Thursday, June 18, 2009

Edo Kerosene Blast Victims Need Justice

They were a grisly sight to behold. Eyes popping out of burnt sockets. One woman had no arms and her neck was half gone. Others had their skin burnt black.

There were more like actors in a horror movie only this time the barely claded victims were victims of the 2001 kerosene explosions in Edo State, Nigeria. The presence of the 22 badly burnt victims foisted a graveyard silence in the Press Centre of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Abuja.

Most pathetic of the sights were nine children who had much of their arms and legs shrivelled by the burns. The mammary glands of some of the once beautiful women were gone. Their spokesman and a member of a non-governmental organisation Lifetag shocked his audience when he announced that only 23 million was needed to conduct plastic surgery on the victims.

The petroleum product was said to have been certified and piped as kerosene (DPK) and supplied by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot in Benin City. About 2000 people were affected, with more than 300 deaths and another reasonable number with varying degrees of burns beside the loss of their property.

At a press conference in Abuja over the incident, the joint body of Kerosene Fire Victims Welfare Association (KEVA), Women/Child Kerosene Fire Victims Welfare Association (WOKEVA) and Lifetag said they were prompted into making their stand known because of the ‘recent propaganda by agents of Edo State Government that it had brought a team of surgeons from the United States of America to undertake reconstructive surgery’ on the victims.

The Executive Director of Lifetag, Mr. Tony Erha, said “it’s another attempt by the Edo State government to mislead the public into believing that the plight of these victims is being looked into. It is another decoy to undermine the genuine efforts now being put in place by the public to us, where Edo State government has failed so woefully”.

He questioned the competence of Igbinedion Hospital Okada to carry out such complex operation on so many people within the given time.

He said, “If it could take a fairly burnt victim an average of three months to undergo a fairly successful surgery in the advanced world with its advanced medical facilities and expertise, how come that the Igbinedion Hospital Okada could perform such a feat given the deplorable facilities and low morale, within so short as two-week duration?”

Erha said the coalition had taken their case to court to seek justice and restitution for the neglect that they are suffering as a result of the government’s indifference.

The petition reads in part: “Unfortunately, four years after the horrific explosion, we have been neglected to our own peril, as mere palliative or nothing was given to the victims as succour, from the concerned authorities. Most of us, victims still have festering sores and bizarre disfigurement, rendered homeless; as we now live unhealthy and abnormal lives. Dying by instalments is now our unfortunate fate. Where succour is expected, there is an abundant lack of dire medical and social needs.

“To stay alive, some of the victims now resort to begging for alms under unbearable and dehumanising conditions. Victims are mostly vulnerable children and women, amongst the underclass of the Nigerian society. Most of the child victims have been thrown out of school hence their parents can no longer endure it and they are denied enrolment because of their monstrous look, which scares other pupils away.

“Even though the NNPC was variously indicted by the investigation committees into the matter, such as those of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the NNPC headquarters Abuja, the House of Representative Committee on Petroleum Resources and the judicial commission of inquiry established by Edo State government, the NNPC has not deemed it fit to adequately rehabilitate and compensate us the victims. This is more so that the NNPC itself had belatedly admitted to being the cause and/or partial cause of the explosion. It has also reneged on an earlier promise to establish a Kerosene Victims Burns Trust Fund, for the Edo victims and others in the country”.

It went on: “But the uncomplimentary actions and inactions of the agents of Edo State government, led by Luck Igbinedion, is our greatest undoing and it has thwarted our efforts to getting the adequate assuagement from the NNPC. Our prayer therefore is for you to carry out full investigations on the understated and act accordingly:

• The shocking revelation by Governor Igbinedion and those concerned top officials of his government, some years after, that a paltry charitable sum of about N15.4 million, which he admitted was all donations which had poured in, was trapped in the failed Savannah Bank Benin City branch where the Edo government said it had lodged it. This is against the background that Edo government only acted as a trustee for the explosion victims, over these funds, which ought to have been instantly deployed to ameliorate the critical conditions of the victims;

• The illicit contract of a plastic surgery exercise by Governor Igbinedion and Mr. Ovbiagele to one Miss Modupe Ozolua (a non-medical expert) with her BEARS Foundation and the Igbinedion Hospital Okada belonging to the governor and his father, Chief Gabriel Osawuru Igbinedion. This was against a genuine outcry of ours and the public;

• Contracted thus at a mind boggling N106 million for each of 50 of the entire 400 victims, who were originally meant to be given the surgery at N26 million. Obviously, by implications, the victims and Edo State are coughing into some private pockets N848 million for surgery in respect of all the 400 victims whereas N822 million would have been saved in the process;

• That some nine months after, the cost of the surgery has risen from N26 million for all the victims to N106 million to each of the 50 victims;

• That Governor Igbinedion, Mr. Ovbiagele and others turned down the safest and best cost-saving offer by the World Health Organisation, Nigeria Country Office, which offered for all the victims’ free surgery abroad. In a letter written to the victims via Access to Justice, one of the their advocates, Edo State government obviously lied that it had years back done the surgery on all the victims;

• That only a very few of the original 2001 kerosene explosion victims(for whom the fund was meant) were actually the beneficiaries of the so-called extensive surgery exercise by BEARS Foundation at Okada Hospital, which indeed turned out to be a skin grafting exercise for all those treated, who were much lesser in number than the original 50. Those who largely benefited from the scandalous exercise were victims of acid burns, natural deformities and others who are relatives of agents of the Edo government;

• Still on the surgery, we also wish to make further request that you look into our N25 million donation from NNPC which Edo State government said it has already made as part payment to Miss Ozolua(BEARS Foundation), including all that transpired in that respect.

According to them, they have lost confidence in the ability and genuineness of the state government to further handle the explosion issues. The victims urged investigation into all the monies which Edo government has so far received in respect of the surgery from the NNPC, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) and other sources.

“Finally, we are pledging our total support to the efforts to unravel the puzzle of the explosion as we have the necessary documentary and other evidence to buttress our claims”, they said.

The solution according to the victims lies in their restitution and the willingness of the government to intervene and do what is expected given that the innocent women and children are dying in instalments.

1 comment:

  1. The original of this article titled 'Four years after, Edo kerosene victims still need help' with additional reports by Alifa Daniel and Tsokar Karls was first published by the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria on Wednesday March 2, 2005.