From Rose Ejembi Makurdi
It was a sound from the pit of hell. It shook the earth and thick smoke and fire covered everywhere.
In a jiffy, the fire consumed everything on sight, including human beings, houses, shops, vehicles and motorcycles.
Indeed, it was a black Sunday for the people of Oshigbudu in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State. Last Sunday, April 18, 2021 a fuel tanker fell and exploded in the area.
The explosion, which also affected a fuel station in the area, claimed 12 lives and destroyed over 70 shops, houses, vehicles, over 20 motorcycles, a transformer and foodstuffs among other valuables. Many who sustained injuries are still receiving treatment at the hospital.
Sadly, while the community was still mourning the loss of lives and property to Sunday’s accident, another tanker explosion occurred at the same area.
The second explosion, which reportedly came from a tanker loaded with kerosene, was said to have occurred a few meters away from the first barely 48 hours after.
Although no life was lost in the second explosion, the Benue Sector Commander of Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Yakubu Mohammad, confirmed to our correspondent that two houses were burnt.
Narrating how the first incident happened, Ebuka Okoro, a shop owner in the area whose shop was also razed, said he had just left his phone accessories shop to go home and bath when he suddenly heard the loud explosion.
“I sell phones and accessories. I was at my shop and at about to 11am, I went home to bath and about 12noon this thing (explosion) happened. Everything, including money, inside my shop got burnt. I left the shop about 10 minutes before the explosion,” Ebuka said.
Samuel Odagbayi, who also operates a phone booth in the area, said he was in his shop when he saw the tanker when it lost control and fell.
He said: “It happened between 12noon and 1pm. The tanker didn’t touch anything; it’s like it lost control. It was coming with speed. It was coming from Otukpo and faced Abuja direction. Eight indigenes and three non-indigenes died. We also learnt that the tanker conductor later died bringing the number to 12.
“We only saw the motor boy. According to what I heard, the driver ran away. Some who lost their lives were at the spot of the incident and were unable to run. There is nothing like firefighters. Even the FRSC people that came refused to carry the bodies. This is the first time that this thing has happened here.”
Odagbayi lamented that his family had been further impoverished by the tanker explosion as all they had worked for over the years were either consumed or stolen by looters, who posed as sympathizers.
“We’ve lost so many things. Our fridge and other household items are all gone. We had a charging point and the moment the house caught fire, some people who came to help us stole some of our items,” he lamented.
One of the locals, Inalegwu Baba, said he could not sleep for days after seeing the gory sight of roasted human beings, some of whom he had seen and related with earlier that day.
“I saw human beings on the ground that day; I said is this how life can be? We are poor people trying to make ends meet. My brother, human being is nothing.
“I could not eat that day. That day we drink to stupor. The conductor tried to remove his shirt and trouser did not even fall; it was just dragging on the road.
“A shop owner simply identified as Easy just returned from church and opened his shop. About 20 minutes later, the thing happened. He died inside his shop. We packed his remains inside cloth and buried,” Inalegwu explained.
Although a 25-year-old widowed mother of five, Obiye Sunday, lost all her belongings to the inferno, she’s grateful to God that she was able to escape with her children.
She said: “Thank God my children and I escaped unhurt even though I lost all my belongings in the fire. We are all safe. I am packing to my sister’s house. I have five children: Two are in school.”
A school leaver, Olobo Ali, said he had been riding commercial motorcycle for five years and he was riding behind the tanker when it suddenly lost control and fell on the road.
It was gathered from a nurse who did not want to be named at General Hospital Obagaji that the only patient was brought in after accident was given emergency treatment and referred to the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Makurdi due to the degree of burns.
“We have received information that he did not make it to Makurdi,” the hospital staff disclosed.
On his part, the Division Police Officer (DPO) in Agatu, Hyacinth Enyikpo, explained that the accident was as a result of break failure.
“According to what I was told at the scene of the accident, the conductor was waiving to the police, saying “no break o, no break’ and the driver did not reduce speed and lost control, and one of the tires entered into the gutter.
“The tanker summersaulted and caught fire. The conductor was brought to General hospital here (at Obagaji) and later referred to FMC Makurdi but could not get there alive.
“Even the second tanker explosion happened the same way. According to the conductor, on approaching the town, the driver pressed the break and the break couldn’t hold and the tanker had to climb on one of the woods that were used as speed breakers and it entered in between the tyres and that is how it summersaulted.
It could be observed that after the first accident, logs that were used to serve as speed breakers to the point of the accident were still there when the second tanker driver arrived and ran into it.
Oshigbudu, a Trunk A Road in Benue State, is over 80 kilometres from Otukpo, the headquarters of Benue South Senatorial District.
The snakelike road, which leads from Otukpo through Oweto, is said to be the shortest route from that axis to Abuja.
It was learnt that of the 12 deaths recorded, seven were identified and buried by their families while five that were unidentified were given mass burial.
As a result of the fire disaster, Obagaji, the Agatu local government headquarters, has now been cut off from public power supply because the high-tension lines supplying electricity to the council been melted as a result of the intense heat from the inferno.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom responded swiftly by delegating his deputy, Benson Abounu, to visit Agatu and commiserate with the council and the people over their losses.
The governor, while commiserating with the people, assured that help was underway as he had directed the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to move in immediately to ameliorate the suffering of the affected victims.
On his part, Chairman Agatu LGC, Adoyi Suleiman, thanked the governor for putting smiles almost immediately on the faces of the victims of tanker fire disaster.
While thanking the governor for the cash donation and the support from SEMA underway, he called on all well meaning Nigerians, government and non-governmental organizations to come to the aid of Oshigbudu people in Agatu by providing shelter, food and other materials to them to ameliorate the sufferings of the people.