In the early morning of October 1st, 2023, while the nation was getting ready to celebrate the 63rd Independence of the Nigerian State, community people and commuters plying the Warri-Sapele road were victims of a tanker explosion. The explosion occurred at about 12am along the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the Warri-Sapele Road, the boundary between Edo and Delta State.
According to an eyewitness Mr. Michael Emmanuel who makes his living as a motorcycle rider, he was picking up passengers at the Ugbenu axis of the Ologbo express road when he heard shouting that a tanker carrying petroleum products had fallen into a ditch by the roadside. He was trying to meander his way through when he heard an explosive bang that engulfed vehicles held up in traffic due to the accident. He abandoned his motorcycle and jumped into the Ologbo river for safety. When he returned in the morning, he counted about 5 dead bodies. “As we speak,” he said, “we are still carrying dead bodies from the river.”
Another eyewitness Mrs. Grace Okorefe, a trader from Oghara town narrated how her husband’s bus conveying market women was burnt to ashes. All their goods and wares were all burnt. Although no life was lost, according to Mrs Grace, her husband is currently at home receiving treatment for burns he sustained while escaping the inferno. “This burnt bus is our family’s main source of income and now it is burnt. We are calling on the government to come and help us―the pain and suffering is too much on this road.’’
Shamson Ismail, a truck driver who was stuck in the ensuing traffic, was wondering what was happening when he heard the explosion. There was a fire behind his truck. He and his driver assistant (conductor) had to run for their lives. By the time he returned after the fire had gone off, he met three dead bodies beside his burnt truck. His bus was totally burnt with 133,000 gallons of palm oil that he was transporting from Warri to Abuja. He was grateful to God that his life was spared though he had lost his only source of livelihood―his truck. At the time of this report, Mr. Ismail was unable to reach the owner of the goods he was transporting because he was stranded in Ologbo, having no money to get to his destination.
While on field investigation, at the site of the explosion, we spotted a corpse stuck in swamp grasses by the side of the road and drew the attention of some community persons to it. While they were trying to retrieve the body, a man identified the dead as his wife. He had been searching for her. All effort to speak to the man at that point proved abortive as he was in shock. His daughter, Miss Victory Enebeli, soon arrived the scene and also identified the corpse as her mother Mrs. Divine Enebeli.
According to Miss Victory, her mother resided in Ologbo village and worked with Presco. Sometimes, when there was no work for her mother to do at Presco, she did some roadside petty trading to support their family. She recounted that on the day of the explosion, they were unaware that their mother had left the house to do her petty trading on the roadside at that hour. The family became concerned about her whereabouts that Sunday, 1st October, only to find that she was one of the victims of the tanker explosion.
The husband of the deceased, Mr. Abraham Oworo, narrated that he was not in town when the tanker explosion incidence occurred. He had travelled to Warri, and while there, received a call that his wife had been missing since Sunday, 1st October. Upon arrival, he began searching for his wife. “She left our three-year-old daughter in the house and went out that night when the explosion happened,” he cried out.
At the time of the field report, the state government had neither visited the site of the disaster nor instituted emergency response to move the corpses to the mortuary and put out a call for people to come and identify the bodies of their loved ones. The team paid a condolence visit to the home of the deceased woman, Mrs. Divine Enebeli. There, we consoled her family and reassured them of our commitment to fighting for justice and compensation for victims and the affected communities at large.
The Warri-Sapele Road has been in a deplorable state for too long, causing a lot of harm to commuters, community people and businesses. Investments have been destroyed and the lives and livelihoods of surrounding communities impacted tremendously. The Ologbo petroleum tanker explosion incident is the result of both the neglect of government functions which includes attending to the infrastructural needs of the people and continued tight hold on a fossil powered economy.
We observed that there were no gallons or jerricans on the site of the incident to justify media reports that victims of the explosion attempted to scoop spilled petrol from the fallen tanker. Again, contrary to police reports that about 5 lives were lost to the fire, information gathered from some eyewitnesses and community people put the number of lives lost at over 20 persons. During the field investigation, three dead bodies were found lying by the side of the road. As at the time of the field visit, more bodies were being discovered while about 10 persons were reported to have been buried by the side of the road in unmarked graves.
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) team arrived the field with media persons and a press briefing was done at the explosion site. The ANEEJ Director Comrade Davide Ogholo, addressed members of the press. They called on the Federal Government to declare the Warri-Sapele Road, especially the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the East-West Road, a state of emergency.
They noted that the East-West road played a very vital role in economy of the nation and must be fixed. The Warri-Sapele road has caused a lot of harm to the lives and livelihoods of people; surrounding communities were affected by the deplorable state of the road.
“We are joining forces with other NGOs, CSOs and the media to call on the government of Edo and Delta State. The Federal government should commence immediate repairs and reconstruction of the road to avert more disasters and death,” he said.
Health of Mother Earth Foundation makes the following recommendations:
- The government should immediately rehabilitate the Benin City – Warri Highway.
- People who have suffered losses should be compensated.