By Chioma Gabriel, Vincent Ujumadu & Chimaobi Nwaiwu
Onitsha— Tales of woes and lamentations, yesterday, continued to trail the Onitsha tanker fire incident that razed a filling station, 10 vehicles, 13 buildings and other properties worth millions of naira on Upper New Market Road in Onitsha.
A former National Publicity Secretary of Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Chief Afam Obi, whose office at 88, Upper New Market Road and four vehicles in the premises were razed, called for the establishment of a functional fire service station in each of the 21 local government areas of Anambra State to avert fire incidents that may escalate due to lack of quick response to fire incidents.
He said the measure had become imperative following incessant complaints by residents of Onitsha that none of the fire service stations in the city is functional.
Victims recount losses
He said: “I only practise law to earn a living and a situation where this kind of thing will happen and all the things I have acquired in the practice destroyed in less than 30 minutes is very unfortunate.
“You can see these vehicles burnt beyond recognition, one of them belongs to a lawyer in my office. Government must take proactive measures to arrest this type of situation.”
On his part, Mr. Humphrey Udechukwu, a legal officer of All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha said his Volvo S40 Saloon car he had driven for over four years was destroyed in the fire incident.
He regretted that fire incidents that would have been averted or its effects would have been cushioned got escalated because of laxity on the side of the government to provide necessary equipment for fire fighting men.
Two tricycle operators who lost their Keke Napep to the inferno, Kingsley Ebube and Donatus Okonkwo, lamented that their only source of livelihood had been consumed by the inferno and, therefore, do not know what to do.
Mrs Chinelo Onyeuna, a victim and Manager of Bencash Investment Nig. Ltd, a company dealing in electronics and furniture, said she lost items worth N100 million to the inferno.
She said: “We had so many goods worth over N100 million. Just look at our plaza, was burnt down completely. Government should stop all the people operating filling stations near residential buildings.”
She appealed for assistance from the state government to cushion the effect of the fire.
Another victim, Mrs Juana Oboli, from Onitsha, said she lost her residential building which she laboured for 12 years to build.
Oboli, a widow and civil servant with the Nigerian Prison Service, Awka, also urged the state government to help her recover from her loss. 5 houses, 15 vehicles, five tricycles were burnt —Police
Confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer,PPRO, for the police command in the state, ASP Nkeiruka Nwode, said three suspected hoodlums were arrested during an effort to quench the fire.
She said: “Five houses, 15 vehicles and five tricycles were burnt. I want to thank God who did all these things possible that no life was lost. We only had casualties who were taken to the hospital as at the time we were here last night.
“I want to advise the public that, they should help government to help them. Some of these shanty houses around, some of these attachments could even be what escalated the fire .”
Fire service responded early enough —SEMA
Executive Director of the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr Paul Odenigbo, explained that the fire service responded early enough to the inferno.
Odenigbo said fire fighters from Asaba were called in to assist those from Onitsha and Okpoko when SEMA exhausted its water.
“The incident happened about 8 p.m when the tanker coming from Awka Road, Onitsha was negotiating the DMGS roundabout and lost control inside the Mobil filling station.
“One of the fuel dispensers later caught fire which spread down the road, destroying vehicles and buildings,” he said.
Obiano sympathizes with victims
Also, yesterday, Governor Willie Obiano made a dramatic appearance from his Abuja trip to Onitsha to sympathize with the victims and to see for himself the extent of damage done by the inferno.
Governor Obiano, who arrived the scene of the incident at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, DMGS, roundabout at exactly 2 pm said the state will consider relocating all the filling stations affected in the inferno and others located within residential areas.
He said: “As you can see, Onitsha is developing. Some of these filling stations have stayed here for over 50 years. I saw them here as a young man. I know that Anyika family was managing one of these in those days. They were built when nobody was living here but people started building around them, and now people are living near them. We will provide land for their owners to relocate so that the lives of the people will not be in danger.”
Governor Obiano, flanked by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, Commander 302 Artillary Regiment, Col. Idongesit Akpan and Commanding Officer, Navy Out Post, Onitsha, Captain Mohammed Dahiru, said: “I am going to set up a committee that will look into the actual people that were affected, headed by the Obi of Onitsha and we will ensure that they are relocated to nearby places here and the state will pay for their house rent even if it is for one year, for them to get back to their feet.
“I am also using this opportunity to direct the Federal Road Safety Corps to seize any heavy duty vehicle coming into Anambra State with bad tyres, and detain the driver for at least a day, so that they’d know that we are serious about safeguarding our people, and we are going to erect barriers in our three flyovers in the state to stop them from falling and blocking our roads.”
Politicians outdo each other with sympathy
Apparently, politicians, especially governorship aspirants for the scheduled 2017governorship election in Anambra State tried to outdo each other with sympathy for the victims of the fire incident.
An 80 year-old man was rescued from the scene and taken to hospital for treatment.
A tanker conveying fuel exploded at the Mobil Filling Station opposite the DMGS and burnt down about eight buildings and over thirty vehicles parked at different locations along Oguta and Upper New roads in the town.
Apart from Governor Willie Obiano, who cut short his visit to Abuja to return to Onitsha to sympathize with the victims, other governorship aspirants that stormed the scene included former Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, Mr. Godwin Ezzemo of Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA, Dr. Alex Obiogbolu, among others.
On his part, Obaze commiserated with the victims for the loss of huge sums of money.
He said: “Today I visited the scene of the horrific fire accident at the Oguta Road Awka road junction at Onitsha that destroyed a petrol station, and several homes and businesses. I commiserate with the victims of this unfortunate incident, while noting the huge financial and material losses which will run into billions of Naira.
“Our people have fallen victim to fire incident, which could have been prevented and contained sooner, were the necessary public service facilities like fire hydrants, fire trucks and pipe borne water easily accessible.
“This particular incident underlines the zoning policy and enforcement failure and the increasing indiscriminate siting of petrol stations next to residential areas in our cities and towns.
“Governmental and public service agencies responsible for approvals and monitoring of petrol station siting and activities, must assume vicarious responsibility for incidents such as these. Moreover, security of our people includes public safety and protection from being in harms way, including unwarranted fire and traffic accidents.
A Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, chieftain and governorship aspirant in the party Dr Alex Obiogbolu blamed the Anambra State government and the state House of Assembly for not budgetingmoney for the State Fire Service, when, he alleged, over N300 million was budgeted for purchasing of cars for the state legislatures.
“I am sad and bitter; Why must we always rely on Delta State Fire Service men that always come from Asaba to rescue Anambra people and their property anytime we have fire outbreak. Is Asaba Fire Service station that is always responding to our calls not under a government? Why are they always ready to go when there is fire outbreak here when none of the ones in Anambra state is functioning? Our government must sit up. We cannot be talking about roads alone, there are a lot of things that are neglected.