Ondo blast victims: How we escaped death, lost properties

HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, who spoke with victims of the Saturday explosion that occurred along the Akure-Owo road, in Ondo State, shares their tales of narrow escapes and challenges with homelessness.

 

A loud explosion that shook houses in the wee hours of Saturday, and violently roused the people of Akure and its environs, left about 70 houses and vehicles badly damaged, while 13 people sustained injuries in the incident.

The impact of the explosion, which occurred along Akure/Owo expressway at Eleyowo/Iluabo area of the Akure North Local Government Area of the state, was felt as far as Ondo and Owo towns, which are several kilometres away.

Residents affected could not immediately comprehend what was happening as many of them trooped out of their homes. Some persons assumed it was an attack by terrorists, considering that the area is less than a kilometre to Akure Airport.

The explosion destroyed about 27 structures within the premises of a church, Possibility Prayer Ground for All Nations Church, and a school in the area, Aina Awwal International College, and created a crater on the centre of the road, hindering vehicular movement.

A resident, Isaiah Fadejinmi, explained that the loud sound from the explosion and the lightning that accompanied it woke many of the residents and many structures were affected by the explosion.

Speaking on the destruction of the school, the Principal of Aina Awawu International College, Mr. Roland Kayode Jayeola, said he was notified of the development by the school’s security guard and expressed relief that students were not affected since the school was closed due to the state government’s directives to limit the spread of coronavirus.

He, however, expressed sadness that the three security guards of the schools were injured in the incident and were rushed to the hospital and are responding to treatment.

While quantifying the damage done to the school to be to the tune of hundred of millions of Naira, he appealed to the state and federal government to come to the aid of the school.

 

The building collapsed on me, says church founder

The founder of Possibility Church, Prophetess Olayemi Adesida who was in church when the incident happened, said the building collapsed on her and she struggled to find her way out of the debris.

She disclosed that 10 members of the church were injured as a result of the blast but are currently recuperating at the hospital. Narrating the incident, she said: “I was in the church around midnight when suddenly I heard a loud sound and before I knew what was happening,  the whole church collapsed on me.

I started praying and calling for help from the Holy Spirit to save me and others in the church and started praying against death of any of the church member under the rubble and the good Lord saved us all.»

Following insinuations that the explosion could be a terrorist attack, the quick response from the state Commissioner of Police,  Mr. Undie Adie, who visited the area, doused the tension in the community. Adie explained that the incident was caused by explosives purchased by a quarry company and the dynamites were said to have been bought at Ibadan, Oyo State and en route Auchi, Edo State, when the vehicle conveying the materials developed mechanical fault.

He said the driver and those in the vehicle tried to fix the vehicle and moved it away from residential area to avoid multiple casualties, but the vehicle finally exploded opposite the church and school buildings.

«The security operatives who were escorting the vehicle gave the red alert, which made the truck driver and another person to jump out of the truck before it finally exploded,» he said, and appealed to the residents of the community to stay away from the scene and allow security agents to carry out their investigation.

The state governor,  Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, who also visited the scene of the incident,  sympathised with the victims over the development, stating that owing to the crater caused by the explosion on the road, the state government had provided an alternative route for commuters plying the route.

«For now, no reports of casualties have been recorded; but the impact of the explosion has had a devastating effect on several buildings, including schools and a church. The government of Ondo State wishes to appeal to all to be calm and refrain from flaunting theories that are capable of distracting the security agencies in their investigations,» he added.

 

Narrow escapes and other tales of woe by residents rendered homeless

However, it was tales of woe for most of the residents of the community, as they were rendered homeless as a result of the explosion.

A resident, Mrs. Temilade Ganiyu, a widow, in her narration disclosed she was awakened by the loud noise from the explosion and a bang on her bed, while the roof of her ten-room bungalow was tor not to shreds.

She went back to her bedroom to see the cause of the bang on her bed, only to discover it was a chip of a rim that was about about two-and-a-half feet long that fell through her roof and landed on her bed. Picking up the metal to see clearly, she realised it was very hot which made her dropped it immediately. It then dawned on the 50-year-old widow that she just had a close shave with death.

Another widow, Mrs. Ibrahim Balikis, aged 40, saw a whole side of her six-bedroom bungalow reduced to rubble. The sofa in her sitting room and bedroom were covered with debris from her fallen walls.

Sobbing profusely, the widows lamented that there was no way they could raise money to put their houses in shape except government assisted them. They told Nigerian Tribune that they were being harboured by their neighbours as their homes had become dangerous to stay.

 

Field day for scavengers at site of explosion

While residents recount their experiences, scavengers have turned the site of the incident to their centred, picking metal scraps and other such items they could lay their hands on at the scene of the explosion, despite the fact that the scene had been cordoned off by police since Saturday.

 

Explosion could be result of meteor —NASDRA

Meanwhile, the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and the police disagreed over the explosion. While the police maintained that the explosion was caused by explosives meant for a quarry company in Edo State, NARSDA said the explosion “could be a natural phenomenon of a suspected fall of a meteoric from an asteroid belt on great speed from space”.

The agency, through its spokesperson, Dr Felix Ale, said the Space Agency is currently studying the situation as it has deployed its team of experts to the site in Ondo State to carry out preliminary investigation to determine the cause of the incident.

“The global space community has a catalogue of near-earth objects that are potentially hazardous to humanity and they are constantly being monitored by organisations such as the National Space Research and Development Agency across the globe. Some of these natural occurrences may, once in a while, escape observation and occur naturally as it is likely the case in the Akure explosion,” he said.

Ale, however, commended Governor  Akeredolu for his prompt action and offering victims of the explosion free medical services and appealed to the people of Ondo State not to entertain any fear, saying the Agency would come out with official statements on its comprehensive preliminary report on the incident as soon as investigations were concluded.

 

NASDRA is wrong; I witnessed the explosion –Truck driver

Some victims who witnessed the explosion frowned at the submission of NASDRA. A truck driver,  Richard Solomon, who set out on a journey from Jos, the capital of Plateau State, to Ogun State in his MAN Diesel truck, explained to our correspondent on his sick bed that, “we were flagged down by mobile police at Ilu Abo junction, along Akure-Owo Road, a couple of minutes to 1:00 am.

“It wasn’t a check point, neither were the police asking for any gratification, and I reluctantly complied and stopped on the road, but some motorists ignored the cop’s action and zoomed off on suspicion that it might be a ploy to rob them.

“When I stopped, he pointed to a truck that’s about half a kilometre ahead, stating that it’s laden with explosives and it had caught fire. He said the explosives would soon explode, so I decided to stop on the spot.

“Some small cars didn’t stop. They didn’t even listen to what the mobile policeman was saying. But after sometime, all motorists stopped and we were all expecting when the explosives would go off. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion and a huge fire that brightened everywhere like daylight. My motor boy and I ducked into our truck.

“After a while, we realised that our windscreen had been smashed and virtually all vehicles that parked were affected. Some people sustained varying degrees of injuries. We then realised that my motor boy, Jackson, had been hit in the leg.

“When the noise had subsided, we moved to the place only to discover that it had made a big depression on the road. We, therefore, took a detour and drove to Shasha where we parked our truck and rushed Jackson to this hospital.”

Also fuming over the claim that the explosion could be the predicted natural occurrence, the principal of the affected schools, Mr. Jayeola, revealed that the school is aware of the identity of the company that owned the explosives that went off and destroyed the school buildings and other property.

He said the invoice and waybill of the explosives were with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Uso in Owo Local Government Area of the state and said the claim of the agency should be seen as far from the truth. He also said the school would write to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to notify the agency about the level of damage done to the property of the school, just as he noted that the school management was expecting representatives from the company that owned the explosives that wreaked the havoc. He, however,  said if the company failed to respond, the school management might seek legal redress.

It was gathered that some officials of the Ondo State Emergency Management Agency (ODSEMA) had visited the communities to take assessment of the affected structures.

 

Investigation is ongoing —Police

However, the state police command in another statement said: “The investigation is on. Right now, the Police from here are in Ibadan, but they must be on their way back because some people are saying there was no explosive, that it was something from the sky, but we know that policemen escorted it, from the explosive unit. If there is nothing, what would they have escorted ? If they are not carrying anything, why would they stay there?

“We all knew that there was an explosion; there was a vehicle involved; he vehicle was shattered beyond recognition. But we are still awaiting the result of the investigation because the CP said he was going to tell everyone whatever is found in the investigation. Since the accident happened in Ondo State, it is our duty to ensure proper investigation is conducted.”

Also, the Inspector General of Police, (IGP) Muhammed Adamu, has set up a fact-finding committee to unravel the cause of the explosion.

The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) (Operation), Abdulmajid Ali, disclosed this while briefing Governor Akeredolu, on what the Police has done so far on the incident.

The DIG, who said members of the committee include Police officers from the Police Bomb Disposal Squad (Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit, said he had visited the scene of the unfortunate incident with his team, while officials of the geological survey agency had also taken sample of the soils, and assured that the committee would come out with acceptable report.

The DIG, who commended the state governor for his display of maturity when he visited the scene, said the police are not sleeping on the issue and that they are working to unravel the mystery behind the blast.

He said: “I am not saying the Professor was right or wrong and I am not making any conclusion. I have been speaking with some experts and they said if we were unable to found debris of the shattered truck within one kilometer radius from the spot of the incident, that shows the incident was not caused by explosive devices.

“Already, the debris of the truck that was carrying these explosive devices that created a very large crater on the express road has been seen. This is not new; there are similar incidents with pictorial evidence. I am also relying on eyewitnesses’ accounts, particularly, the driver, who drove the vehicle and who is currently recuperating at our State Teaching Hospital, Akure.

“I am very sure that if it was asteroid, the NASRDA would have picked this when coming to earth. This is not what we can hide. I am already in touch with the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.

“I will advise that we should be patient. The Inspector General of Police has set up a high-powered team to investigate the explosion and see what will come out of it. We are doing the investigation with the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency.

“We want to make sure that forensic investigation is carried out to actually ascertain what went wrong. A discreet investigation will be carried out. Our findings will be out very soon. By next week, it will be out. The investigators are experts and they know what they are looking for”

The Director, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency, Kaka Imam, also confirmed that the team had been on ground while samples had been taken from the site of the explosion, noting that “at the end of the day, appropriate scientific report will be produced.”

 

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