Pulse went to the scene of the Lagos tanker accident and spoke to eyewitnesses. This is what they told us.
Animashaun runs a kiosk in an uncompleted building beside the Otedola bridge. She watched as a tanker that had lost its brakes, ended the lives of several on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, on a chaotic evening in the nation's commercial capital.
“People were shouting at him to put a wedge under his tyres. He tried to put a wedge but it wasn't working. There were cars behind him, honking desperately. The traffic was mad. But his truck kept rolling backwards because it had developed brake failure. This tanker was on a slope. The truck was now beginning to spill its inflammable contents on the road. The cars behind the petrol truck were trying to scamper out of the way, but there was no way for them to go because all lanes were blocked.
“Next thing, we heard a bang and then the fire started. I ran. Everybody ran….It was brake failure”, Animashaun said in an emotion laden voice.
According to Animashaun, the tanker which was painted red, had no company name on it.
At about 5:30pm on Thursday, June 28, 2018, images of a long line of cars getting burnt in broad daylight on the busiest expressway in Nigeria, found their way to social media. The red balls of fire would morph into thick black clouds amid cries for help.
Eyewitnesses say many had to be resuscitated after they inhaled black soot.
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) said 9 bodies were recovered from the scene of the accident and 54 cars were burnt beyond recognition. However, Adedoyin Adejubu, a young man who lives in the neighbourhood and who saw it all unfold, disputes the official death toll.
“Let me tell you, close to 100 people died. The government is lying. This is not some obscure village in Borno or a hidden neigbourhood in rural Nigeria. This happened in Lagos. We saw it all. There is nothing like only 9 people died. Ambulances were packing dead bodies into body bags all night long. How can you pack just 9 bodies with several ambulance trips all night? They worked all night to clear the corpses. My brother, they are lying to you”, Adejubu said, agitated.
Animashaun and Adejubu relayed the story of a bus full of school students. They said the bus was a Caleb school bus. They wondered, through tear soaked eyes, if all the students survived.
“There was a bus full of Caleb students. I don’t want to say what I saw. I pray half those students made it…..a lot of them were badly burnt…..”
Pulse wasn't able to reach the Caleb school authorities before this story was filed.
At the scene of the accident the morning after, the Lagos State emergency management agencies and traffic management authorities, went about the task of clearing the trucks, burnt buses and cars. The air was still filled with carbon monoxide and soot when Pulse arrived the scene. There were still traces of blood here and there, burnt bags and papers. Scavengers were also on the scene, rummaging for valuables.
In an uncompleted building, 'Area Boys' had stockpiled valuables garnered from the scene of the accident. They were waiting for the right buyers.
"One man in a suit got out from his luxury jeep with a bag as the fire raged. He was running. But the fire still got to him. He didn't make it", Adejubu said.
Pulse watched as the man's said bag, with all of its besmirched contents, was removed from the gutter.
“The government has to do more to keep us alive in this country. About 10 years ago, there was a similar accident here. Does this mean that in 10 years, we have learnt nothing? That nothing can be done? Are we going to be marking a 10-year anniversary every now and again?
"This is the only road I use to my house; this is the only road some of us know. I live in Ojodu. This is the only road I know. In saner countries, tankers don’t ply busy roads during the day. Why do we have to die because government cannot regulate the reckless activities of tanker drivers? Which kind of country is this? Every day when I use this road, I have my heart in my mouth because of petrol tankers,” said Mrs. Tope Nwosu in a fit of rage.
Alfa Wasiu, another eyewitness, also pleaded with the government to make the roads safer. “Please you people should help us tell government to regulate the activities of tanker drivers. We are begging you. Please……”
Madam Titilayo who also runs a beverage kiosk underneath the Otedola bridge, told Pulse that the death toll couldn't have been 9. “Ah….Ahhhhh…na lie o…na lie o…e pass 9 o…”, she screamed in a cocktail of pidgin English and Yoruba.
Most of the eyewitnesses who spoke to Pulse, said there was no way only 9 persons could have died from an accident in which 54 cars were burnt.
“Ko possible rara”, said Adejubu….”ko possible...ahhhh”.
Another eyewitness who identified himself as Martins, said when the fire started, most persons couldn’t bolt out of their cars because the locks got jammed; no thanks to thermal expansion.
“Heat causes expansion. Things like locks expand inside their holsters and become impossible to pry open”, blogger and writer, Chioma Agwuegbo, explained.
Mrs. Animashaun gave the Lagos emergency response team top marks, though. “They arrived on time. In less than seven minutes, the ambulances and fire service people were here. They really tried. It could have been worse”, she said.
LASEMA spokesperson Adeshina Tiamiyu maintained that only 9 persons died from the incident. “Nine people are dead and four injured are in hospital”, Tiamiyu declared.
Air Commodore Akugbe Iyamu who is Director, Search and Rescue of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), told Pulse at the scene of the accident that only 9 persons died. He wondered why government should downplay the casualty figures.
Iyamu didn’t disclose which mortuary or hospital the dead or injured were taken to.
A spokesman for the Federal Road Safety Commission, Bisi Kazeem, said in a statement that the tanker, five buses, two trucks, a tricycle and 45 cars were burnt out.
“As a government, we would not relent in putting measures in place to ensure safety of lives and property of all residents,” promised Lagos state government spokesperson, Kehinde Bamigbetan.
“We extend our deepest commiseration to the families of persons who lost their lives as well as properties to the incident.”
As Pulse was recording at the scene of the tanker accident, another accident occurred on the opposite lane. A danfo driver speeding in one way traffic, had a head-on collision with a commercial bus that was ferrying commuters from Ondo in the opposite direction. Some 10 persons emerged from the accident badly hurt and unconscious. They were immediately rushed to hospital.
On Friday, June 29, 2018, another fuel tanker burst into flames when it collided with a trailer at Mallam Karo, along Minna-Suleja road in Niger State.