Last weekend, members of the landlords association of Soba Town, the community ravaged by explosion last Sunday, held a prolonged meeting that lasted till 10:30 pm to discuss the crucial issue of the flowing water affecting the expansive estate.
After a fruitful deliberation, they exchanged banters and left for their various homes without any premonition that a calamity of enormous proportion was waiting to hit the community and snatch members of the community away.
“The meeting last Saturday gave us the opportunity to see and interact with some of our people for the last time. We were looking at the problem of water in the society but an inexplicable explosion came from nowhere and killed over 30 members of the estate. We lost a BoT member, his wife and child. We are still very traumatised and yet to come to terms with the development,” one of the landlords,who did not want his name in print, said.
The late administrator of Bethlehem Girls College, Reverend Sister Henrietta Alokha (SSH), was also said to have spent a good part of the eve of her death preparing the admission letters for new intakes into the college without any foreboding that she was also preparing for her admission into eternity.
Checks on various social media platforms show that the late nun had little or no online presence. But a post on the website of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious about her religious congregation, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SSJ) shows that she was number 11 among the 62 reverend sisters who have taken a perpetual religious vow. A call to the headquarters of her religious order via the contact mobile number provided on the website didn’t go through as the subscriber was said to be unreachable. Also, an email sent to the official email address was yet to be responded to as at the time of filing this report.
A reverend father, who was seen moving frantically around the razed school, was short of words when our reporter approached him. For several hours, he was seen moving laboriously around the disaster scene. “What do you want me to say? I am very busy sorting out things. The school is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. It is not under a particular parish or parish priest. I am a priest in the archdiocese.”
Some of the college’s staff were see at the sight of the incident trying to salvage whatever was left of the ruins.One of them, who who said she spent the good part of the weekend with the late school administrator, described the late nun as a kind-hearted person and a mentor. She said she worked within her late boss till about 5: 30pm before they bade each goodbye.
“When we bade each other goodbye that evening, I didn’t know that, that would be the last greeting we would say to each other. I had looked forward to seeing her on Monday for the usual academic duties in the school but that was never to be.
“Sister was a mentor and a mother who would not run without her children. She was a very nice and exceptional human being. I was with her till Saturday evening. She was preparing the admission letters of successful candidates and also making arrangements for their interviews. We worked on that till evening. We were cracking jokes and at a point when she said she was tired and wanted to go, I blocked the road saying that she would go no where. After sometime of playing in that manner with her, we both left, hoping to meet on Monday of the following week.
“From what I heard, when she saw that smoke was coming into where the pupils were preparing for Mass, she told them to run to their hostels. Immediately after they left, she went to look round to make sure that no pupil was left. She was shouting and alerting everyone to leave. It was in the course of going round to make sure no pupil was left behind that she was caught in the midst of the explosion.We the staff feel very sad about the unfortunate incident. It is an irreparable loss to us all.”
The indent appeared to have popularised the hitherto quiet community as sympathisers trooped to the area to catch a glimpse of the havoc wreaked by the explosion.
For commercial motorcycle riders and tricycle operators, it was a good opportunity to do brisk business.
“There has been a rise in the number of passengers since the incident happened. We don’t pray for bad things to happen but we must say that it has somehow boosted our business,” a commercial motorcyclists, who gave his name simply as Yakubu, said.
Aged residents, others relive close shave with death
Some of the aged residents told The Nation how they survived the explosion.
A 66- year old landlord, Ochega Godwin Ikali, said: “I was at home that very day. I was taking my breakfast after which I would get ready to go for the 10 am Mass as a Catholic Church member. My family had gone for the 6:30 Mass but I couldn’t go with them because at my age, I couldn’t be getting up so early to go to church. While eating, the ceiling suddenly started falling down. The windows too started falling apart. I was confused. It appeared like a dream but in the actual sense, it was a real life situation.
“The particles started flying in my direction. I managed to stand up to see what was happening. When I managed to peep out of the window, I saw hordes of residents running in opposite directions. Many ran out naked to avoid being caught in the trouble. Then I saw the prestigious Bethlehem school crumbling like a pack of cards.
“Then I was seized by anxiety. With nobody in the house to call for assistance, I managed to walk but I couldn’t go far. I sat on the floor and people started running past me. Danger was lurking and there was nothing I could do to avert it. At that point, I just said in my mind, ‘Let the will of God be done’. It was around 2pm that my son came to take me away. I have been with him at Surulere since then.”
70-year-old Madam Echidime Veronica, whose grandchild, Caro, a pupil of the razed Bethlehems Girls College, narrowly escaped death during the explosion, said she had a premonition of the incident and resorted to praying that the effect should be minimal.
“ I had the premonition that calamity was looming. The certainty that it would happen was very high and all I could do was to pray that it should not happen on a day that too many lives would be lost. If this had happened on a week day, the casualty figure would have been higher. I was in the house when the explosion occurred. Immediately it did, my mind went to what I had seen earlier. We saw people running helter skelter.
“My mind instantly went to my grandchild how was attending the affected school but there was no way of going there. It was the sibling who later went to bring her when the tension was doused. The disaster would remain indelible in our hearts. There was pandemonium everywhere on that unforgettable day. As a young lady during the civil war, I knew what a bomb sounds like. What I heard that very day was like the sound of a bomb reverberating across the land during the civil war.
“An artisan working on the building beside ours attempted to jump down from the second floor of the house when the whole ceiling suddenly started to come down. He was later assisted by people who gave him a ladder to come down from the window.”
The grandchild was said to be sleeping when our reporters visited their home. “She is still traumatised and has been sleeping. We have been asked not to disturb her,”one of the siblings said.
Another landlord, who is challenged in one of his legs, Sam Sam Essien, said he was living very close to the site of the incident but has been living on the street since the incident occurred. ” I was going to church and was just at Abule Ado Bus Stop when the explosion occurred around 8:55am. Everywhere shook as if there was land tremor. Suddenly, a wall of fire billowed from our area. Luckily for me, my family members had gone to church before then. I have been sleeping outside since the incident occurred. I have been a landlord in this community since 2001. I have witnessed three pipeline explosions before but never was there any like this. We held a landlords’ association meeting the previous night. We never knew that a calamity of this magnitude was lurking in the corner.”
Indigent septuagenarian takes ‘relief materials’ to assist victim
An indigent septuagenarian, Madam Afolami, displayed a rare humanitarian gesture as she took a number of her clothing to the disaster site to support victims who had, had all their values destroyed during the incident.
“I have been distressed since the incident occurred and have not been able to sleep. When I heard about the incident, I felt seriously bad as a mother. Since I don’t have money to give the victims, I decided to take some clothing and veils to support those who may not have something to cover their bodies again. I would have been here earlier but my children didn’t allow me to go out.
“When they went to work, I left the house to fulfil that which has been on my mind. I didn’t have money to transport myself here but I decided to board a bus. When I got to the bus stop, the driver asked for money but I pleaded with him that I didn’t have money. Seeing my sincerity, he left me. I will have to beg any driver I enter his bus as I am going now. I came from Ibasa, which is some communities away from here.I learnt that a woman lost her three kids in the incident. I have been so concerned about her since then. When would her brain settle down? Ah! She, will just be having nightmares.”
‘Our rituals mitigated the severity of calamity’
The community leader of the embattled community, Chief Jimoh Raheem Agbebeji, in a telephone chat told our correspondent that the sacrifices and prayers made by the community before the incident, reduced the severity of the calamity. Without such sacrifices, he said the calamity would have been worse.
His words: ” If not for the sacrifices and prayers we have been offering, it would have been worse than what we saw. Also, if this had happened on a week day or midnight, the story would have been better imagined. If it was a week day, there are over 10 schools in that area alone and the pupils would have been in school by that time. You could imagine what would have happened if that was the case. All this was as a result of the success of our sacrifices and prayers. We would not relent in making sacrifices.
“It is compulsory that we would make sacrifices because of the disaster to cleanse the community. There is nobody that will be happy to see this kind of disaster. We know the number of lives we lost to it. These are people that we know very well. They weren’t strangers at all. May God not allow us to experience this kind of incident again. I was not told about the incident. I personally witnessed it. When the bomb exploded, I was in my house. Even those living in distant Badagry felt the impact of the explosion.
“The incident is beyond pipeline explosion. I believe it was a bomb that went to destroy the pipeline buried under the ground. When we checked the pipeline today (Wednesday), it was only holes that were seen on the pipe. If it was the pipeline that actually exploded, it would have been torn into shreds. Despite the magnitude of the explosion, it was only holes that were found on the pipeline. This is what the anti-bomb squad should look into.”
Let govt probe blast – Landlords, residents
Landlords and residents of Soba Town, the community ravaged by explosion last Sunday at Abule Ado area of Lagos State, differed with the NNPC on the cause of the incident.
A statementhat signed by Dr Kennie Obateru, the Group Managing Director in charge of NNPC’s Public Relations, had attributed the incident to a gas explosion.
But in a statement read by one of the landlords, Chime Umeadim, yesterday, on behalf of Dr Gani Adams, who is the chairman of the landlords/residents’ association, the victims said: “Contrary to the submissions of the Group Managing Director of the 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, which we suspect and very much convinced that it was a bomb detonated on the pipeline which caused the unprecedented blast and damages to lives and properties..
“Surfice 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 Town and Satellite Town to farther communities as Ijanikin Badagry, Orile Iganmu, Surulere, and Oshodi, to mention just a few, leaving behind at its wake shatered windows and roofs of houses in these areas.
“It is very unfortunate that we lost our BoT Chairman, his wife and children and over 30 others …”
He therefore called on the Lagos State government and the Federal Government to set up a high power fact-finding committee to “unravel the immediate and remote causes of of this national disaster with a view to preventing a reoccurrence of wanton destruction of lives and properties in Lagos State and indeed Nigeria.”
Source:- The Nation