- Years after inhaling deadly gas from telcom’s faulty generator, family of six remains on danger list
Cosmas Omegoh and Bianca Iboma
Victor Nnorom, 15, needs urgent help. In 2009, he and his family inhaled some deadly gas from a malfunctioning generator powering a GSM mast installed in the family’s compound in Lagos.
Now, Victor and his mother are gravely ill, and efforts so far made to remedy their condition have yielded little results.
According to the head of the family, Mr. John Nnorom, Victor has long been out of school, and his health condition is pathetic.
“My son reacts like a schizophrenic,” Nnorom said tearfully. “He has difficulty breathing. He jerks while breathing. You might conclude he is about to draw his last breath. Sometimes, he loses consciousness and cuts a pitiful sight. Once he is in that state, you see him reaching out for inhaler anywhere he can find one or some ointment. When he inhales it, his fast-paced breathing usually ebbs.”
Mr. Nnorom said he is always moved to tears seeing his son’s skin. “His body is covered with black patches. His face has these irritating spots that make you want to cry.”
Dr. Tosin Arilebere, a consultant surgeon at Gbagada General Hospital, Lagos, gave further insights into the family’s plight. He said: “Victor came complaining of spots and decolouration of the face and body as a result of gas emission from a generator. This has resulted in vitiligo and also causes difficulty in breathing.
“Tests and treatment carried out did not give positive results and symptoms persist during and after treatment.
“It was recommended that the victim undergo further investigation such as an endoscope, biopsy. brush cytology CT scan and any other, to rule out or confirm early malignancy of this ailment.”
For the Nnorom family, life has not been fair in the past nine years. The head of the family, his wife and two other sons – David and Joseph – have been suffering from the fumes they inhaled while asleep on that fateful night. All of them have been going in and out hospital since then.
Recalling how it all began, Mr. Nnorom said: “We had gone to bed on that fateful October 8, 2009. Then the heavy-duty power generator, which was installed in our compound on Plot 1, Jagunmolu Street, Bariga, Lagos, malfunctioned and began to spill huge, black smoke into our apartment through the window. The generator belonged to one of Nigeria’s major telecommunication giants.
“We didn’t know how long we inhaled the dangerous smoke and soot. It might have begun at about midnight and lasted for hours. The soot covered the entire compound. It filled our apartment because it was located close to the generating set. All of us were badly affected. We only got help about 3am.
“That day, there was no power supply to the neighbourhood, so everywhere was dark. It was the neighbours who learnt about our plight. So, they stormed in and rushed all of us to the Gbagada General Hospital.”
He recalled that when he recovered, he lodged an official complaint with the agents handling the power system for the network service provider but did not get any response from them. He said, from that point, the life of his family became gravely threatened.
“At the Gbagada General Hospital, my wife and Victor were kept in the intensive care unit because of the severity of the problem. The two suffered the most. Later, David and Joseph were discharged. But we continued to keep vigil at their bedsides for few weeks as they battled for life. They were discharged when the bills began to rise,” he said.
Nnorom recalled that, so far, he has made several attempts to meet top officials of the telecommunications company to see what they would do to save the life of his family members but was prevented from doing so. However,
he said those he met assured him that the company would handle the matter but, until this moment, nothing has happened in that direction.
“I have been communicating with them since the incident took place in 2009, yet I have not received any assistance from them. For
this reason, the health of my wife and son, in particular, has been badly threatened.
“When Victor’s health further deteriorated, he was sent out of school because the proprietress sensed that his condition might affect other children. Victor is not attending any school at the moment due to his condition.
“Every kobo I have expended on my family so far has come out from my pocket, yet their condition has not improved.
“Each day, I am troubled because my son’s skin has been badly affected. He suffers flu every now and then. He is always having a headache and suffers dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath,” he said.
“At some point, some officials of the service provider visited my wife and son in the hospital. They assured me that they were going to do something for them to get proper medical treatment but till date I have not received any help from them. I have been trying everything I can to ensure that my wife and kids get proper medical treatment.
“We have been to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) for medical assistance. We have equally approached the Lagos State Office of the Public Defender, asking for its intervention.
“I don’t have money to pay for the services of a lawyer. My wife and child are in a critical condition. I believe God will touch well-meaning Nigerians to come to our aid.”
He recalled that he moved into the two- bedroom apartment where the incident happened in August 2003: “Then, there was nothing like any heavy-duty generator installed there. We lived there for years before the company came to install its mast. But as the years wore on, their generating set became faulty. Their inability to resolve it led to the disaster that struck us.”
He lamented that the emission was high-level poison whose consequences were severe, “Sometimes it induces headaches, vomiting, fainting, confusion and impaired vision and hearing for my wife and kid. We have been warned that this might lead to loss of consciousness, coma and, eventually, death. We could have died but God quickly intervened through our neighbours.
“We have equally been told that such emission can cause chest pain, fatigue, and even chronic heart disease. Even healthy people who breathe in carbon dioxide can suffer permanent heart or brain damage.
“I am appealing to Nigerians to come to our aid. They are in a difficult situation at the moment.”
Nnorom recalled that his wife and son, Victor, were sleeping in the bedroom opposite the generator that emitted the poisonous gas that hit his apartment. And that was why they inhaled much of it, he asserted.
‘My daughter, Joy, David, Joseph and myself inhaled the emission but it was not as much as Victor and his mother. It was our noise that woke up our neighbours who stormed in to rescue us. They remained with us until dawn.
“Soon after the incident, Victor started sneezing repeatedly. Some blackish substance kept coming out of his nose. Later, he began to grow lean. While this went on, his skin began to grow whitish, and patches began to emerge. At some point, his skin was peeling off. It was so terrible that the school he was attending sent him away.
“When my wife could no longer take
it, on October 21, 2010, she summoned the courage and took him to the telecommunications firm so that the officials could see him. She was allowed to see a few officials who again reassured her that they were on top of the matter. But until this moment we have not had or seen anything,” he said.
He explained that he has been moving from one hospital to another to see one dermatologist after another. He accused the firm of neglecting his family even after it tossed them into a lake of pain and misery since 2009.
“So far, I have contacted a law firm to help us. I have written a petition to the Office of the Public Defender, Lagos State Ministry of Justice. After accessing the situation, the office wrote to the service provider and invited its officials for mediation but they refused to appear.”