One year after a devastation which rocked Abule-Ado community, Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area, Lagos State, Bethlehem Girls’ College, which was near the centre of the explosion, is still a desolate place after lives were snuffed out of students and principal of the school, Reverend Sister Henrietta Alokha, while rescuing her students.
CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports that while majority of the affected buildings currently wear new looks, the schools and other buildings lie in waste due to lack of government’s compensation despite instituting a N2billion ‘Abule- Ado Emergency Relief Fund’ for the victims with initial take off of N250 million
…as Lagosians demand compensations for victims
…gets four hectres of land to rebuild
• Recreational facility, others beside the school in shadows
• Landlord’s Association institutes legal action against NNPC, marks anniversary’
• I sold land to renovate my building –Landlord
One year after the explosion which rocked Abule-Ado area of Lagos State, killing some students and principal of Bethlehem Girls’ College, the community is yet to recover from the devastation even as the school still lies in ruins and nothing to show that such a magnificent school once existed there.
Indeed, there were no remains of such a school as the site where the school was situated prior to the explosion has become a mere open field; bringing the once proud educational facility to an end.
Again, despite the fact that there are currently new structures around the site, which makes it even more difficult to locate the actual location of the school before the disaster, the school and few other affected buildings are still in their desolate states.
Thus, 12 months after, while many unaffected persons go about their normal businesses, putting the unfortunate incident behind them, a number of others, who were directly affected by the explosion still recount their ordeals, wishing that Sunday, March 15, 2020, never came.
Sequel to the plight of the victims, Lagosians are calling on both the state and Federal governments to compensate the victims of the explosion adequately, including the students, their principal and Chairman, Association of Landlords, who died with his family in his vehicle.
Sunday Telegraph observed that while many other buildings, which were earlier affected by the explosion, have been renovated, there are a number of others yet to be renovated or brought down for reconstruction, though depending on the level of damage.
It was learnt that in place of government’s compensation, many landlords borrowed money to renovate their houses, except for few, who were unable to do so till date, perhaps, waiting for the government’s intervention.
Among the structures yet to be reconstructed, are a recreational centre behind Bethlehem Girls’ College – Pool Restaurant – with an abandoned swimming pool and a shattered roof.
The restaurant was sited close to a Lake. Perhaps, that’s was where the facility got its name, Pool Restaurant. Others are a two-storey building which is situated at number 8, Linus Street B, Soba Town, and a church, Our Father, The Most High God Ministries, situated at Number 1 Fashola Street, off the road leading to school, among others.
“Many of our landlords borrowed money to do renovations that you see today. Some of us were sick, hospitalised, and only few were able to pay their hospital bills,” said Vice Chairman of Soba Landlords and Residents Association (SLARA), Mr. Philips Akinduro.
He appealed to the Lagos State Government (LASG) to help improve the lives of the members of the community by fulfilling its promises to the victims, urging the LASG to release funds that had been contributed for the purpose of ameliorating the sufferings of the victims.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that the state had set up a N2 billion Trust Fund for the victims with an initial contribution of N250 million and another N200million from the Governors’ Forum for the victim of the disaster but how and whether the funds were distributed to the victims accordingly, is yet another matter entirely.
“I sold one of my landed properties to enable me renovate my house that was shattered. There were heavy cracks on the walls of my house and the roof was blown off,” said Mr. Chikezie Eze, the landlord of a duplex on Fashola Street, which was rocked by the explosion.
“I didn’t have to wait for the government’s compensation because I knew it wasn’t going to come and if it does, people like us will not collect for the reason of our origin. So, I decided to sell one of my plots of land to renovate my house.
“If you were to come in, you won’t know there was anything wrong with the building a few months ago. I thank God it didn’t affect the foundation because it would have required bringing it down to start afresh.
“Today, I’m done with the renovation but if the compensation comes, then, it will be an added advantage; if it doesn’t, then good and fine. I didn’t lose anybody; it was just my property that was affected,” said the businessman, who is based at the Trade Fair Complex.
Speaking on compensation, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba, Gani Adams, whose family house was a stone’s throw to the school, called on the federal and state governments to compensate the victims of the explosion in their community.
At the memorial prayer in honour of those who lost their lives during the explosion, Adams reminded the government of the promises it made to the victims, advising it not to relent in fulfilling those promises to the victims and their families.
Organised by the SLARA, the event took place at the site of Bethlehem Girls College, where the blood of innocent students and their principal, Rev. Sis. Henriatta Alokha, who was on a rescue mission to save the perishing students, was spilt. Adams, who was also the Chairman of the Association, said the event was to ensure that memories of the incident; the lives lost, the losses incurred and the damage to the community did not go into oblivion.
He said it was unfortunate that the association had to resort to publicly reminding the government of their promises, saying 30 people, including the Association’s Vice Chairman, his wife and two children, died instantly from the explosion, and over 300 houses were destroyed during the explosion.
“The Governor (Babajide Sanwo–Olu) was here. Even the speaker of the House was here; some South-West Governors were here and they made promises to those affected by the disaster that a certain amount would be paid as compensation. “We are using this opportunity to appeal to the LASG, as a state with honour and the economic nerve centre of our nation that they fulfill all promises made to the victims.
“The Federal Government should also do something tangible for the victims,” he added, hinting that the Association had taken legal action against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the disaster. Corroborating him, the Secretary of SLARA, Mr. Francis Duru, also expressed displeasure with the LASG and the NNPC for not paying compensations to the victims of the pipeline explosion.
The Secretary explained that the landlords and business owners, who had rebuilt or renovated their buildings, were able to do so through loans. He said: “After waiting for the promises from LASG and other agencies and nothing was forthcoming, we had to approach banks and other institutions for help. “Some of us used our goods as collateral and we are still servicing these loans and if we don’t pay, the banks will seize our goods.
The banks even come from time to time, threatening to seize the buildings.” He, however, commended the LASG for giving N2.5 million compensation to relatives of those who lost their lives in the explosion but urged the governments to hasten the process for compensation for those affected during the explosion.
“The state opened three accounts after the incident and Governor Sanwo-Olu said the money realised from the accounts would be for compensation, rebuilding and for the lives that were lost. Let them release those funds so that people here can have some relief from debts,” he added.
“It’s unfortunate that the government will make promises to the masses in the time of trouble and after the trouble seems to have eased off, the government will back out of its promise,” said Kazeem Ogundipe, a Sharwarma maker.
He noted that the government officials were all there and made quick promises but fulfilling them is now a problem, saying that N250 million emergency funds which was set up by the government was never put in use. He stressed that every development going on at the explosion sites and its environs was all private effort of the landlords and traders, who have their shops and plaza around the axis.
“It will not be unfair, I mean, if we say that our leaders are not sensitive to the plights and suffering of Nigerians. Without compensation, the landlords will renovate their houses and pass the burden on the tenants by giving out their houses for high rent,” he said.
Sunday Telegraph, in a bid to discover how many of his subjects that have been or yet to be compensated by the government, visited the Palace of the Oba Ala-Ado of Ado Kingdom, Abule-Ado, His Royal Majesty, Oba Lateef Olayinka Oranfe Ado.
According to the Oba Ala-Ado, who spoke through his Palace Secretary in his Palace, Abule-Ado, Prince Eniola Adesina Ado, he hasn’t seen anyone one who hasn’t been compensated, though he said many landlords would not be compensated because they built their houses on the pipeline’s setback. He said: “I have not heard of anybody that hasn’t been compensated.
I know a number of people that have been compensated. But then, you know that in every government’s infrastructure, there is always a setback and the argument then was, whether or not they built on the setback.
“This was the argument when the incident occurred but I do not know if the discussion is still going on today. I can’t say if the government is still looking into that. Some of them were built close to the pipeline and I don’t think the government will pay any compensation on those places.”
He noted that apart from the compensation, certain nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) were on the ground then to cushion the effects of the explosion on the victims by donating relief materials, including the NEMA.
Speaking further, Oba Ala-Ado said due to the explosion, the government is trying to open up another exit road to link its neighbouring community, Ijedodo, to ease off traffic, though he agreed to the fact that there were plans to do so even before the explosion, saying that the incident showed how urgent it’s needed.
He said: “The way I am looking at it, the Bethlehem Girls’ College may never be there again due to the road marking. The land on which the school was built is within the road marking.
The state government came and marked out what they want to do and the school land will be chopped off.” On the security of life and property in the community, the Royal Father said: “NNPC task force has been on the ground monitoring the pipeline for any leakage and to arrest any situation at once.”
He added that the residents were really not afraid because they got a lot of orientation from the taskforce that they would be on the ground to ensure that no incident of such repeated itself.
But in spite of the assurances, some of the residents who are not directly affected by the explosion said the impact of the explosion has not left the masses as people are still scared of uncertainty, especially when there is a loud sound in the community. Mrs. Bassey Uduak, a mother of two and a teacher with Cradle Saints Nursery and Primary Schools, at No 4 Chukwujekwu Street, Abule-Ado, said since that heavy sound from the explosion came; people are scared each time there was a big sound within the community.
She said: “Each time there is a heavy sound within this environment, residents run out of their houses in fear. I could remember a day that a tire of one of those trucks that used to bring in goods for the traders blew, and almost everybody who heard the sound jumped out in fear of the unknown.
“I was among the people who ran out of reflex and later remembered that my children were in the room sleeping. It wasn’t a good experience at all. As I speak to you, many people don’t feel comfortable any longer.”
Sunday Telegraph also gathered that renters are currently scared of renting houses around Soba, Abule-Ado, the area where the explosion took place and majority of them do not want to live in those renovated apartments.
A house agent on Festac Road, Abule-Ado, towards Oba’s palace, Ms Nneyen Obasi, said: “When renters come, they will tell you that they do not want anywhere around Soba, where pipelines are located. This has affected the pricing of the property around there slightly.
“One came on Tuesday and by the time I mentioned Bethlehem, he screamed nooooo!! He didn’t even allow me to finish. Sometimes, the landlords will make the price attractive in order to dispose of them.
We have more property there, houses were being renovated there,” she said. “You can get a three-bed room flat for N800, 000 but due to that fear and the renter’s not willing to go there, you can get the same apartment clean and spacious with regular supply of light for N750, 000,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sunday Telegraph learnt that in the wake of the explosion, Governor Sanwo- Olu, presented cheques of N2.5 million to each of the eight families, who lost some people but not to the survivors.
Among the victim families, who received the cheques by proxy, were the family of Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha (the principal); late (Mrs.) Funke Edet; late Bidemi Johnson; late Mr. Aliu Ali and Irene Oku.
Presenting the cheques to representatives of the families in his office at Alausa, Ikeja, the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, said: “The financial assistance being offered to the families of the victims who lost their lives is only an effort to mitigate the impact of the tragedy on members of these families.”
Also, LASG on Thursday, handed over four hectares of land to the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos as part of its efforts to support in rebuilding and redeveloping the Bethlehem Girls College affected by the explosion.
Commissioner for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations, Tayo Bamgbose- Martins, said the gesture was to express that the Governor Sanwo-Olu’s led administration remains committed to the improvement of life of people in the affected environment and regeneration of the area.
According to Bamgbose-Martins, immediately after the incident, the state government had taken proactive steps in its efforts to support as well as bring succour to residents of the area by constituting the Ado- Soba Emergency Relief Committee headed by the Deputy Governor, Obafemi Hamzat and also kicked off the relief fund with a donation of N250 million.
The Commissioner, who also said financial assistance and donations were presented to 23 bereaved families, paid hospital bills of victims in order to alleviate their pain and loss, thanked the Catholic Church as well the people for their understanding as well as support.
However, a representative of the Catholic Church, Director of Education, Monsignor Jerome Oduntan, thanked the state government for the gesture while calling for more assistance for some of staff of the school that were adversely affected by the unfortunate incident.