Another: I suffered memory loss
Catholic school: Govt gave us land without docs after losing 5 workers, nine houses worth N2bn.
By Nnamdi Ojiego
One year after early morning explosion rocked Soba community in Abule Ado area of Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State, killing scores and destroying properties worth billions of naira, victims are still groaning in pain.
This is even as the Soba Community Development Association, CDA, has sued the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, for what it described as negligence that caused the disaster.
The committee set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, however, vehemently dismissed insinuations that the explosion was caused by an Improvised Explosive Device, IED, otherwise known as bomb.
The NNPC had, shortly after the incident, said the explosion and fire were caused when a truck rammed into gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant near a vandalised petroleum gas pipeline. This claim has been disputed by both residents and environmental experts.
Recall that on Sunday, March 15, 2020, the state, and indeed, the entire nation, were thrown into mourning as a result of the tragic incident.
The explosion which did unimaginable damages to the community has greatly altered the lives of the people.
A visit to the community by Sunday Vanguard revealed that most of the surviving victims are yet to fully recover from its aftermath.
According to the Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, Dr. Oluwafemi Damilola, “ 276 people were displaced while 268 students were affected. 70 people were rescued, 23 dead bodies recovered and 25 injured persons were identified. 170 houses were affected out of which 93 were mild, 44 moderate while 33 were severe. Also, 40 cars and three articulated vehicles were destroyed. Three churches, seven schools including Bethlehem Girls’College, one hotel and one shopping complex were affected.”
N2billion Relief Fund
Lagos State government created a relief fund for the victims of the explosion. The funds were marked as a 2 billion naira emergency fund with the state government donating 250 million naira at inception. Many private individuals and corporate bodies also donated to the fund. Sunday Vanguard couldn’t establish from official quarters if all pledges were redeemed. But a source revealed that only a few had made real their promise as of press time.
We are homeless, hapless – victims
Some of the survivors who this reporter visited at hospitals last year have fully recovered while some are still recuperating. That is the fate of Nuratu Jimoh who has fully recovered but her daughter, Damilola Oyerinde, is still reeling in pain.
While Mrs. Jimoh, a widow and mother of three, who was admitted at the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital, Ojo, said her medical expenses were borne by the hospital, Oyerinde, who was treated at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, said her husband paid the medical bills amounting to over N800, 000.
“We are homeless. The building belonged to my late husband and had been our major source of sustenance. Now, it was destroyed. My major problem now is I don’t have where to stay. As I am talking to you now, I am taking shelter at an uncompleted building in Ijedodo with my children. I haven’t got anything from government. They didn’t give us anything,”she lamented.
Oyerinde, who is being accommodated by a friend, was told by the doctors at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, that she needed plastic surgery due to injuries sustained all over her body.
“I’m still going through pains. All my body is stitched including my face and breasts. Because of the pains, I can’t really do anything. I have been referred to Igbobi where they told me I need plastic surgery. The x-ray I did revealed that I have broken glasses in my hand, face and neck but I couldn’t go for the surgery because I don’t have any money.
“I have not received anything from anybody, not even food. My husband used everything he had to settle my hospital bills totalling over N800,000. I did eye surgery, and I’m still going for checkups. My husband and I are not doing anything. We have nothing. I’m a stylist but because of my condition, I’m not working now.”
Another survivor, Mrs. Oluchi Adiegwu, who suffered a memory loss at the time, has fully recovered. The mother of two was fortunate to have her medical bills jointly paid by her employer, Jomal Schools, Abule Ado, and her siblings. She has since moved on with her life.
Govt cog in the wheel of progress —Catholic Church
The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, owners of Bethlehem Girls’ College, the biggest loser in the incident, told Sunday Vanguard that government has been foot-dragging in fulfilling its promises.
The school lost five staff including the principal, Rev Sis. Henrietta Alokha, a female security officer, two cooks and a store attendant. The Church also lost nine buildings to the inferno worth over N2billion.
In a chat with Sunday Vanguard, the Director of Social Communications of the Archdiocese, Rev Fr. Anthony Godonu, said the church was still discussing with government about compensation for the school.
“The school no longer exists. Everything is on standstill. The children have been distributed to different catholic schools in Lagos and there is nothing really happening there. We are still discussing with government about compensation for the school. It has been difficult going back and forth to see how we can reconstruct the school but nothing has been done.”
On the statement credited to a government official that the school has been relocated to another place, the priest stressed: “The school has not been relocated but we appealed to the government but they have not responded. Yes, government gave a land in the same Abule Ado area but they have not given us the documents. We are still awaiting their response in terms of compensation because N2billion is our estimated value. They have not responded to the school as an entity but have paid compensation to families of those that died.
“Government is a cog in the wheel of our progress. Government should do the right thing by giving us the documents with which we can mobilise to the land. Let them fulfill whatever they have promised the Archdiocese in terms of allocation of the land to restart the school again.
“The Church is having a memorial service on Monday, March 15, 2021, at St Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Lagos, by 10am, to be celebrated by the Archbishop and others. There are other memorials all over in Benin, to commemorate the principal of the school, who lost her life while protecting the children placed in her care.”
Speaking on the pledged reconstruction of the community, a member of the committee set up by Lagos State government on the incident and Vice Chairman of Amowu Odofin Local Government Area, Segun Idris, said government has commenced the construction of an access road while modalities are being worked out for other infrastructure promised.
Idris said: “Through this committee, government has decided to build a fire service station, water cooperation, health center, a LASTMA post to control traffic in the area, and a town hall for community activities among other things.
“Government is also constructing a befitting road across that community. The access road with a bridge would link Soba to Ijedodo, Ijegun and Ikotun areas. Besides, there is also a plan for another access road from Soba to FESTAC Town. With that, those residing in those areas would not have to pass through the expressway to get home.
“Plans are already underway to restructure and rebuild the area by bringing another fantastic housing scheme to the place. The state will build about 1000 housing units for the people there. Government is coming to redesign the area and make adjustments to accommodate the existing ones.”
On why the committee was yet to submit its report, he blamed it on the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.
“ We were given two weeks to find out the cause of the explosion. Ever since the committee was inaugurated, members have been sitting, looking at how to unravel the reason for the explosion and as well bringing succour to victims. However, shortly after the committee was set up, the country went into a lockdown as a result of the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.
This actually delayed or hindered our work. Last year, our meetings were mostly done virtually. We are trying to meet now to put finishing touches to our work. Some of the materials and information collected would have to go through a lot of forensic analysis and technical examinations. Some of them, we don’t have the facilities to do them in this part of the world. We have to invite experts to examine these things so that we don’t give wrong information.”
‘We’re taking NNPC to court’
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Soba Community Development Association, CDA, Mr. Omonijo Oluwagbenga, said the body was taking NNPC to court, saying the Corporation is responsible for the disaster that befell the area.
“When our people realised that NNPC was responsible for what happened, we waited for them to come and talk to us but they didn’t come. The company refused to visit us or do anything to compensate for their negligence. We went to court to seek justice. NNPC was responsible for the explosion. Therefore, NNPC must pay damages. We must be adequately compensated.”
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