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‘Eight vehicles burnt to ashes’ — witnesses recount Lagos dumpsite inferno

‘Eight vehicles burnt to ashes’ — witnesses recount Lagos dumpsite inferno
March 16
00:07 2018
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At about 4pm on Wednesday, a wildfire erupted at the Olusosun dumpsite in the Ojota area of Lagos state, destroying goods worth millions of naira.

The sudden fire outbreak, which started with pockets of fire, was said to have been caused by gases from chemical substances at the site which later snowballed out of control. While the officials of the Lagos State Fire Service and Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) were battling to put out the fire, the incident caused gridlock on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

When TheCable visited the site on Thursday, thick smoke billowed, hovering in the sky and engulfing areas around the site. At the gate, fierce-looking soldiers monitored the movement of people. The fire only affected a portion of the site which lies at the entrance, while the rear is intact.

Cloud of smoke around areas close to the dumpsite. A man covers his nose as he walks by

Although the fire outbreak claimed no life, it consumed at least eight buses belonging to LAGBUS. The LAGBUS yard shares a fence with the dump site. An official of LAGBUS, who didn’t want his name quoted, said: “The breeze transferred some burning materials from the dump site that landed in our compound and we had some vehicles lined up along the fence. To be precise, seven buses were burnt beyond reply, the eight one was burning before they put out the fire. Those seven buses got burnt beyond repair, while the other one could still be repaired. We just thank God that the fire didn’t get to our fuel tank; it could have resulted to massive destruction.”

Some of the scavengers whose goods were destroyed told this reporter that they had informed the management of the site about the pocket of fire before it spiralled out of control.

Burnt trucks

Nuru Ojekunle, one of the scavengers said: “This is where we feed our family. I’ve been here for more than 20 years and we have never witnessed such a huge fire outbreak. During the time the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) was in charge of the site before the management shifted to a private company, they easily curtailed any incident of fire before it escalated to an outbreak. When we sensed that there could be fire a day before the incident, we went to inform them, but they said they didn’t care about that and that the fire should burn, if it wants to. They sent us away.”

Afolabi Musubau, a scavenger who specialises in picking bottles and coppers, said the nonchalance of the new management of the site was responsible for the outbreak. “Since the new management came, they took control of our business. The man in charge, one Wale Thompson, told us that the governor has sold the place to him and he owns everything. Now, he buys the bottles from us and stores it at a corner of the site, where he resells them to the company. It was the bottles that got burnt,” he said.

In early 2017, waste collection and the management of dumpsites were privatised in Lagos to give way to the cleaner Lagos initiative. Revive, a private company, took over the management of Olusosun from LAWMA.

Taiwo Biodun, chairman of Scavengers Association of Nigeria, who has been on the job since 1984, said they informed the management about the pocket of fire when it started before he left the site.

A burnt building at the dump site

“I wasn’t around yesterday when it happened. I couldn’t enter yesterday to save my goods. Everything got burnt was more than a million naira. I just came in this afternoon to assess the state of things. It was the goods the management bought that got burnt and escalated the fire.”

“I lost almost N800,000. I don’t even know where to start from. The management of this place is just interested in making money from us. That’s why they do not show interest in the safety of this place”, Thompson Okpabiyi, a scrap dealer, told this reporter.

Olayinka Olayiwola, one of the women who buy scraps from waste pickers, said she has been surviving on the dump site since she lost her husband in 2007. “I lost over N600, 000 to the fire,” she wailed. “I have three children that I send to school. I don’t even know who or where to turn to. I don’t even have the money to go home or what to give my kids.

“I have three children that I send to school. I don’t even know who or where to turn to.” Olayiwola

“We buy recyclables for N25 per kilogramme and the management of the site charges N20 for scale out, while the companies buy it for N50. That means we are left with a profit of N5 and the highest population here are women who are taking care of their homes from what they make from this waste. Yet, we went to plead with him to have mercy on us so that we can take something significant home. He didn’t listen to us but insisted on charging N20. Sometimes, I give him recyclables of 5 tons, which is about a hundred thousand naira. When we pick recyclables from the huge waste, we deep our hands into faeces and sometimes, the remains of infants or aborted foetuses. Seriously, I don’t even know where to start from.”

Scavengers who were stopped from moving their goods out oare stranded at the gate

While the reporter was making his way out of the dump site, he met some scavengers, who were ferrying some of their goods that were not affected by the fire, at the gate. They were accosted by officials of the dump site who insisted on charging for the goods before they are moved out of the vicinity. This resulted into a squabble until the scavengers gave in and moved the goods out.

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