From a distance, one could rightly gauge the intensity of sadness Aremu Musbau was bottling up. Surrounded by sympathisers at his residence on Titilope Street, Temidire in the Abeokuta area of Ogun State, Aremu’s face was etched with grief that Tuesday morning.
He had yet to fully come to terms with the tragic death of his wife, Sidikat Musbau, 51, and 10-year-old granddaughter, Rashidat Muyideen, in a tanker explosion on Lafenwa-Ayetoro road, near Lafenwa Market on Sunday, November 28, 2021.
The tanker, loaded with premium motor spirit (petrol), had reportedly overturned and spilled its content after its axle broke.
Tragedy, however, struck a few hours after the spillage when some traders and hoodlums in the market began scooping fuel from the fallen tanker, despite the police presence. Some hoodlums were said to have ignited a fire that triggered the deadly explosion.
Aside from the two fatalities, scores of shops in the market were burnt while thugs reportedly looted some stores.
Recounting moments leading to the tragedy, Aremu said after the news of fuel spillage filtered through from the scene, his wife left home to look for Muyideen who had gone to the market earlier that morning.
He said she and Muyideen were trying to escape from the fire that eventually erupted when they were trapped.
Aremu stated, “My wife was a very nice and wonderful person; she was good to every member of the family. On that Sunday morning, she was praying when I left her at home. Some hours later, I was told by someone that a petrol tanker fell in the Oju-Irin area of Lanfenwa Market.
“I then called her to tell her what I heard. I warned her to be patient and not go to the market at that moment. Meanwhile, someone had also told her about the incident. But she was anxious about Rashidat’s (Muyideen) safety, so she rushed to the scene. They were trying to escape when the tanker exploded and they were caught in the fire.
“She was supposed to attend a prayer session later that morning. If not for our granddaughter she went to check at the market, she would have gone for the prayer.’’
The widower said his wife’s death had left a void that could not be filled adding that she played a major role in the family.
He said, ‘‘It is tough for me losing both of them. I have started missing her impact because of the vital roles she played in the family. She didn’t keep any secret; she didn’t hide anything from me. I just pray that God should help me to cope with the gap her death has created. I am not sure I will cope with the gap created by my wife’s death. She helped me a lot to finance the family. I can’t forget her in my life due to her character and the responsibilities she took.
“I got married long ago, about 40 years ago. I got married to her because of her good character. She was very diligent and not a lousy person. Every member of the community knows her as a person of good character and she was friendly with everyone. No one can say anything negative about her in this community.”
One of Sidikat’s children, Luqman Musbau, 24, described his mother as the bread winner of the family. He said even though his mother was not financially buoyant, she shouldered Muyideen’s upkeep.
Luqman said, “Mama (mum) was the one taking care of her. She was the one paying her school fees and doing everything concerning the girl’s upbringing. Mama was also the one taking care of everybody in the family.”
He appealed to the government to help the family in bridging the vacuum created by his late mother’s untimely death. He said, “I am an apprentice electrician and she was the one taking care of me. My younger brother just finished his ND (National Diploma). He doesn’t have a job. He now has to depend on us, his older siblings, but we too are struggling. The government should please help us because we don’t have anyone again, except God.”
Tragedy fuelled by market crisis
Saturday PUNCH learnt that there had been a protracted quarrel between the Babaloja of Lafenwa Market, Alhaji Musa Adeyinka and some miscreants in the market.
The hoodlums reportedly exploited the tanker accident to ignite a fire on Adeyinka’s shop already surrounded by fuel.
An eyewitness, Shalewa Ogunsola, said people were scampering to safety when the girl fell inside a gutter close to the petrol tanker, adding that Sidikat was caught in the inferno while trying to save her grandchild.
She said, “We were together when shops in the market were gutted by fire. We all ran away but Iya Arike (as Sidikat was popularly called) tried to save her grandchild who fell inside the gutter. Unfortunately, both were consumed by fire.”
The Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, on Monday, decried alleged complicity of the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Lafenwa in the explosion. He directed the state Commissioner of Police, Lanre Bankole, to immediately redeploy him.
Abiodun said investigation showed that the DPO was aiding and abetting crimes and criminality in and around the area, especially inside Lafenwa Market and its environs.
The governor also ordered the arrest of all miscreants involved in igniting the fire that led to the explosion.
Traders count losses
Our correspondent, who visited the market on Monday, saw traders bemoaning their losses estimated in millions of naira. Lamenting his loss, the Babaloja of Lafenwa Market who sells bags of local rice popularly called Ofada rice, said he lost goods and equipment worth N30m to the fire.
He said, “The record we took showed that the items inside the shop were over N30m. Bags of rice and machines – including a rice milling machine – were burnt.
“The petrol tanker fell on the road around 2am and we came to the market at daybreak. We saw that petrol was flowing in the drainage system that runs through the market down to my shop. Those area boys (hoodlums) ignited the fire from the back of my shop and that was how the spilled petrol caught fire.”
Babaloja also accused firefighters of not being proactive, saying the damage would have been minimised if they had dampened the fuel before the fire was ignited.
He said, “They came in two trucks to the scene and I met with one of them. I introduced myself to him as the Babaloja of the market and told him that petrol was all around the market. I asked him what the market could do to support them so that they would help us pour chemicals on the spilled fuel.
“If they had listened to what we said, even when the area boys ignited the fire at the back of my shop, the effect would not have been as much as this. A lot of goods were destroyed in the market. A lot of shops also got burnt.
“After the tanker exploded, I called the firefighters but I noticed that those boys had started throwing stones at them to prevent them from putting it out. The firefighters could not do their job. The hoodlums broke the windscreens of their vehicles.”
Adeyinka, however, appealed to the government to assist the victims to get back on their feet.
He said, “Let the government help us concerning our losses. I don’t have any other source of income apart from this Ofada rice business. I buy from farmers and mill it. I sell to eateries and export some. I beg the governor and other philanthropists in the state to please help us.”
A 48-year-old trader, Adekunbi Adegbenro, who sells yam flour, wheat and maize in the market, said her shop was also burnt during the explosion.
She explained that she was preparing for a church service when she received a distress call from the market.
She said, “On getting to the market, all my four grinding machines had got burnt. I lost items worth about N500,000. The government should please assist me. I don’t have any other means of livelihood. I am a widow and there is nobody to assist me. That’s the only thing I used to feed my children.”
Another trader, who sells foodstuffs and vegetable oil, Maryam Lawal, said she lost everything she had to the fire.
“The cost of what I lost is over N1m. I am appealing to the government to help me because I have lost everything I lived on,” she added.
Mrs Aduke Taiwo, a garri seller, said she had stocked her shop the previous day (last Saturday) but could not salvage anything from the fire.