By Evelyn Usman, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Udeme Akpan, Monsuru Olowoopejo & Esther Onyegbula
NO fewer than 100 houses, 100 shops and 50 cars went up in flames in the early hours of yesterday, in Abule-Egba and Agege areas of Lagos, rendering several families homeless.
However, no life was lost in the inferno said to have been caused by an explosion from a vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, pipeline on Pipeline Road off Awori, in Abule-Egba area. But some residents sustained varying degrees of burns.
The pipeline vandals, as gathered, stormed the area at midnight with three trucks. Residents said they dug a hole at a connecting point, at 4, Segun Akinola Street, opposite Tipper Garage, off Awori Road.
Thereafter, they broke the pipe and connected their hose, from where they were siphoned the combustive product until 2a.m., when the fire started.
Residents on Pipeline Road, who were jolted from sleep by the explosion, scampered in different directions, as the ravaging fire spread.
Streets affected included Akirele, Adebowale, Shogowole, Cantowi, Taiwo Adewole, Awori, Santos, Iyalode and Shobowale. Others are Charity Road Junction, opposite Oko-Oba market, down to Abattoir and Ile-Epo areas of Agege.
When Vanguard visited the scene, the charred remains of 15 vehicles in a car mart at Hamzart Park were sighted.
Eyewitness narrated that the timely response of emergency officials prevented the fire from spreading to Samar Petrol Station, which is close to the scene of the incident.
On Iyalode Street, Vanguard counted eight houses, 28 shops and eight cars that were razed. Eight cars were destroyed by fire on Santos Street, while a storey building and 15 shops were affected on Shobowale Street.
Ironically, on December 26, 2006, similar incident occurred in same area and hundreds of people were burnt to death.
Other rescue teams that responded include men of the Lagos State Fire Service, the state Police Command, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC; Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA; Lagos State Emergency Ambulance Service, LASEMBUS, among others.
While taking a tour around the affected streets, a widow, Mrs Ruth Joseph, who sustained burns but took to self-medication, caught the state Commisioner of Police Imohimi Edgal’s attention.
He directed the Divisional Police Officer-in-Charge of Abule-Egba Division, SP Harrison Nwabusi, to take the injured to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja for treatment, promising to take over the medical expenses.
In his address to members of Awori community, he warned them against indulging vandals in their nefarious activities.
Narrating her close shave with death, one of the victims, Mrs Ruth Joseph, said: “We were sleeping when we heard the shout of fire. By the time I got up, the fire was already in my apartment.
“I immediately rushed to rescue my children, but I was only able to get two of them out unhurt. By the time I went in for Samuel, the fire had taken over the entire apartment.
“I am a poor widow and does not have money. That is why I decided to treat myself. But my joy of getting better treatment is fulfilled with the CP’s directive that my son and I be taken to the hospital for treatment.”
Sunday Alade, a resident in Awori, said the activities of illegal bunkerers had been going on in the area for a while without any moves to checkmate them, as they employed the services of miscreants and armed personnel to carry out the nefarious acts.
According to Alade, “the incident happened around 3.30a.m. I woke up to a loud sound and fire from afar. People started screaming ‘fire’ to alert neighbours who were probably asleep, as the raging fire spread at a fast pace.
“On getting close to the scene, I could see some people carrying various kegs of petrol. But thank God people were able to escape from their houses before the fire could reach the buildings that included retail shops.
“Also, save for the timely intervention of firefighters and rescue team, the damage could have been colossal, as they promptly put out the fire. We really thank God, no life was lost.”
Another resident, Mr. Toheeb Ismaila, said: “The vandals dug a hole to connect their hose to NNPC pipelines. They dropped the hose inside the gutter without shutting the valves. This was what caused the fire.
“The fire spread through the gutter where the products spilt. It passed through Just Rite Shopping Mall, Samar Filling Station to the canal near Agege Abattoir and Charity Road Junction, opposite Oko Oba Market.”
Another resident, Mrs Justina Samakai, said: “This incident has soiled Christmas celebration for my family because we lost everything in the fire.”
Another resident, Mr. Chima Mokwoye, disclosed that when they sighted the trucks moving to the location, residents concluded they were NNPC officials.
… as car dealer slumps
Owner of the Auto-Pillar Mart, James Akindele, who suffered the worst, slumped while inspecting the extent of damage he suffered.
Akindele was rescued and rushed by friends and relatives to an undisclosed hospital for immediate medical care.
His friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that James restocked his store a few days ago, to meet his customers’ demands.
A resident, Yinka Kambia, disclosed to Vanguard that they could have been dead but for the intervention of residents and their doggedness.
She narrated: “I woke up at about 3a.m. and discovered that there was a fire raging beside my house. The heat was intense. I had to wake my children to avoid loss of life. We rushed out for safety. We couldn’t salvage anything.
“We would have been able to salvage some property, but could not due to delayed arrival of the fire service officials, who came at 4a.m.”
An artisan, Sulaimon Durosomo, disclosed to Vanguard that his losses cannot be quantified, saying “I deal in interior decoration. And all I have bought for the yuletide has been razed. In fact, the goods I was contacted to procure by a customer has been razed completely.”
Residents urge FG, LASG to probe the explosion
Angered by the loss, residents of Abule-Egba have urged the Federal and Lagos State government to probe the pipeline explosion, alleging that the Police officers and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, personnel were aiding the vandals.
Speaking on behalf of the aggrieved residents, Sola Olufunso, said: “I know that NSCDC officials often mount roadblock at Charity Social Club Road, but daily as they do this they have never arrested the vandals.
“Also, landlords were also aiding the vandals because I know some residents that have alerted their landlords of the shenanigans. But they were asked to remain mute. I want to urge the governments to probe the act.”
Meanwhile, Lagos State, through LASEMA, has commenced investigation into the immediate and remote cause of the incident with a view to prevent future occurrence as well as punish perpetrators as a deterrent to others.
Tiamiyu said: “The state government has commenced an investigation into the cause and people involved in the incident.”
NNPC allays fears of fuel scarcity
Also, Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, has assured of adequate petroleum products supply in Lagos and its environs despite the fire outbreak.
In a statement sent to Vanguard, NNPC Group General Manager, Public Affairs, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, stated that Dr. Baru had directed the Nigerian Pipeline and Storage Company, NPSC, an autonomous business unit of the corporation, to carry out a full investigation into the incident and undertake immediate repairs of the affected part of the vandalised pipeline.