By Kate Halim And Lawrence Enyoghasu
Residents of Mushin in Lagos are not likely to forget in a hurry the gas explosion that claimed five lives and injured others at about 8am on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. The incident was allegedly caused by a phone call.
No 21, Ojekunle Street, where the tragic incident happened, is located off Ladipo Road, Mushin, Lagos. Situated in the same building with the gas shop are a beer parlour and a mechanic workshop.
No fewer than 15 vehicles were reportedly destroyed by the explosion, which damaged many buildings in the area, leaving a mishmash of shattered blocks, wood, iron, cars and scores of gas cylinders. But days after the incident, stories are beginning to emerge as to what happened and how some of the eyewitnesses narrowly escaped death.
According to Osinachi Elo, a spare parts dealer, the loud noise that heralded the disaster was so deafening that it almost broke his eardrum. In an interview with Saturday Sun, he recalled what happened.
“I was at home around 8 a.m. when I heard the explosion from the second street to ours,” he said. “Initially, we thought that it came from the NEPA high tension power lines. We thought two of the lines had mistakenly come in contact with each other, and thereby caused the explosion. But that was before body parts began to land on our street from nowhere. A hand here, a leg there. In fact, we were startled to see different body parts on the ground.”
There are different accounts of why and how it happened. One of the accounts has it that Sodiq, a gas attendant, was trying to sell gas to a ‘customer’ when his phone (Sodiq’s) began to ring. He tried to pick the call with his left hand. But as he did so, the transmission wave ignited the gas being transferred from one of the big cylinders to the smaller one brought by a customer. It immediately caused a huge explosion. Being too close to the source, Sodiq and the yet-to-be-identified customer were said to have been blown to smithereens by the ensuing explosion. The second version of the story has it that it was the customer, not Sodiq, who tried to receive a call. The truth may never be known for a long while but the effects of the disaster, its human toll will definitely continue to be felt for a long time to come, by families of the affected victims, and some survivors.
One of the survivors is Okechukwu Justice Obinna, a dealer in fairly used goods. He shared with Saturday Sun the story of his escape from death. “I have been selling goods here since 2019 after I finished serving as an apprentice for eight years and three months. Today, I am not just a trader but also a distributor. On the day of the incident, someone called me for a business transaction. After we were done, I went to the bank to do a transaction. While there, I got another call that a customer was waiting for me in the shop. That was how I ran down to see him. But on getting to the workshop, a colleague told me that the guy had just left. I ran after him. Not up to one minute after I left to go after the guy, the huge explosion happened. The impact was such that it burst a container in front of me and threw me to the wall. I have spent N21, 000 on hospital treatment. Right now, I am planning to go back for a scan. But I came around to watch over my goods so that they don’t get looted by hoodlums.”
While he is grateful to God for sparing his life in such a miraculous manner, he is, however, sad over the death of the victims, some of whom were well-known to him. “I know Umaru, Dangu and Sodiq,” he said. “They are good people who work here to earn a living.”
Like Okechukwu, Gbenga Aluko is also grateful to be alive. In his own case, what saved him was his decision to move out a customer’s car to the roadside so as to create a passage to move another car parked inside the mechanic workshop now reduced to rubbles.
The man, who spoke in Pidgin English, said he was thoroughly unnerved by the experience and his narrow escape. He recalled how he instinctively ducked by the side of the car he just finished parking when the explosion went off with a deafening bang and shook the entire vicinity. Afterward, he saw people running helter-skelter in total confusion while fire raged all over the place.
“One of the boys who works with us sustained a minor injury on his hand and feet,” he said. “He was rushed to the hospital but was discharged that same day.” He stopped momentarily, looked up, lifted up his hand in gratitude to God as if he was seeing Him physically at that moment and said: “I’m happy that I’m alive. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I was inside the workshop when the gas cylinder exploded.”
Though grateful to be alive, he noted that he was sad to learn about cars belonging to their customers being destroyed by the devastating blast and being burnt beyond repairs by the ensuing inferno. According to him, his boss had duly informed owners of the damaged ones about the development.
A hawker’s pain
But Loveth Uduak, who usually hawks drinks on Ojekunle Street, said she was still shocked over the sudden death of Sodiq, the young man who was dispensing gas when the huge and devastating explosion occurred. The woman, who claimed to have known the deceased for two years, noted that he was a hardworking, jovial and respectful guy.
She told Saturday Sun that she was on her way to the mechanic workshop to sell her snacks when she heard the explosion and ran for dear life, not knowing what had happened. But she was sad to learn later that it took Sodiq’s life.
“When they pulled his body from the rubble, cries filled the air,” she said. “It was a sad day for us. I couldn’t hold back tears because this young man was just hustling to make money to take care of his mother and siblings.”
Tales from other eyewitnesses
Another eyewitness and survivor, Ikenna Obiora, a spare parts dealer, has a shop close to the scene of the explosion. He said he was about opening his shop that morning when the explosion occurred. He lamented the death of Iya Funmi, the woman who sold puff-puff (flour dough) near the gas shop. He added that the woman had been struggling to raise her two children alone after her husband left her for another woman.
Obiora said: “Iya Funmi was such a nice and understanding woman. She would smile whenever you approached her puff-puff stand and whenever her children closed from school, they would join her at the stand to sell puff-puff too.”
He told Saturday Sun how the shop owners closed their shops for the day to honour the dead, adding that it would have been insensitive for anybody to open his shop to sell wares after such a tragedy. “We are like a family here. Even though we have misunderstandings sometimes and fight, we don’t wish one another evil and certainly not death,” he said. “I pray that God will not allow this kind of tragedy to befall us again in this place.”
Mr Samson Ayodeji narrated how he was hit and nearly run over by a commercial motorbike while trying to run away from the scene as fast as his legs could carry him. The man, who sustained a leg injury from the incident, and which now makes him limp, said that it was a small price to pay for his life. He noted that even though he wasn’t millionaire, he didn’t want to die yet.
He recalled how he was chatting with some guys close to the mechanic workshop when he heard a loud bang followed by a raging fire. “I took off immediately and tried to cross to the other side of the road but I was hit by a bike. I was lucky because the bike man wasn’t on high speed, otherwise, I won’t be here speaking to you,” he said.
Seated among four friends who were busy discussing the tragic development, when Saturday Sun came calling on Wednesday, he attributed it to people’s refusal to stop sending or receiving calls at gas and petrol stations. “If that young man had not answered his call when Sodiq was dispensing gas, all the people who died wouldn’t have died and I wouldn’t have been here dealing with this leg injury,” he insisted.
He prayed for the peaceful repose of the departed souls while noting that some of the guys who worked in the mechanic workshop were lucky to have escaped with their lives.
Saturday Sun reporters’ visit to the scene of explosion
On the day of the incident, the street was filled with sympathizers, police officers, reporters, and bloggers. But when one of the reporters visited the scene of explosion on Wednesday afternoon, she found it and the adjoining buildings cordoned off by the Lagos State government with white and red tapes. Some men were seen sitting and discussing the tragic development in hushed tones in front of the damaged property, and counting and lamenting their losses while business went on as if nothing bad happened, in surrounding structures.
The spare parts dealers who rented shops along the stretch of the road where the explosion happened opened for business. They were seen calling out to passers-by to patronize them. The street was very busy once again with business activities.
Senate orders probe, Lagos lawmaker calls for justice
Meanwhile the Senate has ordered an investigation into the remote and immediate cause of the gas explosion. It directed its Committee on Petroleum Downstream and Gas to investigate the explosion with a view to preventing future occurrence.
But while the committee’s work is waiting for a take-off, Abdul Sobur Olayiwola Olawale, member representing Mushin Constituency 2 at the Lagos State House of Assembly has vowed to bring offenders to justice. “I am here to assess the situation and commiserate with my constituents as a responsible and responsive legislator,” he said while addressing the press after visiting the scene of explosion on Tuesday.
“But before now, I have been advising our people not to keep explosives like gas in the open. We are not going to accept this as a natural disaster because ignorance is a disease. While we pray against future occurrence, nevertheless offenders will need to be punished to serve as a warning to others.”
Among the offenders, it was said, are owners of the mechanic workshops who are accused of encroaching into areas that were not originally meant for them, as well as allowing other businesses like gas selling points to spring up among areas allocated to them. But in an interview with Saturday Sun, Simon Epoch, one of the market leaders and a stakeholder dismissed the allegation as false. “Under-high tension and canal are strictly for the mechanic village,” he said. “This was allocated to them by Baba Jakande. Originally that place used to be a park and playground. This was later taken over by someone who works for the government. Do you know that these mechanics get these places via allocations and they pay their ground and space rents yearly into government coffers through the Ministry of Transport? So, they’re not here illegally. Before they are allocated a space here, they follow due process. First, government gives you a temporary allocation. After a certain period of time, they give you a permanent allocation. So what are we talking about?”
But Olawale, the lawmaker, weighed on the alleged plan to relocate the mechanic workshops. “I was formerly a Special Assistant to the then Governor Tinubu on Transportation. I was part of the team that dealt with illegal construction of mechanic workshops,” he said. “I know the efforts that we made and what we achieved in 2007. But from what I can see, time has changed. Otherwise, how could a place that was originally meant as a mechanic workshop be turned into something else, into a place where they sell and market gas and gas cylinders? It is bad. We need to apportion blame and punishment. We should not encourage such from our people.”
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