An estimated 232 people were in the early hours of yesterday burnt beyond recognition, while several others with different degrees of injuries were rushed to Ahoada General Hospital and private clinics within the area for emergency treatment following a petrol tanker fire.
Also burnt were 22 motorcycles, a bus, and personal property worth thousands of naira, but the Oando filling station within the vicinity was spared.
The Tide gathered that the incident occurred at about 6.30 am, when a Hiace Bus with registration number XZ 613 AGC, Lagos, loaded with passengers while trying to overtake, a Toyota Corrola car with registeration No RQ 218 AAA Delta, hit it at the rear, which made its driver to lose control.
The tanker driver loaded with fuel which was coming in the opposite direction apparently saw the Toyota driver , struggling with the steering and while trying to avoid a head-on collision, ran into a ditch, and tumbled.
Villagers around the area, on getting wind of the incident, rushed to the scene to scoop the fuel inside the tanker, but a phone call placed by one of them, inviting his friends to come for the “free fuel” which was believed to have ignited the inferno.
When The Tide visited the scene, thousands of sympathisers were seen weeping for the loss of their loved ones, while members of the Police Force, Joint Task Force (JTF), Federal Road Safety Corps, and Nigeria Civil Defence and Security Corps were there controlling traffic and evacuating the victims.
The arrival of Rivers State Fire Service, one hour later could not savage the situation.
Ahoada General Hospital, Gbeye, Zion and Okpedem clinics were fully booked with the victims, while those whose conditions were critical were referred to either Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital or University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) for emergency treatment.
The Rivers State emergency medical ambulances numbering over 10 were also seen evacuating the injured, but the charred bodies of those burnt were still left scattered around the vicinity.
The FRSC Commander in charge of Ahoada zone, Mr Amadi Adedoyin, who was also at the scene attributed the incident to impatience on the part of the Hiace driver, saying that villagers acted in bad faith for trying to scoop fuel without minding the dangers involved.
He could not say categorically the number of the victims but said “you can see that we are trying to salvage the situation, it is after this, that we can know the total number of the victims”.
However, both the Area Commander of Police in Ahoada zone, Mr Mike Okoli and Sector Commander of JTF, Lt. Col NS Idris, who expressed shock at the magnitude of the incident, however, appealed to people to stop illegal dealings on petroleum products because of its inherent danger to both humanity and the environment.
The Federal Road Safety Commission said yesterday it had recovered 95 bodies from the area where a tanker burst into flames at Okogbe, Rivers State.
FRSC Sector Commander for Rivers State, Kayode Olagunju, said the bodies were recovered as at 11.45a.m at the village, 11 kilometres from Ahoada-Mbiama, in Ahoada West Local Government Area.
According to him, four vehicles, including the tanker, were involved in a crash early yesterday, but the tanker caught fire when the people rushed for “free fuel.”.
“Thirty-four motorcycles also got burnt,” he added.
Sources told The Tide that the fuel tanker was reported to have broken down overnight on a road in the area and was gushing fuel.
A large crowd of people reportedly gathered around the tanker, scooping fuel leaking from the tanker. According to an eyewitness, while the scooping of fuel was on, the tanker exploded.
The fire that broke out from the explosion consumed scores of persons at the spot.
The spokesman of the Rivers State Police Command, Ben Ugwuegbulam, who confirmed the incident, said that “early this morning, a tanker loaded with petrol fell in Okogbe and people trooped to the scene obviously to scoop the spilled fuel, and suddenly there was fire, resulting in casualties.”
In a statement, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) gave the same figures.
The Tide learnt that many of those killed were commercial motorcycle operators, known locally as Okada, who raced to fill up their tanks after learning of the crash.
Olagunju said at least 34 motorcycles were destroyed in the blaze.
Motorcycle rider, Kingsley Jafure said the vehicle collision occurred at roughly 6:00 am, and the spilled petrol caught fire about 90 minutes later, but that time sequence could not be immediately confirmed by officials.
“At about 7:30 while I was inside trying to decide whether to go (scoop fuel) or not, that was when I saw that the tanker exploded,” Jafure said.
The area had been cordoned off by security forces and a large number of rescue officials were on the ground.
The NEMA statement said “rescue workers from the police, road safety, fire service, civil defence and NEMA were at the scene to evacuate victims and control the traffic.”
Major accidents, often involving large-haul trucks, are common in Nigeria, where many of the roads are in terrible condition.
Lorries operating on the country’s roads are often old and poorly maintained and road worthiness checks are scant.
Abandoned trucks, some of them destroyed by heavy collisions, can regularly be seen along major Nigerian motorways.
In March, a petrol tanker caught fire after skidding off the road in southern Port Harcourt, killing six people and injuring several others.
While in April last year, a fuel tanker overturned at an army checkpoint in central Nigeria, sparking an inferno in which some 50 people were killed.
But the Traditional Ruler of the Igbuduya clan in Ekpeye, Ahoada West, His Royal Highness,Eze Joshua Eyiba said the victims were not scooping fuel but helping accident victims who were trapped in the bus.
He blamed the Federal Government for not giving adequate attention to East/West Road which he said on daily basis claims lives of Niger Deltans.
Eyiba who few weeks ago threatened to go on hunger strike over the deplorable condition of the road, said if the road had been in order, the accident couldn’t have happened.
However, speaking on condition of anonymity, a top official of Civil Defence Corps, said his members took time to count both the dead which he put at exactly 230.
According to him, among those strugglying to survive who were rushed to traditional healing homes were, Okogbe 11 people, Uyakama, 12 and Ogbologbo 10.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday ordered that relief materials be provided for survivors of the Ikogbe petrol tanker disaster.
While describing the incident as unfortunate, President Jonathan commiserated with families that lost loved ones and urged proper medical care for survivors.
Similarly, Rivers State Governor, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi, has ordered a full investigation into the petrol tanker fire incident at Ula-Okogbe, Ahaoda West Local Government Area of the state in which several lives were lost.
“We must stop this needless loss of lives” said the Governor, who also directed that no cost must be spared to ensure the best medical attention and care for the wounded victims.
Governor Amaechi who condoled with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident at Ula-Okogbe in the Ahoada West Local Government Area of the State, also expressed regret over the avoidable tragedy.
The governor commended the members of the public who assisted in the rescue operations as well as the federal and state agencies involved in the rescue operations.
He also advised people of the state to always be safety conscious as nothing was worth the sanctity of life.
Meanwhile, about 120 of the dead have been given mass burial near the site of the incident. The mass burial was supervised by Eze Eyiba and other traditional rulers who gave support to government officers, FRSC, NSCDCA, NEMA and other agencies on hand to evacuate victims and ensure free flow of traffic at the scene.
Again, RSG Begins Unveiling, Flag-Off Of Nine Key Projects, ’Morrow
The Rivers State Government has rolled out the drums to herald another phase of official commissioning of key projects embarked upon by the Governor Nyesom Wike-led administration in the state.
A statement by the state government said that the process is in continuation of the commissioning and flag-off of projects by Governor Nyesom Wike.
It indicated that Rumuola flyover would be commissioned tomorrow, while the GRA flyover would be commissioned on Saturday.
The also stated that the government would commission the Ezimgbu Road on Monday, December 13, 2021; with another commissioning of Tombia Road Extension scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, 2021.
The statement said that the governor would commission the Safe Home, Borikiri, Port Harcourt on Wednesday, December 15; while on Thursday, December 16, 2021, the governor would commission the Odokwu internal roads.
Also, the governor would continue the flag-off of key infrastructure projects with Chokocho-Igbodo Road slated for Monday, December 20, 2021; Oyigbo-Okoloma Road on Wednesday, December 22, 2021; and Magistrates’ Court Complex, Port Harcourt on Thursday, December 23, 2021.
Wike Justifies N7bn Libel Suit Against THISDAY
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, yesterday, appeared before the state High Court in Port Harcourt, to testify as a witness in an N7billion libel suit against THISDAY Newspaper.
Wike said he was in court to seek justice and clear his name as a person from the malicious publication by THISDAY Newspaper, which portrayed him as deceitful, untrustworthy person, who exerts subterranean influences on judicial matters and over court sittings in Port Harcourt.
It would be recalled that Wike had in August, 2020, slammed a N7billion suit being damages for libel written and published in THISDAY’s Tuesday, June 23, 2020 edition captioned, “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’s Waterloo; Almost.”
The defendants in the suit are THISDAY Newspapers Limited, Leaders and Company Limited, Davidson Iriekpan, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu.
Wike, while testifying as witness in suit No. PHC/1505/CS/2020 before the court presided over by Justice A. Enebeli, asserted that the defendants maliciously and falsely portrayed him as an unreliable friend/person.
“When you say somebody cannot be trusted; that cannot be a fair comment. When you say somebody is influencing the Judiciary, that cannot be a fair comment”, the governor said.
In his written statement on oath, Wike had stated that the defendants had accused him of influencing the decision of the court sitting in Port Harcourt that granted an injunction restraining Godwin Obaseki from participating in the primaries of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State in 2020.
He stated that the defendants maliciously accused him of undemocratically exerting influence on the primaries process of PDP in Edo State in aid of his ally, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who was the beneficiary of the court order restraining Obaseki from participating in the PDP primaries.
The governor, who told the court that he was not even aware of the aforementioned suit by Ogbeide-Ihama against Obaseki, said the publication was reckless, false and without regards for the truth.
According to him, contrary to well-known journalistic tradition and practices, the defendants did not investigate properly to ensure the information they relied on was accurate.
“They did not seek to verify the facts from me or in any manner oblige me with the opportunity to state my own side of the story before proceeding to make the false publication” the governor argued.
Wike stated that the defendants further denigrated him before the entire world as a fake democrat, who engages in meddling in the internal affairs of All Progressives Congress (APC) in order to get at his political foe, Chibuike Amaechi.
The governor explained that he was not a member of the APC and has had no hand in the internal crisis which has bedevilled the party both in Rivers State and all over Nigeria.
“By the letter of Messrs E.C. Ukala and Co., Solicitors, under the hand of Emmanuel C. Ukala, SAN, dated 23rd June, 2020, the defendants were given opportunity to retract, and recant the publication as well as to offer apology for the false publication but the defendants spurned the opportunity and ignored the letter completely.”
The governor, while responding to claim by lawyer to the defendants, Turudu Ede, SAN, that the essence of the lawsuit was to intimidate and harass his clients, said the whole essence of the suit was to get justice and clear his name as a man of substantial character, honour and repute.
“The essence of the suit is to get justice since they (defendants) refused to retract the publication or apologise. So, I sued them to clear my name.”
Speaking to journalists outside the court, one of the lawyers to Wike, Mr. Mark Agwu said his client was in court to seek legal redress.
“To challenge him as a person, it means you have made him untrustworthy, a deceit, a cheat, an influencer of the court, because the publication they made was that he had a role to play in influencing the outcome of that Federal High Court case. Nobody will take that lightly, and especially for a man who believes in the rule of law”, Agwu added.
The court adjourned the matter for further hearing to 12th, 13th and 14th of January, 2022.
$130m Fraud: Rivers Sues Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Firm, Others
The Rivers State Government has charged two construction firms, Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd, to court over an alleged conspiracy to cheat and with intent to defraud the state of the sum of $130million, being advanced payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.
In a 16-count criminal charge filed by the Director of Public Prosecution, C.F. Amadi for the Rivers State Attorney General, the state alleged that after collecting the said sum as advanced payment between 2011 and 2018, the defendants have not kept their obligation under the contract.
Others charged alongside the companies were Walter Peviana; Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe; Giandomenico Zingali; Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli, who are directors and officers of the companies.
The defendants are charged with various offences ranging from conspiracy, cheating and obtaining credit by false pretence, contrary to Section 518 (6) and (7) and punishable under Section 518 of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999, section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State, amongst others.
Already, the Rivers State Government has issued a fiat to the law firm of Godwin Obla (SAN) to prosecute the matter before the state High court.
The defendants are equally charged for the offence of false Statements by Officials of Companies contrary to and punishable under Section 436 (b).
The prosecution specifically accused the defendants of obtaining credit of $130million by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $20,467,942.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b), obtaining credit of N7,000,000,000.00 only by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b).
They are charged for obtaining credit of N318,640,173.54, by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); attempt to cheat $97million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; attempt to cheat $15million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; conspiracy to receive a credit of $97million by false pretences contrary to Section 518 (6) and punishable under Section 518; cheating $11million contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating N110, 097, 416.51 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating by collecting sums attributable to shared facilities already paid for in AFAM Phase I in AFAM Phase II contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421.
Obtaining N20, 467, 942 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; obtaining credit of $60,168,936.00 by false pretences or other fraud, contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $1,512,034.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) all of the Criminal Code Law of Rivers State, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999.
According to the Proof of Evidence attached to the charge and the statement made by the Head, Power Generation/Mechanical of the Rivers State Ministry of Power, one Mr Temple Azunda M., the facts constituting the case in hand are as follows:
Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and other officers of the duo, herein the Defendants, are Italian companies which services have been retained by the Rivers State Government, herein RSG, in several projects, prominent amongst which is the AFAM Phase II Power Plant Project.
By an initial tripartite agreement made on the January 20, 2010, the RSG under the auspices of the Rivers State Ministry of Power entered a contract with Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, Saipem SPA for the construction of the OGCT power plant in Port Harcourt at a total cost of $119million consequent upon which the Rivers State Government made advance payments, in instalments, to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd and Saipem SPA amounting in total to a sum of $130million in all which the Defendants have acknowledged receipt of.
The Defendants were to be given an initial mobilization of 20per cent of the total contract sum which the RSG paid.
It was part of the initial agreement – and indeed a condition sine qua non – that, to access the 2nd tranche of payment of 25per cent from the Rivers State Government, the Defendants would mandatorily have installed the Gas Turbine into the foundations as referenced in ATTACHMENT 1 to VO 007 which states that:
CONTRACTOR shall be entitled to a payment corresponding to 20per cent of the VO No. 007 LS PRICE upon mobilisation to site and commencement of bush clearing activities at SITE.
Upon commencement of bush clearing activities at the site, the contractor shall issue the invoice relevant to the above payment and the owner shall pay such invoice within 14 days from its issuance.
The parties agree that no deduction for recovery of advance payment shall apply on the payment due to the contractor for invoices issued by the contractor in accordance with this paragraph.
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