By Sulaimon Olanrewaju
The people who cluttered around the place were in a state of flux; their moods switched nearly every minute from apprehension to bewilderment, despondency, anxiety, helplessness, resentment and back to apprehension.
The scene was a perfect picture of commotion; victims wondered about what had happened with some loudly asking why fate was so cruel to them; sympathizers wandered about, not sure whether the horrendous and dreadful sight before them was real or surreal; Oyo State government officials moved around comforting and consoling the victims, security operatives stoically went about to maintain the peace, emergency workers kept oscillating from one end of the street to another rescuing victims of the bang that happened a couple of hours earlier; the bang that left a trail of tears, anguish and death; the bang that reduced architectural masterpieces to ruins; the bang that sent jitters and shivers to the length and breadth of the city; the bang that shot Dejo Oyelese Close, Adeyi Avenue, Bodija in Ibadan into global consciousness. It was a bang that shattered dreams and scattered homes.
As the perplexity raged, a hum from a fleet of vehicles pierced through the night. All heads turned in the direction of the sound. It was Engineer Seyi Makinde, Oyo State Governor, arriving at the epicenter of the explosion. The time was 00.20am on Wednesday. The somber-looking Governor was received by the Deputy Governor, Barrister Bayo Lawal, other state functionaries on ground, as well as the Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Mr Adebola Hamzat. The Governor was briefed by his aides and the Police Commissioner, after which he went round the place for a personal assessment of the situation.
After seeing things for himself, the Governor addressed the people.
He said: “This is quite unfortunate. It is devastating; it is something that is difficult to wrap one’s head around. At this stage, what we need to do is just to rescue anyone that is still under the rubble. And also the people that have been taken to the hospitals to give them care and to provide temporary accommodation for those whose houses have been destroyed at hotels within the city. In the morning, we will continue with the investigation. The government will support the affected families with recovery efforts. The government will stand by them and go through this with them.”
Despite the depth of their grief and the magnitude of their losses, the people still managed an applause for the Governor in appreciation of his demonstration of love and support for them in their dark hour.
As the people made way for Governor Makinde to return to his vehicle, a woman cried out from the crowd that she had not been allowed access to the remains of her brother’s house to see if he was in the ruins so that he could be rescued. The Governor stopped in his stride and went to her. He asked her what the matter was. The woman explained that her brother, who had a property in the area, had not been seen since the explosion happened, adding that the security operatives did not allow her or anyone to go near the place to see if he was in the ruins. The Governor explained to her that the step taken by the security operatives was necessary because of the delicateness of the situation. He then asked security operatives to go with her to see the place. The woman loudly praised the Governor for the gesture.
Governor Makinde left Dejo Oyelese Close around 1.10am on Wednesday for Redeemer’s Health Centre at Bodija, not too far from the scene of the explosion, to see some of the victims being attended to at the infirmary. The Governor sympathized with them and prayed that God would speed up their recovery process. He assured them that the state would give them maximum support. He encouraged them to focus on getting better, telling them that apart from settling the medical bills, the state would not leave them in the lurch. The Governor moved round to see everyone of the victims in the hospital. By the time he was leaving the hospital, the faces of the injured had lit up despite their obvious pains.
The Governor and his entourage left Redeemer’s Health Centre at about 1.45am for the University College Hospital (UCH) to see more of the victims. At the UCH, he told the medical personnel to spare no effort to stabilize all the injured, saying that the state would pick the medical bills. He later went round to see all the victims, assuring them of the support of the state to them. He said he was looking forward to them leaving the hospital very soon to continue with their lives.
When leaving the tertiary hospital, Governor Seyi Makinde told Professor Temitope Alonge, a former Chief Medical Director of the UCH, who had been named by the Governor as the Head of the Emergency Operation Centre set up to manage the crisis, and the management of the hospital that his lines were open and they could reach out to him if they needed additional support for the patients.
The Governor eventually left UCH at about 2.30am.
By 1pm of Wednesday, Governor Makinde was at the Carlton Hotel, Ikolaba, in Ibadan, to see some of the people who were lodged there by the state government as a consequence of losing their homes to the explosion. He visited them in their rooms, condoled with them on their losses and assured them of the support of the state government in their trying time. The Governor requested that an elderly couple be put in a suite instead of a standard room. Despite picking the bill for their accommodation and feeding, the Governor told them that the state would provide them with stipend for the purpose of getting other things that they might need. All the occupants visited by the Governor saw him off with a smile and a word of appreciation.
Governor Makinde later visited those accommodated at the Palms 77, a hotel also at Ikolaba. Again, he went round the rooms to empathise with the victims of the explosion and assured them that they would not be left in the cold by the state. He encouraged them to look beyond what had happened to rebuilding their lives. He told them that while the hotel might not offer as much comfort as their homes, they should endeavour to make themselves as comfortable as possible. The victims were all smiles as the Governor exited the hotel.
Makinde went back to the epicenter of the explosion by 2pm. He went round the street and offered words of comfort to the victims. A woman, one of the victims, approached the Governor that she had not secured accommodation.
The Governor promptly directed her to the appropriate quarters and the issue was instantly resolved. From Dejo Oyelese Close, Governor Makinde headed to Oyo State Housing Corporation, where the state government had set up the Emergency Operation Centre, to attend to people who were affected by the explosion. The Governor spoke with some of the people who had gone to the centre to register, assuring them of the state’s support as they embarked on the process of rebuilding their lives.
After encouraging those at the EOC and assuring them of weathering the storm together with them, the Governor left for the State Secretariat, where he addressed a press conference on the explosion.
At the press conference, Makinde appealed for calm, assuring the people of the state that the government would do everything to bring succor to the affected people.
He added: “Let me use this opportunity to appeal to anyone still staying in any of the houses within 250 metres of ground zero to move out to government-provided accommodation until we check the structural integrity of the buildings in this area. At the same time, unscrupulous elements who may want to take advantage of this disaster to carry out any form of looting should be warned. All security agencies have been placed on high alert to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order.”
The Governor continued: “We will continue to provide regular updates regarding the actions we are taking through the Emergency Operations Centre and our various feedback channels on and off social media. The further update we can provide at this time is that we have information regarding the company that was using that residence to store explosives. Rest assured that all that were involved, directly and indirectly, in bringing this tragedy upon us will be brought to book.”
Although the Bodija explosion visited great devastation on the people and disrupted the serenity of the state, the impact has been mitigated by the leadership provided by Governor Makinde. He identifies with the victims, empathises with them, provides the required support to tide them over, encourages them to bounce back and assures them of the state’s support in their effort to rebuild their lives and assures them of justice. With all these, though the victims writhe in pains, mourn their loved ones and are saddened by their losses, they are not overwhelmed by any of these because they are sure of the backing of the might of the state and the undying love of of their Governor.
When leaders act right, even victims of tragedies see a silver lining.
Olanrewaju is the Chief Press Secretary to Oyo State Governor.