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Abule-Ado: Promises linger one year after Lagos’ worst gas explosion

Abule-Ado: Promises linger one year after Lagos’ worst gas explosion

Soba community in Abule-Ado is not finding it easy to move on from a sad event that brought it huge losses – of man and material.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The day had broken like every other day and some residents, used to early morning worship, had gathered in their various churches to thank God for life and livelihood.

Then, all of a sudden, a huge explosive sound rose above the chorusing voices, the neighbourhood went up in flames and thick clouds of smoke billowed into the sky.

That was March 15, 2020, a day residents of the rather serene community in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State would always remember as a Black Sunday.

One year after, residents are still mourning their losses. Although BusinessDay checks confirmed that about N2.5 million was given to each family that lost a relative in the explosion, those who lost properties were neglected.

Unfulfilled promises

The blast killed many residents and left some in critical states. Many who survived now live with scars all over their bodies.

More than 300 properties were also destroyed and hundreds of residents displaced in the aftermath of the incident, according to available information.

A trip to the community tells of people struggling to pick up life again. While some buildings that were destroyed have been rebuilt, other residents who lost properties and lacked resources lamented of failed government promises to help them rebuild.

“I’m now a tenant in a one-room apartment with my family,” said a former landlord in the community who is now a tenant in a friend’s one-room apartment with his entire family.

“I had two storey buildings here, but I have nothing now. The government does not want to do anything about our properties,” the person said, pleading anonymity.

BusinessDay learnt that those who owned properties near the site of the explosion have also been asked not to rebuild.

While explaining the level of abandonment by the government, Charles (not real name), a resident who now lives in a makeshift apartment, said his landlady used to have a four-bedroom flat, but all that was destroyed and she is now a tenant at Ijedodo, a nearby community.

“Another landlord died and his family members are now tenants. The government has not done anything,” he added.

When the explosion happened, the state government promised to compensate the victims, both the families of the bereaved and those who lost properties.

The state government then set up a N2-billion Abule-Ado Emergency Relief Fund for the victims, with a N250 million donation from the state.

In addition, the Federal Government also promised to find ways to support victims and help them get back to their normal lives.

Six months after the incident, BusinessDay checks showed that families of those who died in the explosion got about N2.5 million each from the government. However, those who lost properties were neglected.

Last year, an official of the state government who craved anonymity said the government had not taken any specific decision on the nature of compensation to those who lost their properties.

It was learnt that the committee of landlords has been working on getting the government to take steps towards compensating property owners, but they have not succeeded.

Lagos says working with FG on possible compensation to property owners

Bukola Ayinla, director, Technical Support Department, Lagos State Ministry of Special Duties and IGR, told BusinessDay that families of deceased persons were each presented with a cheque of N2.5 million, implying that the state government had paid out a total of N57.5 million to the victims’ families.

But on support for property owners, Ayinla said the government clearly does not have infinite resources and that the situation has been made more difficult with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But nevertheless, the state government is in contact with the Federal Government seeking possible means of financial aid to those that lost their properties,” she said.

She, however, said the state government had also taken some steps to ameliorate the predicament of victims.

Ayinla explained that a total of 315 buildings were affected with varying degrees of damage, and in order to ensure that those affected were not unnecessarily burdened again, the state government engaged a team of professionals to do an assessment of the structural integrity of the buildings at no cost to the owners of the buildings.

While this step was to determine the buildings that had to be demolished and those that could still be salvaged, she noted that the property owners have instituted a court case against NNPC and as such, the state has to wait for the outcome of the case.

“The state is cooperating fully with the house owners and is doing the much it can within the confines of the law,” Ayinla said.

Revealing more on spending by the state government since the incident, she said the government bore the cost of the accommodation and the feeding of 102 internally displaced persons from the Abule-Ado explosion who were accommodated at the LASEMA Relief Camp, Agbowa, for six months. It also provided cash stipends to each family and individual on exit from the camp to ease their integration into the society.

The repair of the power grid which was severely affected by the explosion, causing a blackout in Abule-Ado town and also neighbouring towns such as the Ije-Ododo for months, was done by the state government through the Ministry of Energy that paid the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) the sum of N50 million for repairs and replacement of the damaged equipment, Ayinla said.

New pipes, but apprehension remains

BusinessDay observed that some construction work had taken place on the exact spot of the blast where the pipeline runs through.

Residents said staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had gone there to change the pipes and the construction had started three weeks before this reporter’s visit.

While some residents believe they are now safe, scoring the replacement of the pipes as good, other residents are still worried. For them, changing the pipes does not assure them of safety.

“The NNPC workers came one day with their tools and changed the pipes. They replaced them with new ones. The construction is bothering us. We’re sleeping with one eye closed because we don’t know what they are doing and we’re not sure if it won’t happen again,” said Oyerinde Michael, pastor, Celestial Church of Christ, Ileri Oluwa Parish, Soba.

Nnamdi, an attendant at a car wash, said the pipe replacement had put people on the edge. According to him, they are now afraid and worried that it could happen again.

But a Lagos State official told BusinessDay that the state is working through a committee consisting of representatives from NNPC and the private oil and gas sector led by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to evolve measures on how to prevent such occurrences.

Efforts to get in touch with a source from NNPC to comment on the replacement of pipes at the explosion site were fruitless.

Recall that a BBC investigation last year had confirmed that there was a burst in the pipeline that led to the explosion. But in its response to the investigation, NNPC had told the BBC that its pipelines were strictly compliant with safety and regulatory guidelines. The government-owned oil company also denied the pipeline was inadequately protected and said there was no leakage prior to the explosion.

The NNPC has stuck to its explanation that the cause of the explosion was a truck that hit gas cylinders at an LPG shop. It said there had been no issue of negligence as it worked closely with the Lagos State government in providing a N2 billion relief fund to victims.

‘Lagos generated billions for compensation’

Oladotun Hassan, chairman, Abule-Ado Intervention Committee, said the state government abandoned the people to their fate.

Validating the statements of sources, he said ever since the incident occurred, there had not been any aggregated compensation to the entire people of the area.

He noted that Lagos State generated billions for compensation of victims but has not distributed those monies accordingly.

“They’ve not made any effort. It shows the lackadaisical attitude that we operate as a nation. Nigeria is for all of us, but it seems it’s being managed by a few oligarchs who lack compassion to the people’s plights,” Hassan said in a phone interview with our correspondent.

Hassan decried what he called the government’s unwillingness to carry out a detailed forensic investigation in order to prevent future explosions.

There has also not been any mapping, or restricted pointers to show that there is an ongoing investigation, and apart from BBC’s investigation which confirmed that there was a burst in the pipeline that led to the explosion, there has not been a report from then till date.

In view of the magnitude of the blast, Hassan said it would have been better if the appropriate government agencies undertook a proper forensic investigation of the blast.

“But it seems, as of date, the matter has been thrown into the dustbin,” he said.

On replacement of the pipes, Hassan said he was still worried about the safety of the people because it should go beyond changing the pipes in that spot alone, noting that most of the pipes have not been changed since they were installed and most of them must have been worn out.

He said the right thing would be to change the pipes on the entire corridors of Nigeria and not just that one place, further pointing out that there was a need to regulate the pipeline corridors of the country, and need for [more] safety measures to be carried out.

“We are reminding the government and calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to swiftly take the issue of Abule-Ado as most important because Lagos is key. If that level of destruction could happen to Abule-Ado and nothing has been done till date, then we’re not safe as a nation,” he said.

Bethlehem Girls’ College – an emotional attachment

Before the blast that shook Abule-Ado community, demolishing properties, and everything else within its radius, Bethlehem Girls’ College stood in all of its grandeur in the day and at night, major parts of the community were lit up by the streetlights provided by the school’s private power source.

But the explosion reduced to shreds all nine structures that made up Bethlehem College, a girls’ boarding school that residents had grown fond of. Though no student was lost out of about 268 students of the school, five members of staff died, including the administrator of the school, Henrietta Alokha, a Catholic nun.

Every day, the empty space where the school once stood reminds the residents of what they have lost because its presence in Ado Soba came with some perks for the people before its unexpected destruction. But now, its glory and grandeur can only be evoked from a chest of memories buried in the relics of the past.

For residents like Nike Oyerinde, a businesswoman, it is the school’s bell that she misses more than anything else.

Bethlehem Girls’ College had a bell that was part of the school’s infrastructure which rang at designated times daily to signal the various school activities. With the bell’s constant tolling, many residents soon found no need for their clocks or wristwatches as it also helped them know what time of the day it was.

Oyerinde said they got very used to the bell because their daily activities became somewhat aligned with its knell, hence it became a natural reminder for the activities that made up their daily lives.

Residents accustomed to morning prayers did not miss it because the bell would wake them up to pray every morning around 5.

“It would continue to ring at different times – 9am, 12pm, and 3pm – signalling different school activities which also helped us track time for the day and helped us know what activity we had to do at the church,” Oyerinde said.

Community members told our correspondent that the destruction was a great loss that many outside may not fully grasp because its presence brought prominence to the community.

But for others, the economic opportunities that once came with the presence of the school were a greater loss.

“I used to make hair for most people in that school,” said a hairstylist in the area. “It was a great loss, and with what has happened, I don’t think they will build it here again.”

True to speculations, it was gathered that Bethlehem College had been relocated. While the exact location remains unknown to residents who could not also tell whether the building has commenced, its previous location in Abule-Ado has been taken over by the Amuwo Odofin Local Government and is intended for the relocation of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) office from the Maza-Maza area.

“This land belongs to Amuwo Odofin Local Government intended for relocation of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) from the Mazamaza spot,” read a signpost mounted at the site where the school was previously located.

But Ayinla of the Lagos State Ministry of Special Duties and IGR dismissed the claims, saying the local government may only be taking proactive measures to ward off fraudsters.

“The state government is reviewing options for the use of the land. We will let you know the decision regarding this,” she said.

BusinessDay also learnt that the government is still in the process of finalising plans to hand over documents to a suitable place for the relocation of the school.

It was learnt that the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos had requested that the new land to be allocated to Bethlehem Girls’ College be within the same locality to minimise disruption, especially for current students of the school.

Therefore, the Lands Bureau and the Ministry of Physical Planning was then mandated to source for an alternative site, Ayinla said.

This site “has been identified and currently the state government is processing the documents for handover of the land to the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. This is being done at no cost to the school,” she said.