By Peter Duru, Makurdi
They had gone to bed that fateful night in Gboko, Benue State, not knowing they would not sleep to see the break of a new day – no thanks to the outage in public power supply which compelled the head of the family, Lawani Oye, to put on his power generating set.
His intention was to avail his family members a good sleeping environment, but it all turned out a disaster that claimed the lives of no fewer than seven members of the family.
They were all roasted in an inferno that engulfed the block of three flats at the early hours of Friday, at Ayankor, close to Young Secondary School, Gboko East, in Gboko local government area of Benue State.
Sunday Vanguard gathered from an eyewitness that the inferno, which started at about 1am, engulfed the block of flats, killing the husband and wife, Mr. And Mrs. Lawani Oye, and their five children. Lawani Oye was said to be a popular automobile panel beater in Gboko while his wife was a business woman in the neighborhood.
‘Oye omo Yoruba,’ as he was popularly called at the mechanic village in Gboko, was said to have switched on his power generator but mistakenly left a lantern with flames not far from where the generator was positioned on the night of the incident.
This fatal mistake led to the razing of his house and the death of his entire household.
One of his colleagues, who simply gave his name as Ter, said the late Oye, before his untimely death, was one of the most trusted hands in the panel beating business in the area.
“He was a man who knew his job and had no issues with anyone. We were all shocked to hear that he died after closing from work, alongside his entire family in the disaster,” Ter said.
“Though we have declare a day of mourning for him and the family by closing our business for the day in respect and honour for the departed family, we will all miss him because he was a good man.” .
Another eyewitness, who preferred anonymity, said the fire which started when everyone had gone to bed, razed the entire block of flats, though other occupants of the building managed to escape.
According to him, “we all sat outside after an outage in public power supply, to discuss contemporary issues that night, after which everyone retired to his house.
“It was shortly after that, as usual, that they put on their generator and went to bed only for everybody in the neighborhood to be woken up by the shouts of fire and there was so much confusion as everyone ran for dear life.
“I think the fire started at about 12 midnight in Oye’s flat when everyone in the neighbourhood, including the victims of the inferno, had gone to bed.
“It was his wife and mother of the dead children, who we popularly called Mama Tunde, who also died in the disaster that raised the alarm that prompted other neighbours to rush out of their flats.
“In the midst of the confusion, we all battled to put out the strange fire in order to rescue the family but it was all in vain. After failing, however, we all managed to escape with our families.
“While this was going on, some people tried to reach the fire service but it was too late. “Our pain about this tragic and unfortunate incident is that the same woman who died with her family in the fire was the one who raised the alarm that saved others and her family could not be saved; they were burnt beyond recognition.
“The whole thing is still a mystery to neighbors and no one can at this moment ascertain the cause of the inferno but the only clue we have is that their generator was on that night, and, by the time we went round after the fire, we saw that a lantern was positioned very close to the generating set.
“Perhaps the fire was ignited by the petrol in the generator and the flame of the lantern, but no one can really say for sure”.
The eyewitness, who said some relations of the deceased family were contacted after the incident, also ruled out the possibility of sabotage.
“I believe that what happened here could be a case of negligence, but unfortunately it turned out a fatal one; it is just painful,” he added.
Sunday Vanguard further gathered that the charred remains of the deceased were deposited at the morgue of the Gboko General Hospital though unattended to because workers in the hospital were on strike while arrangements to bury them where on.
When contacted, the acting Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, of the Benue State Police Command, Assistant Superintendent, ASP, Matthew Oku, said he was yet to receive the full report of the unfortunate incident from the Gboko Division of the Command.