BY ANAYO OKOLI &UGOCHUKWU ALARIBE
UMUAHIA-A survivor of last Friday’s pipeline explosion in Umuimo and Umuaduru communities in Osisioma Ngwa council, near Aba, Abia State, which consumed scores of lives, Mr. Christian Nwanmuo has said that poverty led him to scoop fuel from the leaking pipeline. Nwanmuo, who survived the explosion with severe burns, said he and his friends had succeeded in scooping the first round and were returning for another round when the explosion occurred.
Narrating his ordeal from the hospital where he is currently being treated, Nwanmou said: “We were returning to scoop more fuel when the area exploded. Everywhere was on fire, but we were far from the scene.
I was affected by the fire from the surrounding bushes. I was only saved because the container I was carrying had no fuel inside it.
I know it was dangerous to scoop fuel from the pipeline, but poverty led me to the act. I wanted to raise money to buy a motorcycle to start Okada business”.
It was pathetic watching him speak in severe pains.
While Nwanmou was lucky in many ways as scores of his friends and relations lost their lives in the inferno, Mr. Chuks Uzoije, a pipeline guard, was luckier. He was not burnt but he lost his bungalow to the explosion. Uzoije roundly blamed PPMC for the fire outbreak as he accused the officials of the outfit of not heeding their constant calls for them to repair the broken pipeline.
“Everything I labored for in life was consumed by the fire. I now have only my uniform and my torch light. Two of my tenants were burnt. Some of them were taken to hospitals and I don’t know if they would survive.
“We have been complaining about the leaking pipeline, but the authorities were not interested in mending it. Now, people have been roasted”, Uzoije lamented.
Surprisingly, nothing has been heard from the NNPC on this tragedy. The presidency has not also even sent a message of condolence to Abia State and its people. The Federal Government has refused to commiserate with the people over a tragedy that consumed no less than put conservatively, 35 persons and NEMA is yet to bring relief materials, though the Senator representing the area, Theodore Orji has tabled the ugly incident before the Senate.
The security operatives in Abia State who were accused by the locals of collecting money from them to allow them scoop petrol were yet to react to the allegation, they have only been complaining of the number of casualties being quoted by the media.
The blame of negligence on PPMC did not come only from the locals in the affected communities. The Chairman of Osisioman Ngwa Council; Mr. Benjamin Mgbeahuru also blamed the tragedy on PPMC.
According to the chairman, “We have invited the PPMC depot manager more than three times in our security meeting to give us some update on why we are having fire incidents every time along our pipelines, but he has vehemently ignored those invitations.
“This line they claimed was an abandoned line, but every time they pump products in there it catches fire. We must get to the bottom of this time around.
“This is not the first time. The PPMC and Federal government are not
helping us. They don’t come to repair those lines. They claimed it is
abandoned, but how do products go in there? This is a very sad period for Osisioma Ngwa Local Government Area and Abia in general”, the chairman lamented.
Also, a native of Umuaduru who gave his name as Sampson disclosed thtat he lost a cousin to the explosion and said his late cousin was warned many times not to go to the site of the leaking pipeline when the news broke out.
“People who died here are more than 50. Some persons carried their people before the soldiers came. Many others died at Umuimo. One of my cousins died here. I was told his mother warned him not to go, but he left unnoticed with wheelbarrow and some gallons.
“When we heard about the fire, I first called everyone I knew, but when he could not be reached, I knew there was trouble. We are yet to identify him because of these soldiers who claimed they were looking for something and everyone to stay away.
“The Army people prevented people who lost their loved ones from going in there because we learnt that some of their members who came to do the same thing my cousin came for were also burnt here. They removed their burnt members very early in the morning, but still insist that we must not remove ours because they are looking for something.
They [allegedly] beat people with cutlass and chased women away because of whatever they were looking for which most of us suspect must be the guns of their burnt members which they didn’t want to get into the wrong hands”, he said. Many other members of the communities made similar lamentations.
However, succor has started coming the way of the victims with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar donating N10 million to them.
Atiku who was represented by his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, expressed shock over the incident and consoled the families who lost their relations.
“Our presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is out of the country. He would have been here by himself; he insisted that we must come to sympathize with our people. We commiserate with the Governor, the people of Abia state, Osisioma Ngwa council and the families who lost their loved ones in the incident. When we were riding to the community, the governor said the government should check the quality of pipes being used and how to secure the pipeline to avoid a recurrence. We will join hands to fix our land so that we won’t record such incident”, Obi said
Abia State Government is receiving the heat of the incident. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu pledged to offset the hospital bills of the victims and urged those who were yet to access medical attention to do so without further delay.
The governor also promised to help rehabilitate those who suffered losses in the incident to enable them restart their businesses and directed the Commissioner for Health to ensure that the victims are taken care of at the hospital.
“I want to seize this opportunity to appeal to those who ran away and those at traditional homes should come out to access medical attention. Let them present themselves to the hospitals. Those who have been rendered orphans and those who lost their properties and businesses will be assisted.
“We are determined to provide succor and help for those who are alive. We cannot replace everything, but we try to make the situation a little bit bearable.
“We have set a committee to find out what caused the problem. The committee is headed by a retired director of DSS, the committee will find out what was wrong so we can forestall future occurrence”, Ikpeazu said.