Environmental activists have decried the Federal Government and the governments of Edo and Delta states over what they described as negligence and total failure to fix the East-West road, especially the stretch connecting both states.
They expressed concern that the East-West Road connecting Edo and Delta states has become a death trap for almost a decade, adding that while witnessing the arrival of several new governments, none has cared to pay attention to the parlous state of the road.
In a statement issued by the Media and Communications Lead of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Kome Odhomor, the group lamented that on October 1, 2023, when the country was set to mark its independence anniversary, it woke up to a sad tale of an explosion and fire on the busy road at the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the Warri-Sapele-Benin Road, around the boundary between Edo and Delta states.
Following the fire incident, which reportedly started about 12:00 a.m. due to a fallen petroleum tanker and leaving scores of commuters either stranded, injured or dead, HOMEF visited the explosion site on October 4, 2023, but was shocked at the lack of government presence several days after the explosion.
It was learnt that no fewer than 20 persons died in the incident as of the time of the visit, as more bodies were being discovered and about 10 persons were said to have been buried on the roadside in unmarked graves.
An eyewitness, Samson Ismail, a truck driver, explained that while in traffic, he noticed several people running towards a petrol tanker, adding: “I was wondering what was happening when I heard the loud explosion and a huge fire behind my bus. My colleague and I had to run for safety.
“By the time we returned, the fire had gone down and I saw three dead bodies by my burnt bus, as my bus was totally burnt down with 133,000 gallons of palm oil I was conveying from Warri to Abuja. I have lost my only source of livelihood. I cannot reach the owner of the goods. I am now stranded, but I must thank God that he spared my life.”
Another eyewitness, Michael Emmanuel, a bike rider, also stated that while picking passengers, “I heard a loud noise of something falling, followed by a loud bang and fire that engulfed vehicles. I had to abandon my bike and jump into the Ologbo River for safety. When I returned this morning to carry my bike, I counted over five dead bodies, and as we speak, we are still recovering dead bodies from the river”.
Also, Abraham Oworo narrated that he had travelled only to return to the news of the demise of his wife. “I was not at home when the incident occurred; I was on a business trip when I got a call from my in-law that my wife had been missing since Sunday.
“I arrived on October 4 and have been searching for her until I identified her corpse in the swamp. I am shattered because I have a three-year-old daughter who she left behind in the house.
“Presently, I don’t even have money to take her to the village for burial. We have contacted her family, but they are yet to come. We just had to leave her body there for now because we don’t have money to get an ambulance to take her to the mortuary or even for her burial now”.
Another victim Mrs Grace Okorefe- a trader from Oghara Town, narrated how her husband’s bus conveying market women was and all their goods burnt to ashes. Her husband is still receiving treatment for the burnt injury he sustained
“The 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 pains and suffering is too much on this road,” she lamented.
Project Lead of HOMEF, Cadmus Atake-Enade urged the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on the Benin-Warri Road, especially the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the highway, noting that the road plays a very vital role in the economy of the nation.
“The entire East-West road must be fixed. The road has caused a lot of harm to the people, lives have been lost, investments have been destroyed, and lives and livelihoods of surrounding communities are all being affected by the deplorable state of the road. We call on the Federal government to commence immediate repairs and reconstruction of the road in order to avert more dangers and deaths.”
Also, Executive Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, regretted that the state of the road has further compounded the deplorable environmental conditions of the Niger Delta region, saying: “Although the issue of bad roads is a reoccurring decimal across the country, the East-West Road has suffered unconscionable neglect and this has further constricted the people’s livelihoods.”
Bassey, who expressed concern over pollution of the environment following the explosion, said: “It is sad that our air and soil have been contaminated. The dead have been consigned to watery graves in the swamp. Our collective humanity is severely damaged by the neglect of the road, the environment and the dead. Government should wake up to its responsibility. This is no time to be silent. What happened here on Independence Day is a ‘nativism tragedy.’
“Contrary to some reports that about five 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 while more corpses were being discovered.”
The group recommended that the government should immediately rehabilitate the Benin-Warri Highway and rehabilitate the survivors of the tragic incident, while urgent construction of coastal railway as an alternate way of conveying goods and passengers in this part of the country.