PAIN, agony, loss and distress trail the Abule Egba pipeline fire outbreak which left the entire Awori area of Lagos awake all night on Tuesday and rendered many people homeless. A walk or drive through Oko-Oba Road to the popular Abule Roundabout and Shobowale Street and its environs would melt the hardest of hearts going by the enormity of the destruction that took place.
Scores of houses including duplexes, storey buildings and bungalows, which had served as homes to many families and offices for businesses outfits were burnt to ashes, leaving the owners with memories of the good past. Families have disintegrated on account of the fire incident as they are split between neighbours and distant family members who now have to bear the task of accommodating the victims.
Every morning since Tuesday, erstwhile residents of the affected buildings and people who had businesses in the area, particularly the abattoir, come around to see the destruction to done to their properties perhaps in the hope that they may wake up from the terrible nightmare the incident has foisted on them or get emotional encouragement from seeing others whose property were also burnt. Most importantly, many of them are on visits to the area in order to further appreciate their miraculous escape from the disaster.
Recalling her nightmarish incident, an 80-year-old woman, Madam Alice Solomon, said the entire family was fast asleep when all hell was let loose.
She said: “It was about 3 am when I heard sounds like bomb blasts in front of our compound where I had a provisions store. So frantically, I hurried out to the shop and behold, fire was all over the shop. “The stock of fireworks I had hoped to sell during this Christmas season was the first casualty of the fire outbreak. In fact, the noise from the blasts of the fireworks became our initial saviour.
“I remembered that we were four in the house, including my child and my grandchildren, so I hurried back to wake the others, not minding how poorly dressed we were.
“Suddenly, the shout of fire was all over the place. We were in the middle of the fire and had no way of escaping.
“We thought of escaping through the back of the house but the situation there was worse. That was when I started screaming to the people in the other compound and they told us to climb the fence. So we all scrambled to the fence and climbed. It was the fence that saved us.
“But I sustained bruises on my hand and palms from the pieces of broken bottles installed on the fence. From there, we ran for our dear lives.”
Asked where they have been staying since then, Mrs. Solomon responded: “We ran to our church, the Celestial Church of Christ.”
John Ogha, a 37-year-old man from Benue State, who works with the Federal Ports Authority, said he was at home with his wife and four children when fire invaded their house.
He said: “We heard shouts all over the area. We thought that it was an unusual case of armed robbery. We didn’t know it was fire.
“I saw fire creeping into the corridor of the house and I started shouting to my wife. By that time, we could not pass through the main door anymore. The fire had grown too big and was all over us. We had to desperately break the windows, I jumped out and my wife was passing the children to me through the window one after the other, before she jumped out herself.
“We ran for dear life. All the other tenants struggled to get out one way or the other. None of us in the house took anything with us. Some of us escaped from the fire with only wrappers tied around our body. Some escaped in shorts and boxers while some did not even wear anything.
“There were about eight rooms in the house and all our property all burnt to ashes. In the morning, we all rushed down to check whether we had anything that was saved but there was nothing. We have nowhere to stay now.
“There is a hotel now where the owners pitied us and said I should just pay N5000 per week. I have been moving from one family member to another seeking financial help.”
Fifty-five-year-old Ramatu Mohammed, who is married to a man from Katsina State, has a gory memory of the fire incident which nearly snatched her life just a week to Christmas.
She said: “We were asleep like every other people around this area when the noise of fire, fire, fire got to us. We jumped the fence of my compound along with our children.
“I was not feeling very well even before the fire incident, and right now, my condition has gone worse. I am presently suffering pains in my legs from the fall I had when I scaled the fence, landing roughly in a gutter.”
Asked how she mustered the strength to scale a fence, she said that only God could have given her that strength because she was very sick.
“After that, the children and I got lost in the crowd that particular night. Everybody was running, so we lost contacts with one another. It was much later that we located one another, and that was around 8 am the next morning.
“We were however lucky to rescue a few clothes in the morning. But most people in the compound had all their property burnt to ashes.
Ramatu said that some of the victims, who had been rendered homeless and without property, immediately left for their villages the next day. This set of people, she said, were tenants whose shops were destroyed together with their homes.
Pointing to one of her neighbours, a middle age man who could not respond to our enquiries. According to Mohammed, the man’s wife had become so traumatised by the fire incident that she could no longer act normally. And that is presently weighing him down too.
His problems had doubled as he did not only have to worry about his destroyed property and home, he is also now saddled with the burden of a traumatised wife. The man, she said, was planning how to relocate himself and wife to a family member’s house.
In the meantime, Ramatu and her husband, Mohammed, are stuck in a corner of the razed house that was spared miraculously.
‘My husband had gone out since morning to look for money so he can take me to a hospital,” he said.
Ramatu recalled that a similar pipeline fire incident occurred in the neighbourhood about 12 years ago, though it did not wreak as much havoc as that of Tuesday.
Sike Lukmon, one of the victims of the night fire, was a pathetic sight. Although she was heavily pregnant, she had to struggle against death on that night. Sike, who was delivered of a baby two days after the incident, said without money and all their property destroyed, she could not afford delivery at a hospital, hence she delivered her baby in the corner of a burnt building where they are now squatting.
According to her, the only way left for them to escape the fire was to jump over the fence.
She said: “There was noise everywhere and we didn’t even know which direction to run to. There was fire in the other compound, across the road and everywhere. I climbed the fence and fell down three times before I finally succeeded.”
Sike is a petty trader who, according to her, managed to save some money to buy some things in readiness for her expected baby, but everything she bought went with the fire. Her goods too were burnt to ashes.
But she held unto her new baby and gave thanks to God as people came to see the miraculous baby delivered without the aid of a midwife. Women from a nearby church were said to have come to her aid at the point delivering the child.
All over the Oko Oba, Abule Egba, the entire back of Tantalizer to Wema bank, the story remains similar, the tears have not stopped flowing. The pains are still fresh and the losses are traumatic memories that haunt the residents that are still hanging around their burnt homes and those that have fled the area in search of succor somewhere else.
(The Nation Nigeria)