By Lekan Bilesanmi
Different strokes for different people. This statement aptly describes the scene of last Thursday’s plane crash in Lagos and Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, where the corpses of the 13 victims who died are being kept and the survivors receiving treatment. Let us take it from the hospital. At the LASUTH gate, which the teaching hospital shares with the General Hospital, Ikeja, you were asked where you are headed. If it was LASUTH, you are directed to the left; if it was the General Hospital, surgical emergency ward, you moved straight on. It was a drizzling Friday and, as you arrived the morgue, not far from the pathology section, many people were there, waiting to collect the corpses of their loved ones, but you could not decipher which of them were for the victims of the plane accident. You began to hear all sorts as things as you mixed with the crowd, from the absurd to pure comedy.
Part of the absurd. The General Manager of a top private radio station in Lagos was said to be among those who died in the crash. Although somebody quickly countered the claim with a question: What was the broadcaster’s business with the Agagu family? Akeem, that was the name they called him. He was said to have died with Tunji Okusanya, the owner of MIC Undertakers. He was, according to the crowd, Okusanya’s friend. He was so nice, even better than Okusanya, somebody in the crowd said. Why? “He gave money freely. He was much more important to them than Okusanya, because Okusanya was tight fisted”, the man said.. ”Akutunku e lona orun”, meaning who cares if he dies.
The same man Akeem was the topic of discussion at the gate of the hospital . Mortuary attendants and three other uniformed security men likened “Akeem” to Senator Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor. According to one of them, Akeem was not different from Tinubu. “He gave freely. Whenever he came around for collection of bodies, he would give money to all of us. He was like Tinubu and that is the reason I can never talk ill about him.
And since he (Tinubu) left office I have never voted”. A few meters away, a man was lamenting aloud why a benefactor had to die now especially when he was yet to fulfill his promise to him. “He asked me to see him yesterday (Thursday), and here he is in the mortuary. How can this be? This is not really fair”, he said. He continued: “Death, this is not fair. It is not fair to him and not fair to me. How do I start now? I have relied so much on you (deceased), I have really relied so much on you. Where do I go from here?”. He broke down in tears.
Then, the Agagu issue came up. Somebody had implied that the former governor, through the plane accident, wanted to take people with him to the grave. The expression brought out reactions. One came from one of the relatives of a victim of the ill-fated plane. At this time, tempers rose to the point of the bereaved families exchanging blows. And then a lady walked past and the atmosphere changed especially for four men in their early 30s there. ‘Look at that lady going, look at her backside’, one of them said to which another replied. ‘I will give it a trial.. after all, the dead is gone, those must go on’. Having gone after the lady, he returned with a smile: “I told you. I have collected her number. My coming here is not in vain”.
Then the Lagos State Special Duties Commissioner, Dr. Ahmed Wale, walked towards the pathology department where forensic analysis, on the bodies of the plane crash victims that died was being done. Sunday Vanguard approached him for a chat, and he obliged. I followed him to the office of Professor John Oladapo Obafunwa, said to be the only forensic pathologist in Lagos State. As we walked to the HOD’s office, an old friend, who claimed to be residing in Spain, saw me and was thoroughly embarrassed. He turned out to be one of the mortuary attendants. I asked him to wait while I conclude with the commissioner, but by the time I returned, he had bolted; his colleagues could not say his whereabouts. Within the pathology block was a conference room where the staff of the NCAA were attending to the relatives of deceased persons to update them on what was being done on the bodies. Back to the surgical emergency section where the survivors were, a consultant doctor there identified as Mustapha, said the plane crash survivors were in stable condition. He would not disclose their names or allow access to them.
Back to the crash site: The staff of Accident and Investigation Bureau, AIB, on Friday morning, 24 hours after the crash, had condoned off the site, but one could find personal belongings of the victims there: slippers, handbag, key holders and the plane wreckage. Two things however bothered residents of Mafoluku, where the plane came down, regarding the accident. The site was not far from a tank farm. Akinwunmi Olatunde, 32, a resident, said if the plane had crashed into Mafoluku, the disaster would have been mind-boggling. “Do you know that the houses in this area are close to one another? Not only that, a room has as many as six people living there. If you add it up, you are likely to have 40 people in an eight-room house. And it is like that every where in this area. The accident happened in the morning, just when people were leaving their houses, so there was the possibility of people being killed if the plane had crashed here”.
For Michael Okpara, 40, business man, his fear rose with the crash. According to him, he got scared each time a plane took off or landed. “That is just my fear. Each time I hear the sound of a plane taking off or landing, it is like it will fall on top of our house. I was in my shop when I heard of the accident, and that is why I ran home. There is no doubt, I will look for another accommodation when my rent expires. When things like this happens, it is more or less a warning for the wise. Imagine if the plane had crashed around here, what would I be saying now? I can’t bear it anymore. Now is the right time to move. All the same, we thank God for his mercies over us”.
For the tank farm owners, they couldn’t be luckier. Only few of them volunteered to bare their minds. Jimoh Kareem is one of them. He said he was grateful to God for sparing the area from the crash, otherwise, according to him, “Some of us would have been dead. If the plane had crashed here, the entire neighbourhood would have gone up in flames, drivers and motor boys would have been burnt to ashes with the vehicles and for those who may not be on site, on hearing of the crash, some of them would probably commit suicide. So the enormity of the disaster cannot be quantified”.