President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed sadness over the tanker fire that claimed lives of a woman and her baby and destroyed property in Onitsha, Anambra State on Wednesday.
Buhari’s reaction came just as three more bodies were recovered on Thursday. Two of the dead bodies were said to be salesgirls. Traders found the bodies about 9am on Thursday in a shop at the Ochanja market.
One of the rescuers, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said he suspected the girls were trapped.
He said, “We also recovered the body of a young man in one shop. His body was not burnt. We suspected he must have died of suffocation. The bodies of two salesgirls were also recovered in one shop.”
Protesting traders, who stopped government officials from joining in the Thursday rescue, blamed the government for negligence.
The state Governor, Willie Obiano, who visited the market at about 9.20am, could not advance to the actual scene of the inferno due to the large crowd of traders who obstucted traffic flow.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, a victim, Chukwuka Okeke, a neighbour to the woman that died with her child on Wednesday, described the tragedy as unfortunate and avoidable.
He said, “We were in our shops when I got the call that there was fire burning at Upper Iweka. Though we saw smoke going up from a distance, nobody could believe it would extend to this place.
“For over three hours, we perceived the smell of petrol probably mixed with gas from a distance as it flowed through the drainage until the whole thing went up in flames.
“The woman had already rushed out of the shop with her baby but she suddenly went back. She slipped off in the process and fell inside the gutter which was already in flames.
The state governor, it was learnt, had promised to mitigate the pains of those who lost their loved ones and property in the disaster.
A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C-Don Adinuba, read, “Governor Obiano has directed owners of properties affected by the tragic accident, including shop owners, to report at the Conference Room of the Secretary to the State Government on Monday, October 21, 2019, to see how the Anambra State Government can assist them.
“A panel will be set up immediately to determine the cause of the accident and why the firemen could not put out the fire and how the condition of the victims can be ameliorated.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari’s reaction, contained in a statement issued on Thursday by his Special Assistant (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, said, “I am profoundly touched by the sight of the charred remains of an innocent mother and her child who are victims of this tragedy. I also extend my sympathies to other victims of the explosion whose houses, shops and other property were destroyed.
“While I express sadness over this tragedy, I must at the same time call for urgent action on the part of those concerned to stem these frequent fatal disasters on public roads.
“Safety precautions and routine maintenance are taken for granted by vehicle owners. I call on the Ministry of Transport, the Federal Road Safety Commission and other stakeholders to urgently address the issue of safety standards in the country, with a view to stemming the embarrassing frequency of these tragedies.”
The Controller-General of Federal Fire Service, Ibrahim Liman, has claimed the men of the FFS were prevented from accessing the scene of the fire by a mob, who he said also attacked the fire-fighters.
Liman, in a statement by the FFS spokesman, Ugo Huan, in Abuja on Thursday, stated that the firemen at Asaba, Delta State, left for the market immediately they received a directive from the Abuja control room, but got stuck in heavy traffic at the Niger Bridge.
He said, “The Federal Fire Service received a call about the fire outbreak about 2pm. The control room at the headquarters in Abuja immediately turned out the nearest Federal Fire Service station at Asaba, Delta State, to attend to the fire.
“Our men immediately headed to the scene but it was not possible to contend with the heavy traffic at the Niger Bridge and the behaviour of a mob that pelted them with stones. Thus, it was not possible for the firefighters to get to the scene and fight the fire in such a hostile environment.”
“It is worthy to note that similar situations in recent past in Sokoto, Uyo, Minna, Ibadan, Osun and Lagos were prevented from escalating to a major disaster by the fire service.”
Commenting on the disaster, the People’s Democratic Party on Thursday called for an investigation into the remote and immediate causes.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, said, “Indeed, our party mourns. Our hearts ache as our prayers go out to the victims and the families of the deceased, who are now in anguish over their excruciating losses.
“Our party commiserates with the government and people of Anambra State and prays for the repose of the souls of the deceased.”
The Indigenous People of Biafra has, however, described the fire as a terrorist attack.
In a statement by IPOB’s Media and Public Secretary, Emma Powerful, the group said, “With a profound sense of deep sorrow and sadness, we commiserate with all the families and communities that lost loved ones over the terror attack in Onitsha on October 16, 2019.
“This is not the first time an articulated lorry or a tanker driven by terrorist laden inflammable liquid has been involved in mass fatalities in Onitsha or other parts of Anambra State.
“The story is always the same, it’s either their trailer had brake failure or their tanker exploded, all resulting in massive loss of lives and destruction of individually owned businesses.
“We the Indigenous People of Biafra call these callous and wicked acts for what it is- a cowardly terrorist attack designed by those evil men determined to exterminate Biafrans from the face of the earth.”
Meanwhile, a group, Igbo National Council, has asked Governor Willie Obiano to resign immediately from office.
The group’s President, Chilos Godsent, who spoke to our correspondent in Owerri on Thursday accused Obiano of displaying “arbitrary negligence and gross ineptitude” which led to the fire outbreak at Ochanja market on Wednesday.
The group asked the Anambra State House of Assembly to begin the impeachment process on Obiano if he refused to resign.
He said, “Investigation revealed that the inferno was as a result of bad spots at Upper-Iweka along Onitsha-Owerri Road, which caused a petrol tanker carrying fuel to fall, resulting in outburst of fire that destroyed the entire livelihood of over two hundred thousand Nigerians.
“We note that the said bad spots at Upper Iweka along Onitsha-Owerri Road cannot cause Anambra State Government more than N2,000,000.00 to repair.
‘On the foregoing, the Igbo National Council therefore call on Governor Willie Obiano to immediately resign as governor of Anambra State for his arbitrary negligence and gross ineptitude that has caused the Igbo race a monumental colossal and irreparable human, political and economic damage.”