Lagos explosion: Shock, anger as FG moves to sack affected communities, millions to become homeless
•It was a bomb blast, landlords, residents insist No gas explosion could tear human beings to pieces and shatter houses, cars like that; Boko Haram likely in our midst —Residents •Many still missing —Red Cross •Falana demands probe
BOLA BADMUS, OTARU OVOSI, OLALEKAN OLABULO and SUBAIR MOHAMMED dug into the mysteries surrounding the Sunday morning blast in Lagos. Their findings are confounding.
These are certainly not the best of times for hundreds of landlords and residents of Abule Ado, a sprawling community in the Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos State, following the explosion that rocked the community in the morning of last Sunday. The incident left no fewer than 20 people dead and about 60 others injured, according to official records.
The residents were yet to recover from the shock of the explosion when that they might not have any chance to remain in that community.
The acting Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority, Umar Saliu Buntu, visited the area and announced that the government would reclaim the land on which the affected houses were built and that a family in Amuwo Odofin is already in court over the ownership of the land. Millions of residents are expected to be affected if the planned sacking is eventually carried out.
The said family, Kuje Amuwo, however, punctured the position of the FHA on Abule Ado, saying that though they were actually in court with the agency, the subject of the litigation had nothing to do with scene of the devastating Sunday explosion.
The residents and landlords are also not pleased with the position of the emergency responders at the scene on the likely cause of the explosion and the casualty figure. The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) said 20 people were killed and 57 rescued but the residents insisted that over 30 people were killed and 75 others injured. They also insisted that the blast was not a pipeline explosion. They urged the federal and state governments to thoroughly investigate the incident.
The last few days have been particularly difficult for the residents of Ado Soba town, where the explosion occurred. House owners have become squatters with friends, while many families have been separated with scores of other people sleeping anywhere they can find in the area.
The acting FHA boss, to the dismay of hundreds of residents, said: “The government is coming back to take charge. A task force has been constituted by the government and the Lagos State government is going to help the Federal Government to sanitise this place after proper investigation have been done and decision are taken for government to approve. Most of the land owners here did not buy from FHA and if they did, let them bring the title they have. They don’t have any title with us. We are not aware, all along that we have been coming here, the place kept expanding and the family kept selling to unsuspecting members of the public and they don’t have anything to show for it.”
The landlords, however, denied the claim by the FHA, insisting that the federal agency was only trying to “persecute” them after their houses had been destroyed in the explosion, which they claimed was as a result of a bomb that was detonated in the area.
NNPC lied –CDA officials
Chime Umadim, who spoke on behalf of the Community Development Association in the area, said: “Contrary to the submission of the Group Managing Director of the [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation] NNPC, Mr Mele Kyari, that the blast was caused by some gas depots close to the pipeline Right of Way, an information that is totally false with deliberate calculation to suppress the fact of what actually caused the blast. We suspect, and are very much convinced, that it was a bomb detonated on the pipeline, which caused unprecedented blast and damages to lives and properties.
“Suffice to say that at no time has pipeline explosion caused the type of heavy blast that resonated far beyond the immediate communities such as FESTAC, Ijanikin, Abule Oshun, Trade Fair Complex and Satellite town and to farther community as Ijanikin, Badagry, Orile Iganmu, Surulere and Oshodi.
“It is indeed very unfortunate that we lost our BOT chairman, his wife, children and over thirty others, who include innocent children of Bethlehem Girls College.”
He also denied the claims by the FHA chairman that the land on which they built their houses had been acquired by the government.
He said: “That is not true at all. We have been here for over two decades and we have been meeting with the FHA management over the land here. They never told us that this land had been acquired.”
Secretary of the Abule Ado landlords association, Francis Duru, also said: “I don’t think last Sunday’s incident was a pipeline explosion. I am not an expert but the effect is too much for this thing to be a pipeline explosion. We are suspecting that it is targeted at the school and the residents; let us be straight. We are pleading with the government to help us. Let them use experts to thoroughly investigate the cause of the explosion.
“Let them know that residents of over two hundred buildings have been displaced. We don’t have anywhere to go. We don’t know where we will live and we don’t know where our families will stay. Residents now sleep around here in the open. Some are sleeping on the road. The government should help us. We are pleading with them to come to our aid. We want them to do the appropriate thing so that we can start our lives again.”
Duru hinted at what he suspected might have caused the explosion. He said: “For quite some time, we have been noticing some strange movements in and out of our community. We have discussed it and our chief security officer had twice met to discuss it with the DPO of Trade Fair Police Station. Nothing has been done till today.”
We bought the land from FG –Cleric
A cleric, Prophet Uche Festus, spoke on the plight of the resident. He said: “We saw springs of flames going on in the air and under one minute, my church collapsed. I am thanking God that no life was lost in my ministry. The building collapsed and all the instruments in the church were destroyed as well.
“Now what they are saying is that the occupants are staying here illegally. I bought the land from the Federal Government and I have all the necessary documents. People living here are not strangers and they don’t occupy here illegally. For now, it should not be about having documents or not. Last year, soldiers were brought here to clear everywhere and they told us to go to the Federal Government to buy the land.
“We bought the lands from the Federal Government. We have our receipts. It is not easy to expect us to leave this place just like that. We have been here for over two decades. My church has about 15 workers. We use the church as an empowerment for those people. I cannot cater for them on my own . We run the church on charity. Those people have nowhere to go now. Many things have gone wrong with them. If we have a government, we should not be talking about these things.”
A resident who claimed to have lost property worth about N100 million, Chief Emmanuel Umeh, also said that life had, since the Sunday incident, been very difficult for him and members of his family.
He said: “There was no fire. It was the blast that caused the fire. When I came back from church, the roof of my houses had been shattered. It was pressure from the blast that affected the pipeline. For the past few days, it has been difficult for me and my family. This clothe I am wearing was bought for me by somebody. The only things left for my family are the clothes we wore to church last Sunday. The Federal Government should come to our aid.
“I am very disappointed with the statement from the FHA. We have been to the agency’s office on many occasions. We have visited them countless times and there was never a time they told us that we were illegal occupants.
“I met with the late last baale and he showed me all the necessary documents to back his claims that they were the owners of the land. The only thing FHA said then was that the family overshot their boundaries but the baale proved to them that they did not. He even presented documents to show that.
“The people at the FHA even told us that the Lagos State government took them to court over this land. They told us that the government wanted to reclaim parts of the land that had earlier been acquired by the Federal Government. They told us that we should go ahead with the buildings and that the government was not ready to continue with the development for FESTAC town, which stopped at 7th Avenue. They even promised us that when they settle out of court with the Lagos State government, they would ratify our documents, while the Lagos government would issue our Certificates of Occupancy. We are surprised that they are now denying us.”
A widow’s cry
A widow who was injured alongside her four children and a granddaughter, Mrs Nurat Jimoh, said her damaged building was the only source of income for her and her children.
The woman, who has continued to receive treatment at the Navy Hospital, Ojoo, said she was in the bathroom when she perceived the odour that enveloped the area. According to her, the roof of the building crashed on her while she was trying to dress up and escape from the house.
Mrs Jimoh said: “I was in the bathroom when I perceived the odour. I quickly rushed out to check and I ran inside again to pick some clothes and escape but the whole roof crashed on us. That was the only source of income for me and my four children. I have no other thing since the death of my husband. One of children is still in school. How will I sponsor her and others now?”
FHA is ignorant –Amuwo family
The Kuje Amuwo family, which the Federal Housing Authority is claiming to be in a legal battle with it, has, however, come out to describe the statement from the agency as “ignorant” and called on the acting head of the agency to get his facts straight before commenting on such an issue.
The Olori Ebi of Kuje Amuwo Chieftaincy Family, Chief Ligali Saibu Hassan, while reacting to the statement said: “He (Buntu) is ignorant of what is happening. He was not properly briefed. We are actually in court with them but not over Abule Ado.
“Kuje Amuwo shares boundary with Abule Ado and we operate on different levels. Amuwo has its own traditional ruler, while Abule Ado also has its own. We can never claim ownership of Abule Ado land. We are in court with them over our land. The case is now at the Supreme Court. We defeated them at the high court. We are fighting them over Kuje Amuwo, not Abule Ado. The MD should be properly briefed by his people, who are on the ground in Lagos before making any comments on such an issue.”
Another leader of Amuwo community, Chief Rafiu Balogun, described the FHA boss’s comments as untrue. He said: “We cannot lay claim to what is not ours. The land that was used for FESTAC town was acquired from the Kuje Amuwo family and there was a government gazette to that effect in the 70s. Our land covers the 6th and 7th Avenue and other parts.”
The Bashorun of Amuwo added that “we share the same boundary with Abule Ado and the place is not part of where we are challenging the FHA for in court.”
Boko Haram likely in our midst –Residents
With the enormity of the destruction caused by the explosion in terms of lives, buildings and other prized possessions which were located kilometers apart, residents said the deafening blast brought back to memory, the 2002 multiple explosions at the Ikeja military cantonment. The suspicion and conviction of residents are increasingly heightened as they insist that no gas explosion could tear human beings to pieces and shatter houses and cars from a reasonably far distance.
When the traditional ruler of Abule Ado, the Alado of Ado Kingdom, Oba Lateef Olayinka visited the scene of the explosion, like his subjects, he was shocked at the extent of the damage. He said: “This is not the wish of God. We don’t know the cause but whatever might have caused it, we pray that such never happens again.”
But beyond the call for prayers by the monarch, some of the residents who spoke to Saturday Tribune expressed fears about the explosion being a pointer to the presence of Boko Haram members in Lagos.
In February, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, alerted the Lagos State government to the presence of Boko Haram in the state. The army chief said top members and foot soldiers of the sect were arrested in Lagos.
“There is nowhere you will not find Boko Haram. Even in Lagos here, there are Boko Haram (members). In Kaduna, there is Boko Haram. There are more across the North-East. Many have been arrested here in Lagos. We have been tracking them. We arrest them and take them into custody,” Buratai said.
This, Saturday Tribune gathered, was partly responsible for the restriction imposed on okada and tricycle operations by the state government.
A resident, Akeem Sulaiman disclosed that only a bomb explosion could wreak havoc of such magnitude. He said: “In 2014, an explosion was caused by gas in the community but it was not as destructive as this. It affected a few buildings and not many deaths were recorded. But last Sunday’s blast was different. The destruction was beyond what gas could do. Look at the number of lives and the property that were lost. The blast was so massive that it shook the whole city of Lagos. Even my cousin called me from Ota that he heard the sound. It was like an earthquake. It tore apart buildings, roofs and bodies of those that were in their houses and preparing to go for church services. This is not a gas explosion but a bomb blast planted at the school premises. I want to implore the Lagos State government to investigate the cause to allay the fears of residents. This might be a case of terrorism.”
‘Explosion different from kind that killed my father, sisters’
In 2007, there was a gas explosion at the Lagos State Development Property Corporation (LSDPC) Estate, Ile-Iwe Meta, Isolo, which led to the death of eight people from two families, including father, mother and children.
A member of one of the affected families, Ajala Bolakale, who lost his father and two sisters to the explosion, shared his experience, juxtaposing it with the alleged gas explosion of Sunday, March 15.
Bolakale said: “The gas flame travelled like a lightning. Within five minutes, eight persons had been killed by the gas flame which came in contact with naked fire. But I doubt if gas could travel a long distance to shatter buildings and dismember human beings. Only bomb could. This reminds me of the 2002 Ikeja bomb explosion which shook the entire state. Although that was a multiple blast, the sound of this could be likened to it. I am calling on the government to investigate the blast. It should not be seen as another gas explosion. We have seen gas and petroleum pipelines explode in Ijegun and other areas in Lagos State. None was close in terms of the extent of damage and sound to what we had on Sunday. This can’t be a gas explosion. It is a bomb blast from a source. The Lagos State government must investigate and address it quickly.”
Many people still missing –Red Cross
Apart from the number of deaths recorded, many families roam the scene of the explosion searching for their loved ones – dead or alive. Since Tuesday, Mrs Gania Adegbola, had been searching for his 25-year-old son, Segun, who she said works at a construction site in Abule Ado. According to Adegbola, she spoke with her son on phone minutes before the blast on Sunday. He has been missing since then.
“I called Segun around 9.00 a.m. on Sunday before the explosion. He told me he was at work in Abule Ado. A few minutes after our conversation, I heard a loud bang which I thought was a thunderclap. I thought it was about to rain. But when his younger brother came around in the evening, he informed me about the explosion. Since then I have been calling his line which has been switched off. I have been searching for him since then,” the distraught mother said.
Segun is one of the countless missing persons since the Sunday’s explosion.
On Wednesday, families of the victims still thronged the scene of the explosion with pictures of their missing relatives, hoping for miraculous reunions.
Speaking to this, Head of Training, Red Cross, Lagos State branch, Mr Ige Oladimeji, said chances were that people were still trapped under the rubble as families were at the scene searching for their missing relatives.
He said: “We are on the ground, like, every other day engaging in humanitarian works. Some members of families of the victims came to us searching for their loved ones. We told them to visit any of the hospitals that we have taken the victims we have recovered so far to. We directed them to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH); Navy Hospital, Alakija; Igando General Hospital and Holy Family Hospital in Ijegun and FESTAC. But those that couldn’t find their people at these hospitals should check them up at the mortuary.”
Lagos Red Cross, on Tuesday night, found a three-year-old girl, Favour, wandering the scene of the explosion without any clothes on.
Mrs Bola Kolawole told Saturday Tribune that little Favour’s mother was found under the rubble with a severe head injury and bruises all over her body.
She said: “In her subconscious state, she responded to feelings but she couldn’t talk. But this morning (Monday), she has regained consciousness and was able to recognise her baby. A doctor at the Navy Hospital told her that her baby was with us and very soon we would bring her to see her. The Red Cross discovered the injured mother and Favour’s brother.”
Giving an update on both Favour and her mother, Oladimeji said: “Favour is doing very well. She is playing with other children at the orphanage. Her mother is responding to treatment. An eye surgery was carried out on her this morning. Our members will be checking on her later today to see how she is improving. However, evacuation is still ongoing because we cannot rule out the possibility of victims still being trapped in the rubble. We are still on the ground to offer assistance to victims and their families.”
Falana demands probe
As residents of affected communities try to pick up the pieces of their lives from the incident, a leading rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has demanded an inquest into the death of the 17 persons in the incident.
In a letter dated March 18, 2020, addressed to the Chief Coroner, High Court of Lagos State, Justice M. A. Dada, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said he was relying on the law setting up the coroner system in the state, which says that an inquest shall hold whenever a coroner is informed that the death of a deceased person within his district is a result of death “in a violent, unnatural or suspicious situation.”
The letter signed by him reads: “On Sunday, March 15, 2020, an explosion rocked Ado in the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State. The explosion led to an inferno which killed 17 people and destroyed about 50 houses.
“We are aware that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has blamed the explosion on “gas explosion which occurred after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant located near the corporation’s system 2B Pipeline Right of Way.
“We have, however, confirmed that the resulting fire later spread to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) oil pipeline passing through the area which aggravated the explosion.
“In the light of the foregoing, we request you to use your good offices to cause a coroner’s inquest to be conducted into the cause of the said explosion and make appropriate recommendations pursuant to Section 15 of the Lagos State Coroner’s Law 2007 which provides that an inquest shall hold whenever a Coroner is informed that the death of a deceased person within his District was a result of death in a violent, unnatural or suspicious situation.”