Sunday, the 15th of March was a terrifying day in Lagos. The horror started with a boom that collapsed buildings and ignited an inferno that raged through lives and properties. Pictures and videos flood the internet with gory depiction of residents of the FESTAC area of the state, wailing helplessly as the tragedy unfolds.
There have been arguments about what triggered the tragedy. Some said it was a pipeline explosion, others said a burning truck set the pipelines on fire. At the end of every side of the argument, people are counting their losses.
Over 15 people lost their lives, over 50 houses were destroyed by the fire; vehicles, schools, and churches around the area were also razed down. Bethlehem High school, a boarding secondary school with hundreds of young girls was at the center of the incident. Wrecked to ruins, the students felt the horror they could only have imagined. Some, including the principal, died as the impact of the explosion brought down the school buildings.
As emergency services worked to curtail the situation, the question many keep asking is; how long will this continue?
In late 2019, another part of Lagos, Abule-Egba was hit with a pipeline explosion disaster that resulted in loss of life and property. It was just one among many other times, and Lagosians were evidently not ready to witness another episode so soon.
But then it happened, and the usual wailing and mourning followed, with cries for help from the government. It was an avoidable disaster, but like many others, people have paid the price. But in the end, the governments did show sympathy.
“We are working with NEMA, NNPC and other agencies to make life easier for everyone affected in the tragic incident at Abule Ado, which claimed lives and caused extensive property damage. I offer my condolences to everyone affected,” Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu tweeted after the incident. “I have instructed the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency to immediately release personal safety materials to the people living around the area especially to first responders and all safety workers at ground zero. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
The Federal Government responded to the incident as well with a statement from President Muhammadu Buhari.
“I received with sadness the news of the explosion in Lagos, which caused loss of lives and property. While the NNPC makes efforts to determine the cause of the incident, I send my deepest sympathies to the victims, their families, and the Government and people of Lagos State,” Buhari said.
It is expected from the governments to make sympathetic statements that show concerns for the citizenry in times of disaster. It is also expected from the governments to provide shelter and relief material, and that’s where the clamor of the people mainly lies.
Sanwo-Olu did respond to it by setting up a N2 billion relief fund for the victims.
“I spent sometime today at the site of the tragic incident at Abule Ado, to give immediate relief and support to the victims of the disaster. I have set up N2 billion relief fund to be chaired by Dr. Obafemi Hamzat (deputy governor). The state government has put N250 million into the fund immediately,” the Governor said.
The last sentence of the statement and the subsequent statements, where Sanwo-Olu shared account details of the relief fund and urged people to make donations, didn’t go down well with people. People’s anger stems from two major facts.
At the end of 2019, the Lagos State government generated a total of N666 billion in revenue. The monthly revenue target has been placed at N50 billion monthly and it is being realized.
About N2.4 billion has been spent within 11 months for procurement of exotic cars for the 40 members of the State House of Assembly. According to Guardian, each of the cars cost N51.8 million and N36.5 million respectively. The new cars are replacement for those used in 2019.
But at the same time, the Lagos State Government is appealing to taxpayers in the state to donate toward the relief fund of the explosion victims.
There are over 50 razed houses, which means that the number of displaced persons, who are counting on the governments are high.
The responses from the Federal and Lagos State Governments have been described as insouciant and void of solicitude. Sanwo-Olu’s decision to travel to Abuja to show President Buhari pictures of the incident has been greeted with scorn. The Governor said the core plan is to “provide relief and rebuild affected areas” which means he is appealing to the federal government for assistance. But that has irked already disappointed Lagosians even more.
“What a great achievement! You went Abuja to show him pictures? As Lagos is not outside Nigeria, he (Buhari) can’t personally go to see and assess the situation. Since he can’t travel or view live feeds from the area. Anyway, I hope your trip made him donate money to the GoFundMe account,” an angry Nigerian responded to Sanwo-Olu’s statement.
It is generally believed that a tragedy that needs N2.4 billion relief fund is not above the financial powers of the Lagos State Government, and it is a shame that the victims are left at the mercy of public donation.