BusinessDay

Six months after Abule-Ado explosion …Allegation of partial compensation trails Lagos govt promises

…Property owners complain of neglect …Hardest hit Bethlehem Girls College relocates …Residents still await report on cause of blast

Piles of building materials are packed in many corners of Abule-Ado. Labourers moving in and out; patching up shattered homes.

In some streets, some buildings have been rebuilt up to the point of roofing, while others have only shacks erected for the sake of securing and protecting their properties from hoodlums.

Scavengers are still roaming the streets too—looking for their daily bread— by sawing metals from the residue of collapsed structures on empty lands in the neighbourhood.

The green grasses found in many areas of the community hint of a fresh start and nature’s will to force the people to forget their horrid experiences.

That was the state of things when BDSUNDAY visited Abule-Ado, a sleepy community around FESTAC Town, in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Recall that in the morning of Sunday, March 15, 2020, a deafening explosion had rocked the area, leaving in its wake tears and blood. Six months after, the scars are visible on victims.

Although efforts are being made, through rebuilding process, to erase the signs of the fire incident, tales of bitterness abound.

Major complaint that inundated our correspondent by victims or relations of victims, as he visited the community, was alleged lack of support to residents whose properties were wrecked.

“The blast affected my church. We started building back the church two weeks after the blast, gradually. We have so far spent over N900, 000,” said a clergyman, Kehinde Oyerinde, of Celestial Church of Christ, Ileri Oluwa.

Oyerinde’s church stands directly opposite Bethlehem Girls College and was heavily impacted by the blast.

He alleged that the government has neglected those who lost properties and only compensated the families of the people who died.

“They should come and help us to stay alive,” he begged, as he stared into the open space that was once filled with academic life.

At the house of another landlord, Innocent Okoye, you could almost touch the smell of fresh cement everywhere. Apart from the visibly new roof and fence, labourers were still mixing sand and cement at the time of visit.

The roof of his house was affected. His fence was brought down and he lost his car and other valuables to the explosion.

Though grateful for being alive, Okoye is single-handedly bearing the cost of his repairs and renovations despite being assured of support and compensation.

“Since then, we’ve not heard from anybody. No assistance. We’ve been struggling from hand to mouth to make sure that we put our properties in order,” Okoye lamented.

He said the government promised to help them, but nothing has been done since the disaster shook the community, adding that their association is still in talks with government to know if there would be any palliative.

“The government should please come and assist us in any way they can. It’s not easy for us,” he said.

Nurat Jimoh, a former landlady, and a businesswoman in the community, who now squats from one place to another, survives daily on meagre donations from friends and sometimes distant family members.

Jimoh, who is also a widow, lost her house which had a shop where she sold provisions. She currently has a rickety shack on her land for security reasons.

She said she was in the bathroom on the day of the blast, when the “entire building collapsed on me and my children,” she told BDSUNDAY, pointing to her skin covered in scars.

“I have nothing now, not even a place to stay. I’ve been sleeping in different places, squatting from one place to another.

“Government should help me out with my building. Anything they can do for me, I don’t mind. I just want to have a place to stay,” she said in a desperate tone.

On March 15 this year, an explosion shook Abule-Ado community, demolishing buildings, damaged many other properties, wreaked a serious havoc on businesses, killing many people and leaving some in critical states.

More than 300 properties were also destroyed and hundreds of residents displaced in the aftermath of the incident.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State’s governor, had constituted a committee to look into how to rebuild and reconstruct the place, and ensure that it moves back to a normal society with good infrastructures.

The committee was headed by Obafemi Kadiri Hamzat, deputy governor, and co-chaired by Paul Tayo Bamgbose Martins, commissioner, Ministry of Special Duties.

The state government also set up a N2billion Abule-Ado Emergency Relief Fund for the victims, with a N250million 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.

But while residents could not speak much about the Federal Government’s intervention, they said and insisted that Sanwo-Olu’s government has done nothing much to help them.

“When it happened, they promised us that they would help those who lost their properties, and that they would treat us well, but at the end of the day, we didn’t see anything.

“There was a day they called us to assemble at Bethlehem School; when we came, we were given rice that has stones in it. What can we do with those things?” Taofeek Sanusi, a block maker, said.

Sanusi, who could not hide his disappointment, claimed he lost about N6million on that fateful day. He said that his trailer of cement got burnt completely, and all his blocks, both six and nine inches, were smashed.

He further said that the lorry he used to deliver his products also got burnt, adding that he could not salvage anything out of his two shops where his block-moulding machines were installed.

Sanusi claimed that he is currently in debt of about N2.8 million and his suppliers have stopped supplying him the cement with which he runs his business, and are on his neck for their money.

“When I got here that day, I couldn’t recognise my shop again. Everything was destroyed,” he recalled. “Since the government has refused to help, what can we do?” he added resignedly.

Exclusion from compensation and state government’s position

The general feeling of the majority of sources who spoke to BDSUNDAY was one of exclusion from the compensation package of the state government which only favoured the families of the bereaved.

Multiple sources told the reporter that about N2.5 million was given to families of victims who died from the explosion.

“I heard they gave the families of people who died in the explosion about N2.5 million each,” a resident said.

While efforts to reach families who received the money were fruitless, Jimoh Raheem, Baale of Abule Soba, said the government has done well, and that he knows they will also keep all their promises to the people.

The traditional ruler said there are two layers of compensations. While the first has to do with the people that died, the other is about those that lost property, adding that the families of the dead were compensated with the sum of N2.5 million per dead.

Raheem explained that due to the high number of properties that were demolished, the government would have to make its plans before disbursing money.

“We had many houses that were damaged, and you know they have to do their own plans before they can start disbursing money. They have continued to promise that they are going to fulfil their promise,” he said.

Raheem further said that apart from compensations, there is still an access road government is planning to Ijedodo; he said that the project has already started.

He debunked claims by some residents that they were homeless.

He said those that were homeless were taken to the internally displaced peoples (IDPs) camp at Igando and are even given free food.

He told BDSUNDAY that all the people that came to him and reported homeless, were taken to the camp after he called the authorities who came with their vehicle and took them to the camp.

“I’ve not seen anybody that is homeless. If I did, I would tell you,” Raheem said.

BusinessDay in April reported that the state government commenced the disbursement of N2.5 million to each of the families that lost their loved ones in the Abule-Ado explosion.

The disbursement commenced after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu approved the the money, and the approval was also conveyed to victims/families affected by the incident.

“Each named next of kin of a deceased victim of the Abule Soba pipeline explosion will be given N2,500,000 by the Lagos State government,” said the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA) in a statement

The affected members were reportedly asked to attend a meeting for verification, identification, and collection of the N2.5million financial support scheduled to hold at the Deputy Governor’s Office at the secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja by 11: 00a.m on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Speaking to BDSUNDAY on the compensation plan for those who lost properties, an official from the state government who craved anonymity, said the government is “yet to take any specific decision on the nature of compensation to those who lost their properties.”

FG still mum on cause of explosion

Present at the explosion site on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, Sadiya Umar Farouk, minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, had said that the Federal Government would join hands with the Lagos State government to bring succour and relief to the victims.

Admitting that the level of destruction was devastating, and “very worrisome,” she said they would work with the Lagos State in investigating the root cause, and setting up a strategic framework to address the issues once and for all.

“We’re also going to work in the area of rebuilding these structures that have been destroyed,” Farouk assured.

BDSUNDAY, however, understood that nothing has been done in regard to help and support to the victims from Abuja.

Apart from the financial burden, the Abule-Ado residents are still worried about the actual cause of the explosion.

Despite the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)’s statement that it was a gas explosion, residents are still saying it was a bomb blast due to the spread of the explosion’s impact. They are also still expecting a report on the cause.

“Till now, the government has not given us any vital information as to the cause of the blast, whether it was a bomb blast or gas explosion, Joseph Okechukwu, a resident who is currently rebuilding from scratch, said.

A former worker of the ruined Bethlehem Girls College and other residents suspect cover-up of the cause, insisting that the government cannot “go straight to say what the cause was because everyone is trying to protect himself.”

They argued that the public knows that it was a bomb blast as that was not the first time a gas explosion would happen in the area.

“The government can’t say it’s a bomb blast, all they are saying is that it’s a pipeline explosion. But they know it’s a bomb blast. If only they can say the truth, they know what happened because the entire nation knows it’s a bomb blast,” a security personnel, who asked not to be named, said.

By the same token, the Baale of Abule Soba, (mentioned earlier) believes it was a bomb blast too. But he said the government has not come out fully to say it was a bomb blast, and that he was yet to know the result of the investigation.

Speaking to BDSUNDAY, Oladotun Hassan, Oluomo of Abule-Ado, said intervention programmes in terms of assistance, damages, in terms of attention, are supposed to come from by the Federal Government because the pipeline being talked about is owned by the NNPC, a Federal Government oil, and gas body.

He further said that the Federal Government has not done any meaningful intervention.

In a telephone conversation, he said the Federal Government has not only failed to provide financial assistance, or accommodation, but has also not conducted an environmental impact assessment of the incident post-mortem.

“We’re yet to see a forensic report on the issue,” Hassan said.

He also wondered: “Is there no insurance from the pipeline regulatory company that is involved in activities whereby when there is a pipeline burst, there should be a property insurance company which ought to take responsibilities for the damage that occurred in that regard?”

On the cause of the explosion, Hassan averred that comprehensive report is expected of the government as they cannot conclusively hold to the government’s account that a truck hit a gas pipeline.

More so, he stated that there was no gas pipeline in the area where the incident occurred, and further questioned what could have led to such a blast that went to shook a thousand kilometres of the area.

Hassan, who commended the Lagos State government for playing some intervention role, however, said it was not enough to cater for all the victims.

He said victims and families who own small and medium scale businesses were not compensated, and that these are issues that call for concern.

“There are plans to keep pressing on the government for more to be done because nothing equivalent to the damage has been done,” he told BDSUNDAY.

Updates on Bethlehem Girls College

Although no student died from the blast, Bethlehem Girls College remains a huge loss to the community, particularly, at a time when girl-child education is being advocated.

The explosion destroyed almost all the school buildings, leaving a hostel which has now been demolished.

Our correspondent found out that the college site, which once had beautiful structures, has now become a convenient spot for vehicles to reverse.

One part of the land has been developed into what looks like a subsistence type of farm with coconut and pawpaw trees sighted.

However, the property now belongs to the government of Lagos State, according to Emeka Ogbu, chief security officer of the school.

“The place is now under the government. No more school on the site again. Nobody will allow their children to go to school there again because they do not know what would happen next,” he said.

Ogbu told BDSUNDAY that the government wants to build a fire service station on the property, adding that the school was given some amount of money and has since relocated to Festac Town.

He could not however, confirm the exact amount given to the school.

Speaking on the matter, Raheem confirmed that the school authority was compensated and relocated to another site in Festac Town.

“They have already relocated the school. The land is now a property of Lagos State government. They have given the school another site in Festac Town, and the Lagos State government wants to build that school back again for them,” Raheem said.

Efforts made to further verify the exact amount that was given to the school and what the land will be used for were fruitless.

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