“Only the blind will disagree with me that Africans are living in hell on earth.”
Onitsha is a city in Anambra State habouring the famous Onitsha market, which is the largest market in West Africa. Being the largest market in the West Africa, Onitsha market is faced with numerous environmental problems including fire disaster, open burning of solid wastes, open defecation, indiscriminate disposal of refuse and over-congestion of market buildings and parks. According to the report of the World Health Organisation (WHO,2016), Onitsha was reported to be the worst air polluted city in the world.
The recent fire disaster in Onitsha, which I witnessed was nothing short to the end time as described in the Christian Bible. I was travelling to the Chukwu Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Uli campus on that day. From Awka, I decided to pass through Onitsha and have a view of our market which I take pride in whenever I behold the multitude of people from different parts of Nigeria coming to buy goods.
As our bus approached the 38 Regiment of the Nigerian Army in Onitsha, I saw a huge dark cloud of smoke coming from Onitsha down flyover though not clear to us at the time. But I noticed that drivers coming up from down fly over were warning other drivers not to pass through the Onitsha down fly over. Getting to MCC junction, we saw at a near distance a burning fuel tanker, which made our bus driver decided not to pass through the down flyover. We all came down from the bus and I trekked from MCC junction down to where the fuel tanker was burning. To my greatest surprise, buses, lorries and cars were busy moving with speed on the same road lane where the fuel tanker was burning.
At the time (1.15 PM), I saw a fire service tanker leaving the scene of the burning tanker without any attempt or effort to help. Nigerian policemen and the Civil Defence Corps were walking up and down with their AK 47 rifles but helplessly. For the first time in my life, I witnessed such fire inferno where people were busy buying and selling their goods and young men and women taking photos and videos without thinking of the worst that was about to happen.
At about 1.50 PM, I was a Tarzan junction about to enter another bus going to Uli when suddenly everyone started running. Behold, another fuel tanker passing near the burning tanker had caught fire and now was burning at the road leading to Ochancha market. We left Onitsha and before I could arrive at my destination, we got information that both the first and the second tanker had exploded killing people, destroying shops and houses. Other things heard were cries and stories of how humans including a nursing mother and her baby were roasted like animals.
Though government is always blamed for such disasters, I want you to read and understand my opinions from the environmental view point.
- Anambra State Fire Service Commission lack fire service personnel and equipment. They lack trained fire-fighters who would have done their best to extinguish or minimize the effects of the fire disaster on lives and properties. It is a shameful fact that the same fire disaster involving petrol tanker happened at Amawbia at the front of Anambra State Fire Service Station and nothing was done. The fire burnt half of the Anambra State Fire Service station, and nearly set our Anambra State Governors Lodge ablaze.
- Individualism: Before now, Igbos live a communal life of “Onye Ahana Nwanne Ya” ( Be your brother’s keeper), where everyone is concerned about the welfare of his neighbor. But now everyone live an individual life of “Mind your own business”. Nobody cares if a strong man is killing an innocent weak man for nothing, nobody cares if his neighbors’ house is on fire; and for that reason people were busy with their businesses when the fuel tanker was burning, forgetting that what touches one, touches all. The fire would have been controlled to the minimum if the traders did something at that time. Though we saw pictures of people rendering help when the fire had exploded to its zenith. They were helping either to avoid the fire from getting to their shops or out of pity when it was already late to do so.
- Public Re-orientation: It’s a pity that the money Nigeria government budgets every year for national orientation is a waste. My reason is that the National Orientation Agency is not working at all to re-orient the people on what to do in such emergency. You barely see them in markets, shops or houses. You only hear their ugly voices on radio when we are about to have either state or national elections. Their slogan is usually “vote don’t fight”, which you will hear after paying for one week announcement about elections on radios and TVs, their work for the year is done.
- Fuel tanker drivers are not trained on health and safety procedures and they move about without enough fire extinguishers.
My Humble Advice
- Government of Anambra State should be sincere and live up to expectation by recruiting enough fire-fighters, providing necessary equipment needed to minimize the effects of fire, flood, erosion and other environmental disasters. The government should use people’s tax and provide enough fire-fighter personnel in each city. Appointment of directors in Anambra State Emergency Board should not be politicized by giving appointment to a friend who helped to win election. It should be by professional merits because people’s lives are involved.
- The Federal Road Safety Commission should work with other state emergency departments and enact laws to curb over speeding of drivers especially fuel tanker drivers and make sure that health and safety procedures are being obeyed by those drivers.
- At the event of such fire disaster (if it happens again), the Nigerian police and the Civil Defence Corps should help evacuate both vehicles and people 100 yards from the point of incidence.
- Trade Unions should collaborate with the Anambra State Fire Service Commission to ensure that there is enough fire service post at every strategic location in the market.
(Edited by Okafor Mishael Tochukwu)