By Francis Onyeukwu
Hoodlums gave the disasters recorded in Onitsha, Nnewi, Agulu and Nteje communities in Anambra, between Wednesday Oct.16 and Friday Oct.18, the colouration of sponsored attacks, because the incidences occurred in quick succession.
The inferno caused by fuel tanker occurred at Upper Iweka and Ochanja Market, Onitsha, on Wednesday Oct.16, while another petrol tanker fire also occurred at Omagba Phase 2, also in Onitsha on Friday, in addition to fire incidents at Nnewi and two accidents in Nteje and Agulu respectively.
The disasters gave rise to the fake news that the incidents were sponsored by enemies of Biafra.
Emma Powerful, spokesperson of the group, had issued a statement claiming the attacks were handwork of enemies of Biafra.
The tragedy started at about 12:30p.m. on Oct.16, when a tanker laden with premium motor spirit (PMS) fell in front of Toronto Hospital, Onitsha, near the popular Upper Iweka flyover.
The product spilled through the gutters to Ochanja Market axis and caught fire.
Those not conversant with Onitsha, especially Upper Iweka/Ochanja axis, may believe Emma Powerful, since the distance from Upper Iweka to Ochanja Market is about 500 metres.
One would now wonder how the fire wreaked havoc in Ochanja, leaving out some buildings very close to the scene of the tanker fire.
From the point of the incident, there is a drainage that slopped towards Ochanja Market roundabout, on Emordi and Amobi streets, where many traders deal on plastic containers and other highly inflammable products.
It was this section of Ochanja, that Mrs Ifeoma Nwoye, a native of Urum in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra, who died with her only child was consumed by the fire.
Another trader who also died, was said to have ran into his shop to take the money he stacked in his shop.
“In all, seven persons died in Ochanja, three, including Nwoye and her child died on the first day, plus four bodies burnt beyond recognition, that were recovered in debris after four days”, Mr Chukwuka Okeke, an eye witness said.
Okeke, a neighbour to Nwoye, said the deceased had ran out of her shop, but remembered that her baby was still inside the shop and went back to rescue her.
While Onitsha residents were still grappling with the Ochanja incident, another tanker also conveying PMS fell down at Omagba Phase 2 axis of Onitsha, at Chukwudi Bus Stop, near Bessoy Filling Station about 3.30a.m. on Oct.18.
The second fire incident took the same dimension as the one at Upper Iweka/Ochanja Market, except that it did not extend to a market.
Mr Emeka Obinwa, Executive Assistant to Gov. Willie Obiano on Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Media, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that 28 vehicles and six buildings were burnt.
Obinwa who led a team of emergency workers to Omagba Onitsha, said they arrived the scene at about 4.30 a.m. that Friday.
“It was the prompt arrival of fire fighters that made the inferno not to be as severe as the Ochanja fire.
“The inferno which began at about 3:30a.m. on Friday equally affected six buildings, apart from the petrol tanker that was complete razed,’’ he said.
But that was not all for the emergency workers on Friday.
As they were leaving Omagba, another fire alert came, that fire affected a drinking joint at Otolo Nnewi, in Nnewi South Local Government Area.
Three female waiters were burnt to death at the Otolo Nnewi fire incident.
It was learnt that the waiters were locked inside the building by their employer, and could not be rescued when the inferno started, even though they raised alarm and were therefore burnt to death.
Apart from the fire incident at Otolo Nnewi, a fatal accident claimed four lives in Nteje, Oyi Local Government Area of the state.
In addition, another accident, involving a petrol tanker, laden with diesel, occurred in front of St. Stephen Anglican Church, Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area, on that same Friday.
It was the Agulu accident that actually frightened residents and made some believe the fake news from IPOB about possible sponsorship of the incidents by enemies of Biafra.
The last accident that occurred on that Friday on Amawbia-Ekwulobia federal highway, involved a tanker owned by Tonimas and laden with diesel.
It was the Agulu accident’s news that almost put the area in confusion, as it coincided with the statement issued by IPOB, that Anambra was under enemy’s attacks.
The Agulu accident did not claim any life, no property destroyed, it only caused delay, as the road was blocked by the vehicles involved in the accident.
People were forced to take alternative routes, which prolonged their journey to Awka and Ekwulobia areas.
Retired AVM Ben Chiobi, Special Adviser on Creative Security to Obiano, who led a team of emergency workers to Agulu, said security and emergency workers arrived on time and took proactive measures, which prevented the Agulu incident from resulting to fire outbreak.
As a result of the incidents, people outside Anambra even started telephoning their loved ones in the state to know about their safety.
Obinwa, the Governor’s SA Media on SEMA, explained that there was no truth in the rumoured involvement of enemies in the disasters recorded in the state between Oct. 16 and Oct.18.
“All that happened in the state between Oct.16 and Oct.18 were disasters.
“Most of these articulated vehicles conveying petroleum products are not road worthy, yet they carry highly inflammable substances,’’ he said.
He stressed that there was nothing to worry about, adding that the owner of Tonimas truck involved in the Agulu accident, is an illustrious son of Anambra and would not have been part of any sabotage against the state.
Gov. Willie Obiano, on his part assured that government would overhaul the fire service department to enable it function better.
He also said that the state has opened Victims’ Support Fund Bank Account, with Chief Chidi Anyaebgu, Chief Executive of Chisco Nigeria Ltd as Chairman.
He appealed to all and sundry, irrespective of tribe and creed to come to the aid of those affected by the disasters.
The multiple incidents in Anambra within three days, is a wakeup call to properly equip the fire service, regulate the movements of articulated vehicles conveying petroleum products, as well as ensure proper urban planning.