Mr. Wasiu Olaitan had kept his tradition of not going out to work on Thursdays, perhaps he would have been in the comfort of his home today – hale and hearty. A 41-year-old commercial bus driver, who augments his daily income by operating as a vulcaniser by the side, the father of three invests much of his energy and time into productive activities that would help put food on the table for his family. Abandoning his native Ile-Ife, an ancient town in Osun State boasting of a rich culture and tradition, several years ago in favour of Lagos where his search for a better life has continued, Alawasi, as he is fondly called by those close to him, has not really had it easy over time. Though managing to build a small house in the Ibafo area of Ogun State to shelter his family, the middle-aged man has continued to contend with all manner of struggles in his quest for a major breakthrough in life.
On Thursday afternoon, while ferrying passengers in his 18-seater bus from Lagos to the Mowe/Ibafo area of neighbouring Ogun, a bigger worry was added to Olaitan’s growing list. A speeding tanker laden with around 33, 000 litres of Premium Motor Spirit – one of the deadliest and easily combustible liquids in the world – that had lost control suddenly fell a few metres away from Otedola Bridge, a popular axis along the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, spilling its content all over the place and bursting into flames shortly afterwards. The 41-year-old whose commercial bus was directly behind the ill-fated tanker, the moment brought a glimpse of perhaps what the end of the world would look like.
“I saw darkness everywhere immediately the tanker exploded,” he said while speaking with Saturday PUNCH on Friday on his hospital bed where yards of bandages now strapped him like an armour. “I thought I was going to die. It was as if the end had come. There was commotion everywhere, just like in a war. Nothing else came to my mind. We all believed it was the end,” he added soberly as he narrated his ordeal to his teary-eyed wife – Faidat – and other family members, who had come to check on him on Friday morning. One of our correspondents, who was at the Trauma and Burns wing of the Gbagada General Hospital where he and a handful other victims of the tragedy are being treated, went in with the party after posing to security men as his relative.
While attributing his narrow escape to divine grace, the Ile-Ife indigene said that for a few minutes after the tanker fell, he and others in the vehicle were confused as to what to do. He revealed that it was while it was being argued that the content of the truck was diesel or petrol that the entire place erupted in flames. According to him, after being briefly knocked out by the sound of the explosion, he managed to regain consciousness and enough strength to force his way out of the bus through the front passenger seat. But even after exiting the vehicle, his fears were far from over.
“I jumped into a gutter full of dirty water immediately I forced my way out of the bus,” he said, slowly adjusting his sitting position on the bed. “I had hoped to use the water to quench the fire on my body but unknown to me the water had already mixed with the petrol that had spilled from the tanker. That compounded my problem. While I was struggling to quench the fire on my body, I did not know that my head was burning. I managed to run across the road and into an uncompleted building where people around helped me put out the fire. That was my saving grace, otherwise only God knows what would have happened to me,” he stated.
Revealing how the tragedy and her husband’s present condition had affected their life as a family, Faidat told Saturday PUNCH that things had not remained the same since Thursday. According to her, they had expended almost all the money on them in trying to save his life.
“This tragedy has completely changed our life as a family,” she began. “The thought of him lying in the hospital and battling for survival has left us restless.
“My husband usually does not go out on Thursdays. No matter how much you offer him, he would not go to work on that day. But he went out to work that day because he was arrested by LASTMA operatives on Monday and he used all the money he realised to settle them. He had no money on him and that was why he decided to go out on Thursday to work.
“I heard of the incident from one of our neighbours whose shop I had gone to buy something. Immediately I got into the house, I called my husband’s number but it was switched off. I called one of our children to warn him not to come home yet because of the incident but his number didn’t go through. Later, my husband used one of the nurses’ numbers to call and inform me that he was involved in the incident.
“I was really scared when I heard the news. In fact, all sorts of thoughts came to my mind but I thank God that he didn’t die. We are praying for his recovery now,” she said.
Like the rest of the victims affected by Thursday’s deadly inferno, Mr. Wasiu Amoo had no inkling of what laid in wait for him when he left his home at Ibafo for work at nearby Kara that fateful morning. A dealer in granite and other building materials in the area, the 68-year-old, who lost his wife and best friend of several decades about three years ago, after completing another productive day at work, was heading home that evening when the commercial bus he boarded was caught up in the tragedy. While other younger passengers managed to escape with minor burns and injuries, Amoo, perhaps due to age, couldn’t summon a similar swiftness. By the time he managed to drag himself to safety, there had been significant damage done to his aging body. He hangs precariously unto life at the Lagos hospital.
“Large parts of his body were severely burnt,” the 68-year-old’s daughter and fifth child, Aminat told Saturday PUNCH during an encounter on Friday. “He has not been able to open his eyes since that incident. Initially, he was not able to talk but after oxygen was administered on him on Friday morning, he had been talking gradually.
“Also, since that incident, he had not been able to urinate on his own; the nurses have been using a device to assist him to do that. He has been complaining of pains.
“We are praying to God to preserve his life. He is a good father; we cannot afford to lose him now. Since we lost our mother three years ago, he has been playing both roles for us. We beg God to spare his life,” she said.
Asked if there was any sort of premonition of something terrible happening before the incident, Aminat, who lives with her husband in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, said that though she wouldn’t say that there was a warning, she had felt uneasy for about three days prior to the tragedy without knowing what the problem actually was.
“For about three days before the incident, I was always having bad feelings,” she disclosed. “I couldn’t explain what the problem was. I had to embark on a seven-day fast to ward off any evil from my family. But on Thursday evening, I got the news through an uncle. We have not been at peace ever since,” she added.
Also lucky to be alive is Mr. Seun Solarin, an official of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, who escaped death by mere inches. The young man returning home from work with three colleagues and a few others in a Mitsubishi space wagon that fateful evening was rushing to go and watch the ongoing FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia before things took a different turn. In a few deadly seconds, daylight turned to raging storm of fire that threatened to consume him and others inside the vehicle. Despite sustaining slight injury, Solarin is grateful to have lived to tell his story.
“If anybody told me I’d still be alive by now, I would doubt it,” he said, still looking frightened. “I saw it; I was there, in front of a huge fire, in front of death. I was sitting beside the driver, Williams, my colleague when everything happened. I thought war had broken out. I was afraid that life had come to an end.
“Before the incident, I and Williams noticed how the tanker was manoeuvring anyhow. The tanker driver was waving at other vehicles behind not to come close. As it approached Oando Filling Station, there was traffic and the driver decided not to move forward again. As he tilted the tanker towards the culvert in the middle of the road so that it would stop, the tanker started descending. One of the motor boys quickly disembarked and started throwing a big wood in front of the tyre to stop it. But the tanker climbed a stone and fell. Fuel started gushing out but the others said it was diesel and that it wouldn’t explode.
“But something told me that even if it was diesel, we were supposed to run for safety. So, I asked everyone in the car to run. I had not run up to 100 metres before the tanker exploded. It was like a bomb exploding in a war. I didn’t look back again until I reached Isheri.
“Williams and another colleague, called Aunty Maria are still missing. Another colleague inside the car who managed to escape had his scalp seriously burnt. I pray not to witness anything like this in my life again,” he said as he battled tears.
We’ll not give up searching for loved ones –Relatives of missing person
Family members and friends of persons missing after Thursday’s tanker explosion in Lagos have said that they would not end their search until they find them – dead or alive.
A handful of persons – young and old – have been declared missing by many residents of the city since the tragic incident, which claimed at least nine lives, left several others injured while also destroying over 50 vehicles.
While the destination of the dead and injured has been established, those searching for their loved ones have been confused as to where to turn to for help.
A family member of one missing person, Mr. Andrew Oshaba, told Saturday PUNCH that he had searched everywhere for his brother, Abraham, a 45-year-old man, since the tragedy without any luck.
The mobile policeman said his brother left his workplace at Ikoyi and was on his way home at the time of the incident, but that his wife had not been able to reach him since then.
According to him, his phone line has failed to connect since the time of the accident on Thursday.
The accident was said to have occurred at about 5:00pm on that fateful day.
He said, “We have searched everywhere for our brother, Abraham, since on Thursday when the tanker exploded.
“He left his office at Ikoyi and was heading home to Mowe at about that time of the incident when his phone number was last reached by his wife. Ever since that day, we have not been able to reach him or know his whereabouts.
“We have been to the Accident and Emergency Centre at Toll Gate, Gbagada General Hospital, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, even where the bodies were said to have been taken to at Lagos Island; we have not been able to find him.
“It is very frustrating but we will not give up hope in finding him. Whatever the case may be, we will not be tired because he means a lot to us.”
A woman, Adenike Lateef, who said one of her sisters had been missing since Thursday’s tragedy, told Saturday PUNCH that in all the places they had been to, there had been no trace of Morenike, her sibling.
According to her, the young lady’s mobile telephone line has ceased to connect since the afternoon of that fateful day.
She said, “She is the last child of the family. She came to Lagos in search of a job four months ago and had been staying with me at Ogudu.
“On Thursday, she told me that she wanted to see a friend at Ojodu and that she would be back later that evening. I don’t know the friend she went to see but the troubling thing is that her number has not been connecting since that evening.
“I really hope she is fine. We have searched for her everywhere but have not found her. I have informed all our family members already; we will continue to look for her until she is found. I believe we will find her.”
Scavengers swamp accident scene for scrap materials
While people were busy mourning the monumental losses caused by the explosion and emergency responders immersed in the mop-up operation, scrap collectors, including a young boy, stormed the scene with sacks to scavenge metals from vehicle carcasses.
No fewer than 10 scrap collectors were sighted at the scene.
Undeterred by policemen, who tried to chase people away from the scene, they moved around plucking the scraps from the rubble. Some of them were able to fill up their sacks with metals.
“I will go and sell it to a man on our street in Isheri,” the boy said, scurrying from one spot to another.
As the scenario unfolded, a miscreant confronted one of the collectors and demanded that he pay “any amount” if he wanted to continue with the picking.
“From whom did you take permission to collect scraps here? Don’t you know somebody is in charge of this place? I am the one controlling this vicinity and you must pay,” he boasted, blocking the collector, who was heading towards another burnt vehicle.
The miscreant later freed the man after he promised to “settle” before he left the scene.
Family searches for three-year-old as twin sister escapes fire
Family members of a three-year-old boy, Eyitayo Famojuro, are in distress over the whereabouts of the boy, who was trapped in the Lagos tanker explosion on Thursday.
It was learnt that the boy was in a car with his twin sister, Eyitoke, and their mother when the fuel-laden tanker went up in flames.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the mother was able to escape with Eyitoke before the fire caught up with the car.
However, the whereabouts of Eyitayo and the car driver identified simply as Joseph, remained unknown in the wake of the tragedy.
A relative announced the disappearance of the duo on her Instagram page, tm_fabrics_n_more, appealing to members of the public with relevant information on their whereabouts to reach out to the family.
“The boy in this picture is a three-year-old named Eyitayo. He was involved in the unfortunate tanker accident with his mother, twin sister and the driver at Otedola bridge yesterday evening. They were a few cars away from the tanker when the explosion occurred. The driver (Mr. Joseph) carried Eyitayo while the mother escaped with Eyitoke (Eyitayo’s twin). The whereabouts of Eyitayo and Mr. Joseph is still unknown as all attempts to trace them at the scene of the accident proved abortive. Anyone with information should pls call 08033148161 or approach nearest police station,” she wrote.
The relative, Funmi Balogun, who later spoke briefly with our correspondent on the telephone, confirmed the post.
She said, “His (Eyitayo’s) mother is my sister. They live in Isheri North and were returning home when the incident happened. Her phone and the car were burnt.”
On Friday night, there were reports that the boy had been found but Balogun dismissed such reports, saying she did not know those making such claims.
“He has not been found; I don’t know who is posting all these things about the boy,” she told Saturday PUNCH.
Vehicle owners, mechanic count losses
A mechanic, Muftau Bolarinwa, who has a workshop at an uncompleted filling station close to the scene of the tanker explosion, said he was jolted by the incident while he was fixing a customer’s Volkswagen Golf car.
The car got burnt.
Looking tired and downcast, the 34-year-old limped around the workshop to salvage his tools from the wreckage of the vehicle around 11:00pm on Thursday when the emergency officials were battling to clear the carcass on the road.
He explained that he fell and injured his leg as he tried to flee from the spot, adding that the Golf and three other cars that customers brought to him for repairs were trapped in the inferno.
He said, “I don’t know what to tell them now. I am confused. But whatever is going to happen, the important thing is that I am alive. A lot of people were burnt to death.”
On the night of the incident, Saturday PUNCH also saw a towing vehicle owner, lamenting that he had lost his only source of living.
The middle-aged man rummaged his hands around the remnants of the vehicle.
He said, “A laptop, battery, my phones, and my tools were inside the vehicle. Everything was burnt. This was all I depended on to cater for my family. But all the same, I thank God that I survived.”
The victim, who later identified himself only as Biliaminu, said he was too distraught to make further comments when approached by Saturday PUNCH.
It was gathered that the owner of the only tricycle, which was also caught in the fire, had just bought it on hire purchase and had yet to complete the payment when the incident occurred.
“The man was crying here after the incident. He said he sold his property to make part payment for the tricycle. He wanted to salvage it from the fire. People held him back,” an eyewitness said.
A man, who could not be controlled by onlookers on Friday at the scene of the accident, cried bitterly while standing next to what used to be his Lexus Sports Utility Vehicle.
Refusing to speak with Saturday PUNCH, he could be heard lamenting that he bought the vehicle with all his life’s savings to use as car hire.
“Where will I begin from,” he said, while sobbing profusely. “I put all my life’s savings into this car in the hope that I’d use it to work and raise money to do other things for myself. But now, look at what has happened to me. I am totally finished,” he added soberly as the crowd around tried to console him.
Relatives of victims battle nurses over cost of items
Family members and friends of some of the victims of Thursday’s tanker explosion in Lagos engaged nurses at the Trauma and Burns section of the Gbagada General Hospital in Lagos in a light ‘war’ on Friday over the cost of items needed to attend to their loved ones receiving treatment at the facility.
While it was not compulsory for relatives of victims to buy such items there, those that purchased them outside the facility had the ‘trick’ of some of the nurses to deal with at the end one of our correspondents, who visited the sprawling hospital, observed.
Seated under a tree by the left hand side of the section, family members and friends of some of those rushed to the place for medical attention could be seen pouring out their anger as they strategised on how to deal with the various ‘tricks’ some of the nurses were employing to get ‘something’ out of them.
A woman wearing a veil, was heard by our correspondent telling a brother to her husband receiving treatment, that “one of the nurses is not happy that we bought the items outside and not from her.”
As if to confirm what she had just said, the nurse, a light-complexioned woman, soon walked to the place the family converged to ‘stylishly’ vent her disappointment.
“Are you sure all the items are complete in the bag,” the nurse asked, directing the question to no one in particular. “I have checked that you bought the ointment, I told you that I was selling, is it that you didn’t want to buy from me? How much difference is the price from outside? You should patronise me too for all the work I have been doing for you since your husband was brought her,” she said.
Like a well-rehearsed line, the wife and three other women, perhaps kinsmen, chorused: “Don’t be angry, we followed the list you gave us. Besides, the price outside is better.”
Flashing a cheeky smile afterwards, the nurse, like a humiliated creature, simply tucked her ‘tail’ in between her legs and slowly sauntered back into the ward.
Minutes later, a man and his wife were seen by our correspondent hurriedly dashing out of the ward with long faces as a list of items to be bought for their sister receiving treatment at the place dangled from one of their hands. Almost immediately, a young nurse could be seen going after them in a desperate attempt at persuading them to make the purchases within the place.
“We’ll go out to buy the items,” the man barked, as his wife trudged behind him. “How much are they selling these things out there? Please, you people should forget about it,” he added angrily.
Throughout the about two hours our correspondent spent around the place nosing around for news, relatives of Thursday’s tanker explosion victims could be seen discussing and designing strategies to counter any ‘trick’ thrown up by the nurses to make some money off them.
Overall, the vicinity was calm as activities went on smoothly in all the corners of the hospital checked by Saturday PUNCH.
Lagos to conduct DNA tests on corpses
In the wake of families searching for their loved ones at hospitals and mortuaries across the state, the Lagos State Government says it will carry out DNA tests on the charred bodies recovered from the scene of the tanker explosion on Otedola Bridge on Thursday.
Commissioner for Health in the state, Mr. Jide Idris, said this on Friday in response to an enquiry on the difficulty in releasing corpses to the relatives of the deceased.
A number of families thronged Gbagada General Hospital, Accident and Emergency Centre at Toll Gate and the Mainland General Hospital morgue on Friday in search of their loved ones.
One of the enraged relatives, Yetunde Joseph, a resident of Ojodu-Berger, told Saturday PUNCH that her husband, Israel, visited a business partner on Lagos Island, but had not returned home since that day.
She said, “He left home around 8:00am in his car to discuss a contract with his business partner called Johnson. He called me around 4:30pm while he was returning home and said he was at Ojota. He called me on the phone and told me he was hungry. He said he had not taken lunch. I assured him that by the time he would have got home, food would be ready.
“I was expecting him to be back by 5:00pm. When it was 7:00pm and I did not see him, I became worried. I called his line but it was switched off. It was in the process that a neighbour told me that there was an explosion on the Otedola Bridge. I rushed to the scene, but there was smoke everywhere.
“I have gone to the hospitals the injured victims were taken to but could not find him. I have also been to the mortuary; the workers said the bodies brought from the scene were badly burnt. Even if he is dead, I want to see his corpse.”
A man, Tunde Alimi, said that he and some of his colleagues at work visited the Mainland Hospital on Friday to claim the body of one of their friends, who died in the fire but were turned back by officials.
Dr. Idris had in his response to Saturday PUNCH’s enquiry on how the state government would handle the identity issue, said that DNA would be conducted on the bodies.
“It has to be by DNA analysis. The arrangements for that are being sorted out,” he said in a text message sent to one of our correspondents.