By Eric Elezuo
The fifteenth of March 2020 may have come and gone, but for owners of over 50 houses and unnumbered businesses that were destroyed, and families, friends and colleagues of over 20 persons who lost their lives, it were better the day had not come at all because life will never be the same for them again.
On that day, what so many people are yet to adequately describe unfolded.
The time was 9:02am. It was a Sunday. Many people were preparing to go to church. Many people, especially Catholics, had gone and returned, preparing to engage the remainder of the day’s activities. Everyone was in high hopes, expecting nothing but the best from the quietest day of the week.
But the odds were against the residents of Soba community of Abule Ado in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State. Fate had a different agenda for them. It was not good. It was not palatable. And when it was unleashed, all hell broke loose.
As the seconds tickled, turning into minutes, life continued. The girls at Bethlehem Girls College, a Catholic owned institution, were enjoying their mass dressed in their light red flowery outing dress with while stockings neatly tucked into their various foot wears. A family has just completed their preparation for the dedication of their child. The father was calling out on the rest of the family to hurry up and join him. Another family, comprising the man, woman and their children were already in the car to drive church and join their mother who left much earlier.
At a hotel nearby, a Dubai hopeful footballer was busy packing his things for the journey while in their home, a newly married couple with the woman carrying a three months pregnancy were also just about driving for church.
At Bethlehem school, a pupil has just come out to recreate herself. Around the Soba surroundings, business was the proverbial as usual. And then it happened!
No one could tell where the noise came from. But the sound was not just deafening; it was extraordinary. The school girl who came to ease herself said everything at an instant. She went automatically deaf and blood began to ease out of her ears. Of course, she was no longer where she was as the sound lifted her and dumped many metres away.
Then again and again, the sound came in louder than the former throwing unprovoked tantrums across the length and breath of the community and clearing in its wake whatever is its way. Buildings were leveled, crushing unsuspecting occupants and pedestrians. In their car, the newly wedded couple were crushed when a pillar of their house fell on their car. The family preparation for dedication were roasted right where they were while the Bethlehem school carved in like a pack of cards. Yes, all the students survived, but the principal, Rev Henrietta Alokha, who reportedly saved the students, couldn’t make it as the roof of the building carved in on her. Other staff of the school were not also accounted for. They were picked one after another from the rubbles of the devastation
But while the world continue to wonder what happened, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) called on the federal government to carry out a forensic investigation on the explosion, saying the event went beyond the regular explosion as it’s known. The dismissed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) narrative that the explosion happened when gas cylinders were hit by a truck in the area where NNPC has its pipelines.
“There is something suspiciously different about this explosion. The scale of destruction is nothing like any of the pipeline explosions we have monitored and documented for several decades,” the statement read.
“The Sunday incident’s scale of destruction could only be likened to military grade explosions or aerial bombardment. We can’t treat this casually as an accident caused by a truck.
“With the current security without conducting forensic investigation on this particular blast. Not even the accidental detonation of bombs at the Ikeja cantonment caused this scale of destruction and ruins. Government must conduct comprehensive investigation to establish if this was a crime or an accident.
“And there are questions begging for answers: Who drove the truck? What is the truck doing on a pipeline on Sunday morning? Was the gas plant opened on a Sunday? Was the content of the truck weaponized? And for the NNPC that has admitted some level of culpability by confirming that the primary explosion came from its gas truck, it should immediately initiate the process of providing remediation for the affected families and businesses while its officials found to have through negligence orchestrated this massive destruction should be made to face the law,” the group refused to accept the incident as accident.
Ada Nnaji, a parent of one of the students, Ogochukwu, said the position she saw her daughter on arrival to the hospital made her heart to jump into her mouth. She thought she was dead as she was covered in a pool of her own blood.
“When I got to the hospital and saw my daughter soaked in blood, I thought she was dead. She was in a critical condition when she was brought here; she had cuts on her head, neck and legs; and her thighs were stitched up.
“When I asked her what happened, she said she and the other pupils were in the chapel for Mass when the explosion occurred and that she did not know how she came out of the place. She said when she fell down, something fell on her. I’m happy that my daughter did not die and is responding to treatment.”
Against all odds, the Dubai hopeful footballer, 23 years old Favour Okafor, survived, but only just, and narrated his experience thus: “I was supposed to travel to Dubia on Monday and I was in my hotel room arranging my clothes when I heard a loud sound and before I could come out, the walls had started collapsing on me and as I was trying to run, debris from the walls were hitting me.
“I did not know how I managed to escape from the rubble. I only had big cuts on one of my legs and hands. I thank God that I am recuperating very well.”
For another family of six, the breadwinner was taken leaving behind his wife and four children. The woman, Uju Ose laments:“ I had finished bathing my children and we were eating and getting ready for church when someone said there was smoke outside. I quickly told the person to take my children out of the house and I ran upstairs to carry my baby. My husband was in the house when the explosion occurred and the house collapsed. It was at that moment that my husband was killed.”
Again, 48-year-old Adanma Mucheogbonaya, said the blast threw her and her son out of their house, adding that she did not know how she got to the hospital.
“It was a terrible experience for me, because of the way the explosion lifted my son and I from the room. The explosion blasted the wall and lifted us and threw us outside.
“I was in a pool of my own blood shouting for help, but nobody answered me until a good Samaritan came to my rescue. If someone had told me that I would be alive, I would have said that it was a lie, because glass pierced all my body.
“The explosion destroyed my vehicle and my house, and I learnt that vandals had stolen everything I have. This is a tragedy for me and I don’t know where to start from.”
Today, Soba community is a massive heap of ruins as the residents continue to count their losses, still unable to pin point the actual cause of the blast, which analysts say there has never been anything like it before. The event superseded the Ikeja bomb blast of January 27, 2001 in magnitude and devastation.
In a bid to come to the assistance of the victims, the Lagos State government set up a N2 billion relief fund.
The state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu disclosed that the sum of N250million will be released immediately and urged well-meaning Nigerians and organisations to contribute to the fund. Zenith bank has toed the line with N100 million contribution
The governor also announced that an investigative committee, headed by the deputy governor, Obafemi Hamzat. has been set up to look into the incident behind the explosion and report in two weeks. who knows, one week from now, Nigerians may be availed the opportunity of knowing the real cause of the blast.
We can only wish the dead a rest in peace, the injured a quick recovery and as many that lost businesses and property the help from government and mankind.