Fate dealt them a big blow on January 19. Tiny blades of fire caused by activities of pipeline vandals gutted their homes and all they ever worked for.
Left with just the clothing they had on, more than half of the over 300 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) did not know what the future holds for them.
Some contemplated suicide; others thought of roaming the streets to beg for alms until they got enough money to relocate to their respective villages where they can take up menial jobs to be able to provide daily bread for themselves and their loved ones.
But things took another turn three days after the incident. Ensuing from the directive to the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to open the state’s relief camp at Igando and accommodate the displaced residents, the victims of the disaster had some respites.
Initially, the turnout was poor as most of the victims doubted government’s sincerity. Some of them who spoke to reporters said they were sceptical because they think the authorities wanted to get their bio-data just to use same to loot money and not for their good.
Six months after, the IDPs are full of praises for the government for not only providing shelter, food, health care and access to education (for their children); but also for giving them money as well as empowering them with skills and startup packs for self-reliance outside the camp.
The Nation reports that, on June 30, LASEMA closed camping for the Abule-Egba fire victims after handing cheques for N225,000 to household and N150,000 to individuals who were registered from January 22.
The cheques were given to 69 families and 25 individuals respectively to help them resettle outside the camp, just as the equipment needed to start up small businesses for themselves were handed over to each individual last week at the completion of a six-week skills acquisition training organised by LASEMA in collaboration with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA).
Among the skills the victims learnt were Ankara craft; pillow and beddings; tailoring; catering; makeup artistry; hairdressing; bead making and designing.
According to the Director-General of LASEMA, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu it was fulfilling that the government came to the rescue of the residents by providing psychological, social and economic stability for them.
“We were able to turn their problem into something they talk and laugh about. We were able to provide them with key guides of life and they abode to it.
We were able to give them direction on way to go and all of them, including elders, children and mothers, keyed into it.
“As you go into the society again, you must be vigilant and key into the vision of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. You need to watch your environment critically to prevent what happened on January 19 from repeating.
“Our expectation is that they key into the vision and mission of Mr. Governor, who, despite the current tough economic situation, ensured we built their capacity to enable them to have a better future.
“We accommodated them for six months, provided a lot of welfare packages for them in terms of clothing, feeding, and health care.
We provided vehicles that took the children to and from schools until the closure of schools as a result of COVID-19.
“While in the camp, we engaged those of them who did not have jobs or trade with skills training to enable them to have rewarding livelihoods.
Even the children were incorporated in the trainings. We invited WAPA to build their capacities in chosen skills and after weeks of intensive training, they have now graduated and you can see what each person is going home with.
“With what the government has done for them, we do not expect them to go hungry. We expect them to grow their businesses from this point and become employers of labour.
We will monitor their growth. We have their contacts in our database and will keep tabs on them because the relationship established is forever,” Oke-Osanyintolu said.
Some of the beneficiaries who spoke to The Nation expressed their joy as they narrated how they intend to utilise the acquired skills.
A retired civil servant, Mrs. Titilayo Ojediran, who said she lost everything she had to the fire, appreciated the government for restoring her hope to start all over.
Another beneficiary, Israel Ogunbanjo, who lost a son to the inferno, said he was grateful to the government for all the help he and other victims had received.
For Shakirat Odewo, 23, advancing her hairdressing skills without paying any fee was the best thing that happened to her.
“Before now, my knowledge about hair plaiting was insignificant. I was hoping to raise money to go for more intensive training before the fire outbreak ravaged the community. But now, I have received the training free. I can undertake any style of hairdo.
“They also gave us some of the needed tools such as shampoo, hand drier, towel, wool and attachments. They gave my family N225, 000. I will start doing my business from the house until such a time I would be able to rent a shop,” she said.
Although he lost his property to the fire, a Prophet, Superior Evangelist Olasunkanmi Oguntola said he was grateful to God and the Lagos State government for the new start and for the soap-making skills he acquired.
“I lost my five-bedroom building to the fire. I am a Pastor of the church and I have a building in the church. I really appreciate the state government for all it has done for me.
I acquired soap-making skills and was given a big bucket, chemicals for making soap and the stick used in turning it. The government also gave my family N225, 000. I am, indeed, grateful.
“By God’s grace, by December, you will be hearing the name of our company outside the country. With what they have given us, we hope to go the extra mile; God on our side,” he said.
A single mother, Adekemi Abraham, 28, said she enjoyed her stay at the camp and was grateful to the Governor for rescuing them in their time of great need.
“They provided for us and enhanced our intellectual capability through the skills we acquired. They have given us what we would use when we leave here.
It is something tangible and I am glad to hold onto it. I will deploy the knowledge I have acquired to profitable use.
“I can make money for myself with the fashion and hairdressing skills I acquired. Although I did not get money because I registered under my parents (family), I am still thankful for all that the government did for me. I intend to expand what I learnt here to become big and famous,” she said.
Chairman, Estate Pipeline Community Development Association (CDA), Prince John Okunebe described the stay in the relief camp as a “very good gesture,” noting that a lot of people had nowhere to go when the incident happened.
He said: “I think this type of thing has not been happening. I believe that our governor and his executive are people that have deep human feelings. A lot has happened like this and the victims were not properly taken care of.
The government took good care of us. They brought us from the community to this camp, fed us, clothed us and made us forget our pains. Even some expectant mothers were delivered of their babies safe while those who took ill were treated free.
“I know that if this step wasn’t taken, maybe a lot of us might have left Lagos State may be back to our villages. We thank the governor for not allowing us to go through great sufferings.
“Many organisations came here on humanitarian grounds and we were given a lot of foodstuffs, cooking items and other things to assuage the pains we had experienced during the fire disaster.
“Then, towards the end of the camping period, the government brought this special programme and our people were taught a lot of things.
I didn’t take part in the programme because I have an income-generating grassroots work. I am glad because I know our people will survive on their own if they put the skills to use.”
Okunebe appealed to the Federal Government to secure the pipelines by fencing them so much so that trespassers will not have access to them.
He also urged the government to ensure all routes leading to pipelines were tarred and well-lit as that would give security patrol vehicles frequent access and scare off criminals.
On complaints by some of the IDPs that they did not get cheques, the Camp Commandant, Bosun Olukolade said the D-G has constituted a committee to look into their concerns and proffer solution.
He said the problem emanated from the way they registered, adding that some of the parents, who came initially, registered their adult children living with them as part of the family.
“It is being addressed because the D-G has constituted a committee to see to all those complaints. For the past four days, the committee has been working along with the aggrieved IDPs.
All of them have put in their complaints. They have taken their identities, their names and they are working on it.
“What really caused this was that most of them were not ready to come to the camp when we opened it. Some of the youth felt the government wanted to camp them somewhere just to use their names to collect money.
“They never believed it was for their own good. So, it was the parents who registered and mentioned the number of children they have.
But after two weeks, they saw that the camp was stable and that their parents were being taken care of. It was then some of them came to the camp.
“Also, there are those who came in as siblings and one of the siblings will put the name of the others as members of a family.
Most of them did not talk until they heard that the government would give some sort of palliative to victims. At that point, we could not start withdrawing a list that has already been submitted.
“That’s why the D-G said anyone with complaints should go to the complaint committee for a review. Those accessed and found to have genuine cases will be presented to the government for consideration,” he said.