Onitsha, the Anambra state capital, is mourning. And all of Nigeria with it.
On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, a petrol laden tanker rammed into buildings in an Onitsha market, spilt its contents in the neigborhood and sparked a fire that ravaged buildings, consumed goods worth millions of Naira and ended lives.
Onitsha was a ball of fire for hours and no one lifted a finger. The city is still counting the cost.
The casualty figures from the incident are still hazy at the time of writing, but it has been confirmed that a mother and her child were among the dead; with the fire searing through their skins and leaving them locked in each other's arms until the very end.
“The fire incident in Onitsha yesterday is sad and regrettable. I am profoundly touched by the sight of the charred remains of an innocent mother and her child, who are victims of this tragedy,” said President Muhammadu Buhari.
Former Nigeria Vice President and presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar said: “We've had many preventable fuel tanker tragedies. I received with sadness, reports of a tanker explosion in Onitsha, Anambra State, which caused massive destruction to lives and properties in Ochanja Market area. My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the affected.”
TV personality Ebuka Obi-Uchendu said: “Last night was a lot. We really are on our own in this country… Those images from Onitsha are still so heartbreaking. May the departed Rest In Peace.”
One of the biggest takeaways from the tragedy is that the fire raged for hours with no fire service truck anywhere near the scene of the inferno. And like Atiku mentioned, this is one of several petrol tanker accidents in recent times across Nigeria that has led to the loss of lives.
Apart from the Otedola bridge fire incident of June 2018 in Lagos that led to the loss of lives and the burning of cars, there have been several instances where a petrol laden tanker, flouting all known traffic laws in the land, goes ahead to inflict pain and misery on innocent families and ordinary Nigerians.
In Lagos where this writer resides, petrol tanker and articulated truck drivers derive immense joy from intimidating other road users, offloading their containers on busy roads and obstructing the free flow of traffic.
Articulated trucks and petrol tankers have been a menace in Nigeria for as long as anyone can remember and the regulatory agencies or authorities have largely looked the other way unperturbed for decades. Until the next disaster.
“I call on the Ministry of Transport, the Federal Road Safety Commission and other stakeholders to urgently address the issue of safety standards in Nigeria, with a view to stemming the frequency of these tragedies. May the souls of the dead rest in peace Amen,” President Buhari said, without stating how he will make sure the agencies he mentioned sanitize our roads and put the killer truck drivers in check. Without saying how he will lead the charge in enforcing compliance.
It is also a shame that a state as rich as Anambra has no functioning fire service department or emergency response units; and that when tragedy struck, Governor Willie Obiano was not on the ground to provide succour.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Onitsha inferno was completely avoidable. Yet again, we have lost lives to poor governance across all tiers. Writer Ayo Sogunro was right after all when he said: “everything in Nigeria is going to kill you.”