25 July 2012

Nigeria: The Okogbe Fire Disaster


On Thursday, July 12, a tanker driver with registration number XA340TDU, while trying to avoid running over a Toyota Corolla with registration number RQ218AAA, had its fuel-laden tanker overturned, spilling the content into a hollow open space beside Oando petrol station in Okogbe village, Ahoada West local government area of Rivers State.

According to community and official sources, the driver of the tanker, who managed to escape, warned the gathering crowd around the spot of the accident to run for their lives as the situation could turn ugly.

The spillage lasted about 40 minutes. A crowd of villagers that had gathered at the place scooping fuel when somebody allegedly used a mobile phone, which sparked off a fire that roasted about 200 people and left 60 others with serious degrees of burns.

While it is convenient to blame the incident on greed and poverty, the number of casualties, negligence of road maintenance and law enforcement agencies should elicit some concerns. Similar accidents are commonplace now in the country.

For instance, the Nigeria Police, Federal Road Safety Corps and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps personnel failed to cordon off the scene and carry out prompt rescue operation as required by law. This criminal neglect is regrettable and should attract the attention of the relevant authorities.

The government is equally complicit in the daily loss of lives and property on our roads due to its criminal negligence of most roads that are in states of disrepair. Funds budgeted to fix these roads are either in fixed deposit accounts of the top echelon of government or used for political gerrymandering and election rigging.

Rivers State commissioner for health, Dr Sampson Parker, described the incident as "the single worst incident that has happened to Rivers State since the civil war. It is even worse than the Sosoliso crash we experienced before now".

Similarly, Dr Reuben Abati, the president's spokesman, said that the president was particularly distraught by the fact that, once again, so many Nigerian lives had been lost in an avoidable fuel fire disaster.

While condolences to the families of victims every time remind us of government's incompetence, we would want the government to become pro-active in emergency management and enlightenment to avoid the continuous mass slaughter of Nigerians due to criminal negligence on its part and many of its agencies.

Federal relief and health agencies did nothing to mitigate the disaster and many of those who initially survived the explosion with burns and injuries are now dead.

Environmentalists have raised the alarm over the possible outbreak of epidemic in Okogbe community because additional bodies were discovered in the bush during the mass burial of victims while others died receiving treatment from native doctors.

A comprehensive remediation should be immediately carried out to avert further health hazards.

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