’ hurled stones, sticks and other missiles at us.” He lamented that lack of enough fire trucks and other fire fighting equipment contributed to the incident.
“How do you explain a whole state having just a single fire truck from the Federal Government? “How do we perform our assignment effectively at the scene of fire incidents without adequate hydrants? “It will be a great disaster if we experience another fire outbreak in Abeokuta which is very possible now because we are actually entering the harmattan period when fire outbreaks are very rampant.
“There are many things happening behind the scenes, but people will only tag the fire service as inefficient and always arriving late to the scene of fire incidents. Do you know that our fire truck was coming back from Ogere when the tanker fell? “We could have been on standby immediately when the tanker fell, but how do we do that when we have just one fire truck?” he lamented. Meanwhile, Governor Dapo Abiodun has ordered the immediate removal of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Lafenwa Division, CSP Samuel Aladegoroye for mismanaging the crisis at the scene of the explosion. Abiodun, who accused the DPO of aiding and abetting crimes and criminality in and around the area, especially inside the market and its environs, also ordered the arrest of all miscreants involved in setting the petrol-laden tanker on fire.
The governor said, there were a lot of reports against the DPO, allegeding that the senior police officer was neither effective nor efficient in carrying out his statutory duties of maintaining law and order in the area. “There are complaints against the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) here, I want the DPO investigated. I also want him removed from this place, because this is not the first time that complaints have been lodged against him. “We have gotten several complaints against him about how he mismanages this place, particularly as it pertains to miscreants that come and disturb the traders.
He arrests them, within five to ten minutes, he releases them and that is why this place has continued to be restive. The thuggery in this place has not been contained. “I want the Commissioner of Police to declare an emergency here in Lafenwa; I want every miscreant arrested because this kind of situation is totally unacceptable – where a tanker overturns, fuel that is highly inflammable is flowing through the drainage and someone wilfully ignites it so that they could cause chaos and begin to loot the market. This is very bad; it is just not acceptable; it is criminal,” the governor said.
He regretted that people would be so heartless to set fire on the tanker when efforts by security and fire personnel were on ground to salvage the situation. Abiodun said the aim of the perpetuators was not only to loot, but to destroy things in the market.
The governor described the loss of lives as unfortunate, noting that both Federal and State Fire trucks were also damaged by the hoodlums who also prevented fire trucks and men of TRACE from sealing off the area and protecting the tanker from going up in flames.
Abiodun, while commiserating with the traders who lost valuables in the fire incident, directed the Commissioner for Special Duties, Femi Ogunbanwo to take an inventory of all goods lost, promising to provide palliative for victims. The governor has also set up a nineman committee to investigate the cause of the tanker explosion.
The committee, according to Abiodun, is charged with the responsibility of coming up with ways to prevent future occurrence of such disasters. The committee is expected to submit its report within two weeks. The terms of reference of the committee included: determination of the remote cause of the fire outbreak; recommendation of immediate steps/actions for intervention of the government to forestall future occurrence; recommendation of medium and long term intervention of the government and recommendation of compensation for the victims of the fire incident to the government.