The severity of the facial injury sustained by 48-year-old Adeola Adaraloye jumps at anyone entering the male ward of the Trauma and Burns Centre at Gbagada General Hospital, Lagos. His entire face had become frighteningly yellow.
When one of our correspondents visited the ward on Thursday, his nose was dripping with blood; his two swollen hands had been wrapped in multiple bandages while pus and water dripped down his blood-ridden face at intervals.
The burns were as fresh as could be imagined, and one could feel the enormous pain he was going through on the hospital bed he had been confined to for the past few days.
This is what had become of Adaraloye, a vibrant officer with the Lagos State Fire Service, after he suffered severe burns in the early hours of Monday, during an explosion at a cooking gas plant, owned by Second Coming Nigeria Limited at Magodo, a posh estate in Lagos metropolis, on Monday.
Adaraloye, a Principal Fire Superintendent with the service had been deployed to lead a team of firefighters to the premises on CMD Road in response to a distress call from the company, complaining of gas leakage in its facility.
But moments after his team got to the scene, and while they were still trying to turn off the valve to stop the leakage, there was a massive explosion, triggered by the exhaust pipe of a passing vehicle some metres away, which spread rapidly to the plant.
Beyond the loud bang and the havoc wreaked on the premises, two persons were soon confirmed dead at the site, while Adaraloye and few others suffered severe injuries.
The incident seems to have changed his life forever, as the burns tore the entire skin on his face, ate into part of his head and ripped his ears open.
Adaraloye, who could not open his eyes or speak due to the burns until Wednesday, could hardly sit or rest on his back, due to the pains. Thus, he kept looking forlornly, dozing off intermittently.
Being a civil servant, Adaraloye declined talking to our correspondent. But his wife, Nifemi, who had become flustered over the appalling state of his health, expressed deep frustration with the situation.
She noted that she could not recognise him when she first saw him after the incident and it was only by the look of his legs that she knew he was the one.
Nifemi, who had a clandestine interaction with one of our correspondents, to avoid the prying eyes of the official of the service attached to Adaraloye, said they had spent all they had.
“But, thankfully, we have received some money from the Director of Fire Service (Mr. Rasaq Fadipe), which we have spent on his treatment and purchase of drugs. He and some of my husband’s colleagues have also visited him.
“And now he has been moved to another ward for better treatment,” she disclosed in a chat with our correspondent outside the premises.”
The story of this couple, who got married last year, touched the heart deeply.
Narrating how she got to know about the incident, Nifemi said she was expecting him to return home on Monday morning, as he was on night shift on Sunday. But while she was still preparing his meal, she got a call that shattered her mood.
“The person who called said there was an incident where he had gone to work but it was minor. I tried not to panic. After some time, they came to take me to the hospital,” she said, as she took a long pause to suppress the tears rolling down her cheeks.
She continued, “When I entered the ward, I couldn’t believe it was my husband. His head was swollen and his face looked white. I screamed and ran outside; I couldn’t look at him; his face was completely gone. It was his legs that I used to recognise him.
“We thank God he is alive. The other person that was also brought in died about eight hours after they came in on Monday. He told me yesterday that if not for the personal protective equipment he had on him, it could have been worse.
“He said he tried to escape, but he couldn’t. When our daughter was brought in, she kept screaming and crying profusely. We had to lead her out. It has not been easy. His hands were wrapped in bandage because the two almost fell into pieces. That was why the nurses used the bandage to hold each hand in one piece.”
By the time our correspondent got back into the ward, Adaraloye was writhing in pain on the bed; he could neither sleep nor sit. From afar, one could feel his pain, as he struggled to open his eyes to see who his guest was.
One of his relatives also told Saturday PUNCH that they had yet to hear from the company; “not even a visit and I don’t think that is fair. Please help us tell the government to come to our rescue,” the relative who didn’t want his name in print, added.
When asked why no representative of the company had visited the victim and why no help had been rendered to the victim, the Managing Director of the company, Basil Ogbuanu, who is also the president of Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers, declined commenting on the matter.
He, however, referred one of our correspondents to another person, who identified himself as Mr. Isenna Okeke.
Okeke said the company had been holding talks with the leadership of the Fire Service daily since the incident.
He added, “I don’t think there is anybody involved in this issue that is lacking any commitment from us. We look into the issues as they are presented. We are doing our best.”
Also, when one of our correspondents contacted the Director of the Lagos State Fire Service, Rasak Fadipe, he said the service was in constant touch with the victim.
He said, “He’s in safe hands and the authorities of the hospital are aware that he’s there. If you see him the first day and you see him now, you would agree that he’s getting better, but if you see him for the first time, you might think nothing has been done on him.
“We have been paying for his drugs and I still sent N30,000 to them on Thursday and I have given an instruction that anytime they exhaust the money they should contact me.
“He has not been abandoned. We can’t abandon him. He sustained injury in the line of active duty; we have gallant officers.
“I don’t mind spending any amount to make sure he’s okay, and that would encourage others. Government is also planning to do something about the issue.”