This is why it is good to always be at peace with your neighbors. Tempers flared on Wednesday on Obele Lawanson Community, Surulere, Lagos, after a family of seven died in a fire disaster. The victims, who lived on 23, Michael Ogun Street, died because their co-tenants did not make effort to rescue them when they called out for help around 11.30pm on Tuesday.
Those killed were a textile material dealer, 28-year-old Kelechi Onoja; his wife, 18-year-old Nkiru; their one year and eight months old first child, Favour; their three weeks unnamed second baby boy; two yet-to-be-identified family members; and Nkiru’s 80-year-old mother.
The only survivor was six-year-old Chidinma, a relative, who sustained burns injuries to her face and hands. Our correspondent gathered that Nkiru had just given birth to her baby and her mother had visited for the Omugo rites, a popular Igbo culture of a mother nursing her daughter’s baby.
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She was said to be preparing to return on Wednesday with the two unnamed ladies she brought with her, when tragedy struck. The landlord of the house was late, while his immediate son lived in the Ijesha area.
The landlord’s grandson, Abdul Jelili, who lives opposite the apartment, said, “I was sleeping when I heard a noise and quickly rushed out. I saw smoke coming out of their apartment and quickly got a stick, with which I broke their toilet window. “Smoke billowed out, but I did not hear any movement in the house and could not tell if anybody was in. All the tenants in the other apartments did not come out, so I had to rush out to call for help.”
Another resident, Ejike Okpara, explained that the neighbours did not help because there was animosity among the five tenants in the house. He said Nkiru had been accused of not greeting the other tenants, among other issues, which had caused series of fight in the neighbourhood.
He said, “So, when the fire began, the neighbours from both sides did not come out. When they finally came out, it was to rescue their families.” But a tenant, Uzor Alajemba, said he had to first rescue his family when he heard someone raise the alarm. Youths and other members of the community eventually mobilised to the scene to combat the inferno.
A man, who claimed to be part of the rescue, Chima Dimkpa, explained that the burglar-proof bars made rescue difficult. It was learnt that the grandma had used a candle light to bathe the baby in the night, and forgot to put it off. Our correspondent was told that after burning out, the fire ignited the table and engulfed the room. The 80-year-old woman was burnt to death.
Kelechi, who had also woken up with other members of the family, reportedly called for help. He was said to have held tightly to the two sisters, while his wife carried their boy in her hand. They were burnt to death together. Dimkpa said, “We could have rescued them but for the bars. Everything was smoking hot and untouchable, including the wall.”
The spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency, South-West Zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said, “ The cause of the fire is yet to be known.” The Director of the Lagos State Fire Service, Rasak Fadipe, said the agency responded to 12 fire disasters over the night, explaining that there was a need for increased vigilance among residents. “We are still at a loss over why the casualty was that high because the fire itself was not that severe.
“The kitchen was not affected, so nobody can explain why it was that serious,” he said. The Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Joe Offor, confirmed the incident. He added that the police had taken the corpses to a morgue.