*As angry biz-men protest govt order to evacuate burnt vehicles
By Fredrick Okopie
FEW days after a tanker fire destroyed goods and property worth several millions of naira at the Coconut Bus Stop in Olodi Apapa, Ajeromi Ifelodun area of Lagos, most of those affected are still in a daze as they contemplate the bleak prospect of having to start life all over from the scratch. The Sunday night fire which destroyed no fewer than 27 cars among other goods displayed by their owners for sale, was said to have been caused by petrol from a fallen tanker with registration number JTJ 422 YR.
When Vanguard Metro visited the scene, Tuesday, the owners of the burnt cars could not hide their pains which seemed heightened by the sight of scavengers butchering the vehicles for useful parts or scraps they intend to sell. So, it is a case of different strokes for different folks as the unfortunate business owners mourn their losses, while the scavengers count their blessings. The scavengers did not settle only for metal scraps from the burnt vehicles, they also made hay in scrambling and packing the scattered remains of cement there.
Inexperience of the tanker driver
Even this is not the only reason the affected business owners are wearing a gloomy look. In fact, they are angry because the Lagos State government through the the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, has issued them a three-day ultimatum to evacuate all the burnt vehicles from the scene of the fire incident.
As traders and passersby gathered in groups to discuss the fire in hushed tones, it was obvious that it will take a long time for them to forget the incident as they take turns to revisit how it all happened and what led or contributed to it based on the perception, and sometimes conviction, of each speaker.
According to one Mr. Adewale Sheed, an electrician, who spoke on behalf of the 17 affected men and women, the major cause was over-speeding and the inexperience of the tanker driver. “This fire happened at night; none of us was here, but from experience over the years I have been here, these tanker drivers usually over-speed; that is why we usually come out to flag them down to reduce their speed. Some of these guys driving the tankers are conductors; their drivers will ask them to turn under the bridge, and these are small boys without experience.
“We lost 27 cars; 4,000 bags of cement; shops were looted, a mosque was partly burnt. In fact, there is nobody here that didn’t suffer one loss or the other. And rather than sympathise with us and even assist us the state government sent the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, to come and give us three days ultimatum to evacuate all the destroyed vehicles,” he lamented.
Showing Vanguard Metro a blocked drainage that leads to the Tin Can waters which he claimed their association had de-silted with the sum of N80,000, Mr Sheed said: “The reason why the fire affected us so badly was because the spilled petrol could not flow through the drainage but spread over the place and coupled with the carelessness of those scooping fuel from the drainage.”
Narrating his ordeal to Vanguard Metro, an aggrieved Mr Segun Odusoga, a phone dealer, said though the inferno did not affect his shop, hoodlums took advantage of the ensuing confusion to break into his shop which he stocked prior to the incident and looted all the expensive phones, engine oil, generator sets and cash. He pleaded for assistance from government and Nigerians to enable those affected, especially those hard hit, to start life all over.
Vanguard Metro observed that the pillars holding the bridge were also affected as evidenced by the plastering falling off and exposing the iron rods within. The belief is that a quick renovation work should be carried out to avoid further damage.
One Mr. Lukman Sanusi who said he lost over N300, 000 worth of equipment, including two modern spraying machines, blamed the depot where the tankers go to load petroleum products for the Sunday fire incident. He lamented that his only source of livelihood was gone, wondering aloud how he was going to feed his family. He also said the two cars he was working on were burnt, adding that though the owner of a Gulf car was considerate in not blaming him for what happened, he is apprehensive of what the owner of a bus who travelled out of Lagos was going to say or do when he returns to find out that his vehicle was among those destroyed by the fire.
An official at the Gulf Treasure Unit, PTD, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, declined to speak to Vanguard Periscope, saying: “It is only the Public Relations Officer at our head office that can speak on the matter.”