Twenty-seven days after the 2012 Boxing Day fire incident that occurred at Jankara Market on Lagos Island, Lagos State, southwest Nigeria, one of the victims, is yet to come to terms with the event that led to the death of his son during the fire disaster.
The victim, Mr. Maruf Olawale Awosanya, an indigene of Ikorodu in Ikorodu Local Government Area of Lagos State, lost all his possessions including that of his family members and sustained serious injury during the explosion reportedly sparked by fireworks stocked in a warehouse on the top floor of the building at 45, Ojo-Giwa Street on Lagos Island.
Awosanya, popularly called Murphy, for about a decade had run a thriving bar and viewing centre as well as resided in 43, Ojo-Giwa Street, which was very close to the affected building where the fire incident began and later spread to surrounding buildings in the area.
But for the 50-year old man, nothing could be more tragic than the death of his 14-year old son, Hamid Olasunkanmi Awosanya, who was trapped in the building during the fire explosion that razed down about 10 buildings and properties worth millions of naira. Many other victims suffered physical and emotional damage.
He said Hamid would have escaped death during the fire accident if he had followed his mother and other siblings to take the main staircase in the building, when they ran for safety. But instead, he took another staircase, which was very close to the affected building.
“That place was highly dangerous because it was very close to the building. All the people that took the place were seriously injured and some are still in the intensive care unit of a hospital. When the incident occurred, without giving it a second thought, Hamit unknowingly took the staircase because that was where he used to take,” he said, claiming that another teenager simply identified as Tope also died at the same spot.
Sadly Hamid’s decision came with tragic consequences. His badly burnt body was later found at the spot of the incident.
Murphy shared the top floor of the building with the owner of the warehouse where the fire erupted. The shop owner used his section of the top floor to also stock fireworks, which many claimed included potent explosives.
Therefore, when the fire broke out around 9.a.m. on the Boxing Day, Murphy, his first wife (his second wife had gone to Ikorodu the previous day) and children including a toddler were at the centre of the tragic incident.
After a brisk business activity and hectic run into Christmas, Murphy woke up to the sudden and loud sound of an explosive which burst into his room through the ceiling. And in the next minute, there was another loud explosion and immediately the room was filled up with flames.
By this time, Murphy said he was fully awake but yet to make sense of the situation. Together with his first wife, who was also in the room, they ran out in panic to the barroom where the children were playing.
The apartment was filled up with flames as there were continuous explosions as the fire spread from the warehouse at 45, Ojo-Giwa Street to the one at his building. His first instinct was to break the sliding door in the bar for fresh air which did not really help matters, but made him realized the severity of the situation as he saw the fire explosion spreading rapidly to surrounding buildings.
At this point, his wife with the children had run for safety, while he checked other rooms in the apartment to ensure everybody in the household had vacated the building.
Murphy described the fire incident as his most tragic experience.
The fire had escalated within minutes and it became very difficult for him to get out of the building. Though he was standing close to where he kept two fire extinguishers, it never occurred to him to use them due to the intensity of the fire. But he quickly soaked a blanket in water and wrapped it around himself.
Though there were speculations that only one person died during the fire outbreak, Murphy, like some of the residents of the area, believed otherwise. He insisted that as he was trying to find a way out of the top floor, which had almost been consumed by fire, he saw a lifeless body in the shop where fireworks were kept. He believed the victim, who perhaps had come very early in the morning to attend to their customers, was killed by the explosives. Murphy said that was when the reality of the situation began to dawn on him and he believed he could be burnt alive if he continued to panic. He was terrified and became more desperate to find an escape route. He couldn’t jump down because he was at the top floor; there was no time and it was risky to look for one of his hoist ropes to climb down because he was already weak and disoriented. And waiting for a rescue team was never an option.
Murphy said he had no options than to enter the fire and climbed the staircase, instead of waiting for it to burn him alive. His only thought throughout the ordeal was how to survive the fiery heat. By the time he got to the second floor where lighters, cigarettes, camping stoves, gas burners, lanterns, etc were sold, the blanket had dried. He had to drop the blanket when it caught fire and increased his pace till he got downstairs, where he saw people scamper for safety.
Luckily for him, with only his knickers on and without any footwear, which the doctors said would have caused serious damage to his feet, his injury was not as critical as his first wife who suffered worse burns on her face and body.
At the General hospital, Lagos Island where he was being treated for burns on his left arm and leg, Murphy told P.M.NEWS Metro that he had a near-death experience but was more devastated when he realized that he lost his son, Hamit to the tragic incident.
Hamid, had been buried on 31 December, 2012, but the tragic circumstances that led to his death still remained unimaginable to his family.
In an emotional-laden voice, Murphy said it was unbelievable that his fourth son who was full of life about a month ago had died in a senseless and avoidable tragedy.
He said, Hamid who was a Senior Secondary School, SSS1 student of King Ado High School , though gifted in soccer had always wanted to be a medical doctor but did not live to fulfil that dream.
“How could I know that they store explosives in that store and I would allow my family to live there. The traders were so careless and the government must do something about it. It is so painful. Hamit would have celebrated his 14th birthday on 31 March. He did well at school, he was very good at sports and was a likeable person. He was popular among his peer because of his love for football, even a friend of mine promised to take him abroad to nurture his talents. But he wanted to be a doctor. He once complained to me that Nigeria did not have enough doctors. He was so full of life and compassionate,” he lamented.
He called on government to take necessary actions to prevent future recurrence of the tragedy that have rendered many homeless and without source of livelihood, pleading that it should assist the victims.
On their losses, he said: “The state government should also come to our aid. We have lost all our belongings in one day. Many of us obtained loans for the Christmas trading. Though I am about to be discharged from hospital, I don’t know where to go or how I will cater for my family. All what I have laboured for have been destroyed.
“We have not heard from the government. None of the officials came to visit us in the hospital to confirm our health conditions or how the fire accident destroyed our properties. Many of us lost millions of naira to the accident. It is not only my son that died in the accident. One of my neighbours, whom I only know as Iya Tope also lost her child, It was sad because she had the child at an old age and she had just lost her husband.
“The government should help us. If not for the assistance of my friends and relatives who donated money for my medical bills, how would I survive it? I am left with just N2, 500 now and there are more drugs I need to take every day. One of them costs N3, 500 per dosage. This is becoming unbearable. We need help.”