Taking Stock of Abule-Ado Explosion

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Chiemelie Ezeobi takes stock of the recent explosion at Abule-Ado area in Amuwo Odofin Local Government area of Lagos State, which claimed 20 lives, destroyed over 100 houses and displaced about 10,000 persons

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, nothing gave the residents of Abule-Ado in Amuwo Odofin Local Government area of Lagos State, an inkling that their world like they knew it was about to change. Some were on their way to church, some were already in church and others at home when the loud explosion occurred at about 9am.

The explosion tore down houses, destroyed cars and even killed 20 people. The explosion which was heard as far as Agege, Yaba, Ejigbo and even Okota, was initially thought to be pipeline or bomb explosion.

As emergency responders rushed to the scene, their immediate worry was to carry out rescue operation given the large scale destruction the explosion left in its wake.

Aside the casualty rate which was pegged at 20, more than 100 cars and houses were either completely or partially destroyed.

Initial Checks

Initial information from emergency stakeholders and security agencies was that the explosion was caused by gas leakage that formed gas clouds in the sky and upon contact with naked fire, exploded. Before emergency responders could get to the scene, the explosion had already ruptured the NNPC pipeline that runs through the suburb.

It was the contact of fire with the petroleum products in the ruptured pipeline that exacerbated the explosion and spread to residential buildings, schools and churches in the area.

Speaking to THISDAY, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, who was on ground during the rescue operation, said the explosion was caused by gas leakage.

On the cause of explosion he said: “It was caused by gas leakage. When we came here, we saw so many gas cylinders scattered all over. The explosion now ruptured the gas pipeline that runs through there and it led to the fire. Gas and petroleum does not flow. Those that are selling gas here have refused to know that what they are doing is deadly.”

Also, when the explosion happened, Bethlehem Girls College, a Catholic boarding school, was one of the worst hit. Initial fears were that the 15 school girls were dead, but the school management has come out to debunk that. However, the headmistress of the school, Rev Sister Henrietta Alokha fell victim as she died after helping her girls to escape.

Death Toll

As at 1.41pm that day, seven bodies were recovered from the explosion and as at 2.33pm, four more bodies were recovered, bringing the fatality rate to 11.

By 1.54pm, a combined effort from the Lagos State Fire Service and the Nigerian Navy Fire Service units were able to put out the raging fire, thus channeling all operations towards rescue of those trapped.

As at 4.05pm, as the emergency workers toiled to rescue those trapped in the rubble of over 50 destroyed houses, the death toll inched to 15, including that of a family of four- father, mother and two sons. Later in the night, the death toll rose to 17.

The next day, three more corpses were brought out, making the total figure of deceased persons to 20.

According to acting Coordinator, Lagos Territorial Office, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, the bodies recovered included a whole family of four who were heading to church before they were caught in the explosion.

Giving further details, he said the family that died included a man, his wife and two sons. Also, a newlywed couple, Emmanuel and Chisom Uyammadu, who had been married barely four months, were part of the fatalities. The young couple were the owners of the two-storey building at No. 16 Gani Adams Road, Abule-Ado, which collapsed.

Survivors

Emergency responders with the help of locals, however rescued 60 survivors and they were taken to the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital (NNRH) in Navy Town.

In the same vein, the next day, a toddler simply identified as Favour was rescued alive from the rubble of one of the collapsed buildings at the Abule Ado explosion. The three-year-old girl was rescued by operatives of the Red Cross Nigeria.

According to the Chairman Red Cross Nigeria, Adebowale Kolawole, she was recovered naked under the debris of a building.

He said: “She was recovered naked under one of the collapsed buildings. Later we found out that her mother and sibling were admitted in the hospital. The mother who had head injury was semiconscious. This morning when she asked for her daughter, the doctors told her that she is safe and with the Red Cross.

“Actually that was what we wanted so that the mother would be at rest psychologically, so that it will not add to the pains that the mother is actually going through in other to save her life.

As soon as possible, we are taking her to go see her mother at the naval hospital. The little girl’s name is Favour and God has favoured her.”

Emergency Responders

Emergency responders were drawn from the Lagos State Fire Service, Nigerian Navy Fire Service, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), the police, Red Cross, Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and others.

Survivors Count Loss

A trader, Uche Ugboaja said: “It is only God that can compensate us. I cannot give the estimate of what I have lost, it is a tremendous loss, we are still gathering our things. We started parking this morning because we could not get here yesterday because of the crowd and the fire that was still burning.

“The explosion happened directly opposite our house so we could not get into the compound. We lost three lives here. A man, wife and a relative were the victims. We are appealing to the government to come to our aid.”

One Haruna Kani said he lost his sibling Ali Kani, 50, a guard at the college to the disaster. He said his brother has worked there for about 20 years and was trapped while on duty.

Another man, Adams said he lost his younger sister Irene Uwakwu, a cook at the college who was in the room with her colleagues. He said her body was among those recovered yesterday.

The Chairman, Mechanic Village Automibile Association, Trade Fair, Prince Mohammed Muritala said over 2,500 assorted cars, about six of their buildings and three ovens were shattered.

He appealed to the government to come to their aid because he doesn’t know what they would do when the owners of the vehicles come.

Muritala said each of the destroyed ovens was worth over N10million, adding that he was thankful the incident occurred on a Sunday, otherwise, the casualty would have been massive.

Navy’s Contribution

When the explosion occurred, the navy quickly deployed its fire trucks to help put out the fire.

Speaking to THISDAY, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, who was on ground during the rescue operation, said the explosion was caused by gas leakage.

Debunking claims of the dead school girls brought to Navy Hospital, he said: “None that we know of was brought in dead.”

Daji, who had also gone to the NNRH in Navy Town, for an on-the-spot assessment, said they attended to the initial 50 survivors plus the four extra persons brought in by the Red Cross.

Although he could not confirm the casualty figure touted by emergency responders, he said for the navy, three were brought in dead- two females and a male.

According to the FOC, although substantial damage was done to the ceilings in the hospital, it didn’t deter them from treating the injured.

He said: “ Three people were brought in dead – two females and a male. The hospital also received and attended to casualties from the explosion site. 55 persons were attended to, comprising 36 school children and 19 adults.

“One of the adults had about 35 per cent mixed degree burns with inhalation injuries and pulmonary edema. He has been admitted into the Intensive Care Unit and connected to a ventilator.

“Seven other adults and two children are on admission in the wards. Two adults had Traumatic Brain Injury and were referred to LUTH for neurosurgical intervention. The remaining 43 have been treated and discharged.”

LASG’s Action

Hours after the explosion, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu released personal protective equipment to affected residents. While advising residents in the affected area to make safety their priority, he urged them to maintain a safe distance from the scene of the explosion and fire as the site is still live.

The governor had also instructed the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) to immediately release personal safety equipment such as face and nose protection masks to be distributed to first responders, residents of the affected area and all safety workers at the ground zero.

In a statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Gboyega Akosile, he said the protective equipment is to prevent any form of medical hazard such as respiratory infections by the residents who may unknowingly inhale toxic substances from the explosion.

The governor noted that in a situation like this, there would be a lot of unhealthy substances, gas particuate matters that can affect people’s lungs, therefore he reiterated the need for the residents to maintain a safe distance as practicable to avoid breathing in polluted air.

NNPC’s Reaction

Stressing that NNPC right of way is sacrosanct, NNPC Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari, who came in for an on-the-spot assessment, had also confirmed that the explosion was caused by gas cylinder leakages that ignited the wild-spread fire. He however said the fire was exacerbated by buildings and factors by gas vendors who built on NNPC pipelines right of way (ROW).

He said: ”I arrived Lagos to make on-the-spot assessment of the explosion that also ignited NNPC product pipeline fire. Explosions caused by spark that ignited fire from extensively charged atmosphere that emanated from gas cylinder leakages. NNPC pipeline also impacted and ignited.

“NNPC pipeline right of way (ROW) encroachment by gas handling vendors and construction of houses enabled the explosion and aggravated the impact. Working with LASG and security agencies to clear the ROW.”

Clearer Picture

Two days after the explosion, clearer picture emerged on what caused the explosion that rocked Abule Ado and its environs last Sunday, which claimed 20 lives, injured several others and destroyed over 100 buildings.

Investigations by security and emergency agencies had revealed that contrary to earlier speculation, the explosion was caused by pressure exerted on the NNPC pipeline by a heavy duty tipper. According to investigation, the tipper which was fully laden with granite, was parked on the pipeline overnight, thus forcing the content in the pipeline to blow up.

Speaking to THISDAY, the acting Coordinator, Lagos Territorial Office, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, said the pressure exerted on the pipeline could be likened to compressing a coke bottle.

He disclosed that after the stakeholders meeting which was held at government house, chaired by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Hamzat Obafemi, figures by different emergency agencies were collated. He said five relief lines have been released for the affected residents.

He said: “When the pressure became too much,

the pipeline forced itself out to escape and that was why the sky was filled with grey smoke that led to explosion before the fire.”

Similarly, Commissioner of Police (CP) incharge of the Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Maikudi Shehu said there was no presence of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at the scene, adding that his men were still conducting investigations from samples collected.

Giving an update on the state of rescue operations, Farinloye said aside the three-year-old toddler that was rescued, no other survivor was found on Monday. He, however, disclosed that three more bodies-all females, were recovered as emergency workers carried out excavation of some of the collapsed buildings.

Meanwhile, measures have been put on ground to ferret the driver of the tipper, who has since fled to evade arrest. THISDAY gathered that although they had initially thought the driver died in the explosion, contrary information by the landlord association in the area said he escaped. Already, the police have put plans in motion to track his plate number, which would hopefully lead to his arrest.

Of the 60 persons taken to the NNRH, three were brought in dead (BID), 56 attended to and 10 currently on admission. Of the 10 still admitted as at Monday, seven were in the Accident and Emergency Ward, two at the wards and one at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Two of the victims were moved to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) for further attention on the head injuries they sustained, five taken away by their parents and 39 discharged.

Relief Fund

Meanwhile, Governor Sanwo-Olu, who was also at the scene of explosion, has setup a N2 billion emergency relief fund to assist the victims.

He said: “To give immediate relief and support to the victims of the disaster, I have set up a N2 billion relief fund to be chaired by Dr Obafemi Hamzat. The state government has put in N250million into the fund immediately. Here are the account details for the relief fund. I appeal to everyone to be a part of helping to provide this much needed relief.

“Here are the account details-AbuleAdo Emergency Relief Fund, Bank Name: Polaris Bank Account Number: 4030017510; Zenith Bank, Account Number: 1017184516; Guaranty Trust Bank Acct Number: 0568615688.”

Assessment by Police

Meanwhile the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Police Command, Hakeem Odumosu had gone on an on-the-spot assessment of the scene.

According to the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana, what the CP went there to do was to assess the security architecture on ground.

He said: “He went to see the security situation on ground and the crowd control management that was put in place, to know if we should increase manpower. It was because of security on ground that deterred scavengers and hoodlums from taking advantage of the situation. Thus the police did not make any arrest because there was no security breach.”

On potentials plans to prosecute those that caused the explosion he said: “We have commenced investigation but note that it’s not only the police that are involved. A committee has been set up. So the investigation will take a wholistic approach. It will be a joint investigation involving the NNPC because their pipeline was involved; the NSCDC and other agencies will work together”.

Also, Commander Rapid Response Squad (RRS), DCP Tunji Disu said over 400 policemen were deployed to ensure the crowd was adequately controlled and to prevent crime.

Joint Information Centre

A Joint Information Centre (JIC) has been established where residents are expected to be registered. This is to ensure proper dissemination and receipt of information to the affected population and stakeholders, as well ensure judicious dispensing of the relief funds to the rightful victims.

The JIC comprises all stakeholders especially NEMA, LASEMA and others. Already, the affected residents have started trickling in to register for the required documentation.

Farinloye said: “We have commenced post disaster Management. You can see people registering here. We are itemising losses incurred but human and material. We have released five numbers for people to report cases of missing persons, volunteer useful information.”

Eulogies

Meanwhile, the identities of two of the corpses that were recovered on Sunday were revealed as Emmanuel Onyemaechi Uyammadu and wife, Chisom, who was heavily pregnant.

The husband, a Banking and Finance graduate of Anambra State University was burnt with his wife, a first class graduate of Zenith University College (ZUC), Accra, Ghana.

In one of the eulogies paid by their friends, one Edozie Chukwu wrote, “He was my very good friend. We also worked together at Aguleri Microfinance Bank before we both resigned to pursue our MSc.

“My mind ran to you immediately I learnt about the explosion at Soba Estate, Abule Ado. I tried your line countless times hoping you’d pick up and assure me that you and your beautiful wife are safe. Sadly, that wouldn’t be happening any time soon because death came calling too early. You were a true friend and I would never forget your numerous acts of kindness. Our loss, heaven’s gain.”

Prince Emeka Nze said: “I wonder why good people don’t last on this earth. Nwa chelsea

like we called him during our university days was an angel in human form. Very down to earth. Rip. Uyammadu Emmanuel Nwa-Chelsea rest in the Lord with your dear wife till we meet again.”

For President, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okei – Odumakin, it is a gory development that should get us worried.

She said: “We mourn victims of the Abule Ado explosions in Lagos on Sunday, March 15, 2020, and pray that God will console all their families in this distressful moment. It is a gory development that should get us worried as we continue to lose our precious citizens in avoidable circumstances.

“We demand an inquiry into this sad incident so as to get to the root cause of this great disaster. There must be people responsible for this incident and they must not go unpunished.

“Once again, we pray for the repose of the souls lost, wish the injured quick recovery as we also sympathise with those who lost valuable properties. The ultimate price was paid by Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha, Principal of Bethlehem Girls College who rescued all her students from the inferno but died when the roof of one of the school buildings fell on her. #WeMourn.”