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Boxing Day Tragedy In Lagos

•CRUMBLING: One of the affected buildings.

At about 9.30 am on 26 December 2012, a loud explosion reverberated at No. 45, Ojo Giwa Street, Jankara area of Lagos Island, Lagos, southwest Nigeria. Few seconds later, series of explosions followed, there was pandemonium as people ran helter and skelter. Balls of fire lit up the atmosphere making it seem like a Boko Haram scene of bomb explosion, but it was not. The explosions were from fireworks and firecrackers stored in a shop along the street.

“The first time, we heard an explosion and this was followed by series of explosions. Everybody started running and I ran too. As we were running, it seems as if the fire was pursuing us. I fell, stood up again and continued running, not minding I had sustained an injury. We thought it was Boko Haram,” says an eyewitness and resident in the area, Segun Oyebanji.

•CRUMBLING: One of the affected buildings.

“The fire service came late. We were expecting them but they delayed in coming. One person has just died in the fire,” he added.

A police officer from Oko Awo Police Post on the same street, who craved anonymity explained that his colleague who witnessed the incident was in shock and could not speak, adding that the police post was not spared as electronics and other items in it were destroyed in the explosion.

Another resident, Abbey Olowu said the explosion was like a bomb as people scampered for safety. “I also ran with them,” he added.

According to Mr. Yusuf Abullateef, the fire started around 9.30 am. “The first explosion was very loud while the series of explosions that followed were lighter. People started running for safety; many buildings in this area shook when the explosion occurred and we thought it was a bomb.”

•Onlookers and sympathisers at the scene.

A spokesperson of the Lagos Fire and Safety Services said that they arrived 30 minutes after the explosion, but that the crowd at the scene hindered their operation.

In a twinkle of an eye, 10 buildings and 11 cars were consumed by the raging fire. A 12-year-old boy died in the fire while about 30 others were injured and rushed to the hospitals for treatment. Thousands of curious Lagosians thronged the scene of the incident; hundreds of policemen, civil defence corps, fire fighters, Red Cross officials, officials of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA and others were on ground to battle the fire.

The blast and fire led to panic in the densely packed area of Lagos, a city of some 15 million people, with residents jumping from windows to flee and others salvaging goods from their shops in the market’s neighbourhood. Fireworks continued to explode well after the fire began while smoke was heavy and the blaze intense, making it difficult for rescue workers and firefighters to approach the scene.

Within minutes of the explosion, the fire spread to a nearby building, sending hundreds of residents, traders and shoppers fleeing in the usually boisterous market area. Huge crowds gathered in the area, including onlookers and those seeking to help.

The National Emergency Management Agency said the fire was believed to have caused the explosion at a shop in which fireworks were stored. The shop was severely damaged and almost collapsing. “NEMA has mobilised response agencies and volunteers to an explosion in a building suspected to be loaded with (fireworks) in the Jankara area of Lagos. Search and rescue officers of NEMA are having hectic time to reach the place due to traffic and  the crowd,” agency spokesman, Yushau Shuaib said.

“The fire was as a result of fireworks stored in a store at Ojo Giwa Street in front of King Ado High School. The fire affected 10 buildings severely and one person died. Occupants of the buildings have been evacuated. All stakeholders that are in the emergency industry in the state are on ground for rescue operation,” added, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, General Manager, LASEMA.

The remains of burnt cars. Photos: Idowu Ogunleye

As fire fighters and LASEMA officers fought to put out the fire, bangers were still exploding, leading to more fire. The fire fighters deployed a Bronto Sky Lift to fight the fire in the tall buildings. The 10 buildings consumed by the fire were all three-storey buildings in a tight environment, which made it easy for the fire to spread.

Properties estimated at billions of naira were destroyed by the fire. It was indeed an unforgettable Boxing Day for residents of the area as they counted their losses. Hundreds of residents have been displaced from their abode of rest.

Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duty, Dr. Wale Ahmed said officials of the state government had been on ground ever since the fire started and that the fire had been curtailed to a certain extent.

“It is illegal for people to throw fireworks and store such in a store in a residential area. The people are telling us that there are still stores where fireworks and other explosive materials are stored but we are still investigating and government will take certain decisions later,” he stated.

Chidinma Amakiri, Assistant Commander, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps confirmed that 10 buildings and 11 cars had been burnt by the fire, adding that officers of the corps were on ground to assist in putting out the fire.

She said some explosives suspected to be dynamite had been recovered by the officials of the corps, adding that 30 injured people had so far been taken to the hospital for treatment.

Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Lagos Police Command, Ngozi Braide said she was shocked by the extent of damage and that the police were still investigating the matter.

She lamented that it was wrong to store fireworks materials in a warehouse in a densely populated area.

 

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