NO fewer than 50 houses including a church were left in ruins on Saturday by a midnight explosion in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
Several people were injured. Five members of a family escaped death. Victims asked government to rebuild their damaged property.
The explosion dug a massive crater on the Akure-Owo Road, a major artery linking the Southwest with the North as well as the Southeast and the Southsouth.
Buried down the crater at Eleyewo in Akure North Local Government Areas about two kilometres from the Akure Airport, is the truck carrying the explosives.
The sound of the explosion blew off roofs and caused vibration felt up to five kilometres from the scene. Time was about 2am. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and security officers were among the early callers at the scene. Akeredolu in a series of tweets on Saturday painted a picture of the accident.
According to him, “A vehicle in a convoy transporting explosives to a storage facility in a neighbouring state developed a fault while in transit along the Akure/Owo Road about 2km from the Akure Airport.
“Security personnel and other individuals transporting the ordinances noticed smoke from the vehicle. After several attempts to extinguish the resulting fire failed, the vehicle and its consignment ignited causing a massive explosion that was felt in Akure and its environs.
“Presently, efforts are being made to ascertain if there are casualties. Following my visit to the scene, I have directed that the area be cordoned off to allow the explosive ordinance department/bomb squad to extricate the vehicle buried underground because it is unclear if there are still explosives that are yet to be detonated.
“The destruction made by this disaster can only be imagined. I have gotten brief from the security and the preliminary report to me is an accidental discharge of explosive that was in transit through Ondo State to another state where it was needed.
“We will advise all citizens not to come near this place at all. This happened about 1am. All of us in Akure heard the sound. The people should vacate and move out of these premises. The vehicle carrying this explosive is buried in the crater created by this explosive. The people should allow the police do their work. We should not forget the other problem of corona virus.
“Everything is under control and I will be updating the public on any new developments.” The Commissioner of Police, Undie Adie, was also there. He dismissed insinuations that the explosives belonged to terrorists who were conveying them to some parts of the country for use.
The explosives, he told reporters, during an on the spot assessment of the situation were owned by a quarry firm. He said that after going through the required processes, the explosives needed to be moved to where they would be used.
Police personnel were accordingly assigned to escort them in a convoy to their destination. However, one of the vehicles developed a fault during the journey. The team decided to take the vehicle as far as possible from a residential area so that in the event of an accident there would be minimum damage.
He said: “This consignment was being escorted. Along the road here, the vehicle developed a fault. “When the driver noticed it, they tried to move away from where there were houses and see how they put out the problem. “They noticed that smoke was emitting from the engine. The effort to put out the fire was not possible.
“They had to move out and that was the best professional thing to do. That is why they are safe. Fortunately the school here was not in session. It was an accident. It is not what we have control over.
“I have called the MD of the company the consignment was meant for. It was meant for a quarry.
“We have cordoned off the place and asked the people to stay away from here. Our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) units are on ground. Throughout the night they were here.”
The explosion came two weeks after the Abule Ado, Lagos, gas pipeline fire that claimed about 20 lives and destroyed many houses.
Victims: ‘Government must rebuild our houses’
Owners of the houses damaged by the explosion asked the state or federal government to rebuild such property. Many of the residents were asleep when the explosives went off. One of the exemptions was a family of five who were all at a vigil in church. The roof of their church caved in. But they escaped death.
A security personnel at a nearby school said he saw the truck when it was emitting smoke prior to the explosion.
He claimed seeing four occupants of the truck running away and warning policemen at a checkpoint not to go near the truck.
“Soon after they ran away we heard boom,” the eyewitness said yesterday on condition of anonymity.
He added: “The sound shook us and we thought we were coming under attack. We occupants of the vehicle just kept running away.”
The Olu of Eyelewo, Chief Boboye Ojo Adekunle, whose palace was partially damaged urged government to rebuild the houses because the people are poor farmers.
He said: “Part of my palace was affected. Some persons are in the hospital. The government should help the people because they are farmers. They cannot just raise money to build new houses.”
A son of the founder of Possibility Prayer Mountain for All Nations Church, Mr. Kehinde Ayelabu, said his mother, Prophetess Olayemi Adesida Omo Obajesu and two other members of the family were hospitalized following injuries suffered.
The Ondo State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Reverend John Ayoladapo, described the incident as a national disaster.
“The volume of destruction here is beyond what one can imagine. The entire compound is littered and shattered,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “I went to the hospital to see those injured. They are now stable. Getting here to see the level destruction showed it must have been divine for them to be in that state they are now.
“All the buildings here were destroyed beyond repairs. We are happy no lives were lost but government needs to come out to say what really happened. It happened on the last Friday of the month.
“There would have been a large number of people in the church. That is why we thank God. If not for the coronavirus, more people would have been involved.”
A security personnel at the church who gave his name as Noah said he crawled out of his room after the building collapsed
Mrs. Abiodun Fasheye, whose residence was destroyed said she would have died if she had not gone to an all-night service.
She however said the church collapsed on them after the explosion.
“We got home and saw that our building had collapsed. If we were to be at home, our house would have collapsed on us. I am a widow and I don’t have anybody to help me.”
APC sympathizes with victims, Ondo government
The All Progressives Congress (APC) sympathised with the victims of the explosion and the Ondo State government. The party also called for calm.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement in in Abuja said that from the images of the buildings and other property destroyed in the explosion, it was clear that the blast was a powerful one.
He hailed Governor Akeredolu for his quick response and advised the people of the affected area to desist from unnecessary and unfounded conspiracies surrounding the unfortunate explosion.
The party said that “while relevant authorities ascertain if there are casualties, we urge calm and assure all residents that the authorities are attending to the situation with a cordon in place and anti-bomb squad deployed to the area. There is no cause for further alarm.”
It expressed confidence in the state government to put in place rehabilitation measures that would cater for people displaced and affected by the explosion.