Just before the pages are turned over, GBOYEGA ALAKA, in this piece, revisits last year’s Ijegun petrol pipeline explosion, with special focus on the civil servant, Sakiru Modiu, who lost four children, grandchild and wife. Modiu is also appealing to the Lagos State government and the NNPC for special compensation on compassionate ground.
He cut a pitiable, lonely figure, as he met this reporter at the entrance of his new abode, deep inside Agodo, Egbe, a suburb of Lagos. Modiu Shakiru, 51, represents the worst possible face of petrol pipeline explosion, which has become a regular occurrence in Nigeria, having lost four daughters, a grandchild and wife to the explosion that happened last year, July 4 precisely, in the Ijegun area of Lagos.
It may not be one year after, but the petroleum explosion that occurred Sunday night in Ekoro area of Abule Egba, Lagos, may yet replace and possibly obliterate the memory of that horrific incident, in which well over a dozen lives were lost. According to Titilayo Goncalves, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Lagos State, ten persons had died by Thursday, four days after the incident. Modiu was the worst hit in that explosion, as his house, which backed the major canal in the area and faced the drainage on Catholic Mission Street, was caught in between, trapping his entire family. Inevitably, he suffered the most casualties. But for what he called “experience and street wisdom,” he, very surely, would have been among the numbers.
The family had been preparing for the wedding of his half sister, the last born of his father, and all his daughters, five of them, had come, with their children, to deliberate, Modiu recalled.
“When the meeting ran late into the evening, they all agreed to sleep over. After all, it’s their father’s house, it’s their home. The wedding was billed for July 27, 2019, about three weeks away.
“Unfortunately, we all woke up to find ourselves in a blaze of fire around 4 o’clock in the morning. I lost my wife and four children in the fire. They were all grownups. One 34, another 28, another 24 and 16 year-old. I also lost a grandchild a 2-year-old. They all came with their grandchildren. Some of my grandchildren survived, but you’ll see evidence of the burns on them.
“We were all rushed to the hospital in Gbagada; my wife and my first born, Jemila, died on the third day. Three days later, another died. Of course, we were in separate wards, so I was unaware of their demise and my people, in their wisdom, didn’t know how to break the news to me. It wasn’t until much later that the family summoned courage to tell me.”
Asked how come he was able to come out with less injury, Modiu said, “I am a man. I was also caught in the fire but I used experience and street wisdom. We woke up suddenly to see the blazing fire as it raced towards my house from the back, so we rushed out, not knowing that it had also taken over the whole frontage. The fire had filled the gutter. I was to later learn that there was a clash between some security people and the oil thieves, who had vandalised the pipeline to steal Petrol. As a result of the scuffle, the fuel they had already siphoned spilled in the gutter and ran into the canal. The explosion happened right in front of my house before it scattered us all. In the midst of the confusion, the only option I had was to jump into the gutter in front of my house and try to submerge myself in it. Even though there was fire in it, it appeared the only refuge, so I immersed my face and front in the gutter, while all my back and leg which were exposed, burned.”
Asked if he regrets building his house close to a petroleum pipeline, Modiu said, “My house is not close to the pipeline. The vandals carried out their act on Five Junction, which is about four/five streets away, so nobody can accuse me of building near a pipeline. The canal had not been desilted, so the petrol which flowed into it was practically on the surface, which was why it was able to immediately affect my house. The last time such vandals activities happened in Ijedodo, which is a bit far from our house, we all abandoned our houses and ran to safety, until it was controlled.”
House of trauma
Following his discharge from the hospital, Modiu said he has had to just lock up the house and relocate to his present abode in Egbe, as he could just not bear the trauma of living in the house.
“That house, aside being damaged, holds too much horror memories for me. Do you know what it means to lose your wife and four children at about the same time? There is no day I don’t remember the incident. Is there any way I can forget it? I so love my wife and we understand each other so well. So, she is a big loss for me.
“In short, I’ve accepted my fate. But God in his mercy spared my pregnant daughter, Ganiat Sherif. Even though she also sustained serious burns; as we speak, she has put to bed and nothing happened to her child.”
At the moment, he says all the surviving children of her late children, five of them, now live with the surviving daughter, because, he as a man cannot take adequate care of them. Modiu says he will appreciate help in this regard.
Appeal for accommodation
His current abode, he said was collectively rented for him by family members, but says there is no way he would be able to continue paying the huge rent, which he said runs into over N200,000.
As a result, he is calling on the Lagos State government, the federal government and The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to take another look at his plight. “I think it will not be too much if the Lagos State government, possibly in collaboration with the Federal Government, reconsider my case and come up with a suitable compensation. I will gladly appreciated a gift of accommodation, possibly a two-bedroom or three-bedroom flat. Once the current rent of this apartment expires, I would need another accommodation because I cannot afford the yearly rent with my meagre driver’s salary.
“I am especially appealing to Governor Sanwo-Olu to step in. He has shown that he is a compassionate governor. He came to visit me at the hospital – the photos were all over the papers. He also ordered that all medical expenses be transferred to the Lagos State Government, which I appreciate a lot. I know he can do this for me.”
Modiu, who still bears tell-tale images of the burns and had to be intermittently slapping his badly burnt back all through this interview, said the government medical largesse ended the moment he was discharged from the hospital. “Right now, I buy my drugs, which is not cheap. I spend an average of N30,000 on drugs every day. Even the vest I wear, which is supposed to help prevent my skin from swelling and heal, cost over N100,000 each. And the doctor has said I would have to be on consistent drug treatment for a minimum of a year before I can fully heal. Even as I speak, I still bear the pain. At intervals, the sharp pains hit me as if they are fresh fire burn. I tell you, the pain is unbearable. I need help to purchase my medications too.
Modiu however has special appreciation for his boss, Olabode Garbadeen, a serving Commissioner with the Lagos State Local Government Service Commission.
“I thank God for the kind of boss I have, Commissioner Olabode Garbadeen of the Lagos State Local Government Service Commission. I work as his personal driver and I cannot quantify his assistance and support since this tragedy befell me. For well over six months now, I have had to stay off work because I cannot rest my back which is badly burnt, but he has been understanding. Aside supporting me financially from time to time, he also bought me this air-conditioner because doctors said I should endeavour to always stay in cool places. I guess he may also be connected with the governor’s hospital visit as well.”
Modiu also has kind words for the Chairman of Igando Ikotun Local Council Development Area, Mrs Morenike Adeshina Williams, who, he said, made a donation of N20,000 to him.
Conspiracy of silence
When asked why people in neighbourhoods where these explosions happen don’t speak up until such disasters befall them, Modiu again reiterated that his house is not close to the pipelines and as such was not likely to know when such vandalisations happen.
On the theory that community heads may be party to such activities, he said, “You may not be far from the truth because it is nearly impossible for such vandalisation and fuel theft to happen in a community, without the community heads, oba, baale, omoniles or their representatives knowing. Although I don’t have any evidence of any oba or chief collecting money, these days, it is hard for such activities to happen in a community, without the vandals/thieves making returns.”
He however says what pains him most is the fact that the Oba of Ijegun has not deemed it fit to visit, send representatives or even call to commiserate with him, despite the fact that the tragedy happened to him in his domain and not too far from his palace. Worse, he said, is the fact that this is an Oba that knew him from childhood.
“Like me, the Oba of Ijegun is Awori. I am from Isolo. He is also somebody that knows me from childhood. My boss that I’ve been singing his praises is from Epe.” Modiu said.
On the way out of the regular explosions, Modiu said, ‘All those involved in this pipeline vandalisation and theft have godfathers, so increasingly, it’s looking like there is nothing anyone can do until the government become decisive and devise ways of protecting the pipelines and dealing with these people.
“Would you believe that the same people who caused that havoc came again to a nearby spot on July 7, just three days later to continue their acts? that tells you how damning and daring they have become. So they move to different locations from time to time. Since that incident, there have been incidences in Isheri-Idimu and now the last one at Abule-Egba.”
‘Help us beg government to stop wasting our lives’
When The Nation visited the sight of the explosion mid-week, there were little signs of any such incident, as normalcy had return and the people had practically moved on. But a one-on-one interaction with some of the people revealed that the scar remained indelible.
One of the men, a building material trader, Johnson Ajimobi, who lost belongings in the fire, recalled that it was a day better forgotten.
“That fire burned for more than four hours. It sparked off somewhere on Catholic Mission Street and ran back to source here, where the vandals had vandalised the pipeline and abandoned their tank, which spilled its content. The content, ran into the gutter and naturally flowed until it got ignited.
“That place (pointing to an empty spot) used to be our office and we had our belonging and equipment here. We lost everything to the inferno. The whole of that place used to be a mosque; it also got burnt down. You can see that we are just sitting under a shed now. We also lost about five motorcycles parked right there.
“We have a friend, who lost four children and wife; another, who was struggling to move his vehicle, died in the fire. His wife also died shortly after because she couldn’t bear the psychological pain. In short, the pain is unquantifiable.”
Asked if they have received any compensation from the government, Ajumobi said, “No. The government said we are staying here illegally and as such didn’t qualify for any compensation.”
However, Ajumobi, who said he used to be a member of the security committee appointed by the Oba, said the causes of regular explosions are well known. “We all know that it is the handiwork of pipeline vandals out to steal fuel. The Pentagon security and Civil Defence officials accosted them and that was what resulted in the spill that sparked the fire. If the government does not do something fast, this explosions will continue to happen, because these people don’t have another business.”
“Look, help us beg the government to stop wasting our lives,” another man, who had been listening to the conversation, chipped in. “If they don’t do something drastic, this thing will continue happening and innocent lives and people’s hard earned properties would continue to waste away.”
On the allegation that people in the neighbourhoods are guilty of a conspiracy of silence, Ajumobi said, “There are security officers patrolling this places. Why don’t they arrest them. Most of us close here latest 7pm, so how can we know people who come to operate at night? The last time they came during the day to identify the location of the pipeline, our Hausa security men chased them away. We learnt they actually came with metal detectors, with which they traced the location of the pipe and even marked it.
“During that explosion, the police saw the burnt vehicles of the vandals. Are you saying they couldn’t trace the owners through their vehicle number? Even Senator Solomon Adeola (Yayi) came her several times. Please tell them that we are also suspecting a cover-up by the government.” He finished off.
Source: The Nation