…victim alleges arson
There was pandemonium at the Citec Estate, Mbora, along Airport Road, Life Camp, Abuja on Monday when a residence within the estate was razed by what residents referred to as a mysterious fire outbreak.
The building, House 11, E Close, was until the inferno the residence of Mr and Mrs Johnson-Eije, who have been occupying the building for close to a year.
Eyewitnesses said passers-by first suspected the incident when they could spot smoke coming out of the roof of the house but initially dismissed it to be refuse burning or other minor deliberate fire.
Poor waste management system means that many Abuja residents dispose their wastes by deliberate burning, which prevented unsuspecting passers-by from raising the alarm.
However, neighbours became apprehensive when the smoke thickened and upon the confirmation that the Johnson-Eije’s were at home sleeping at the time when the fire started at around 8:00pm local time.
When our reporter got to the scene of the incident, neighbours and sympathisers had gathered and made frantic effort to put out the fire before the FCT Fire Service arrived at the scene.
LEADERSHIP reports that the residents were rescued by their neighbours, who forcefully broke in through the backdoor to evacuate them. The Johnson-Eije’s had to wake up to the reality of what was left of their home, with properties worth millions of naira completely damaged.
A dejected Mr Lawrence Jognson-Eije told our reporter that he was still finding it difficult to digest the misery that had inflicted his family: “It still feels like a dream to me. We retired into the bedroom this evening with all appliances switched off as soon as NEPA took the light. How come this is happening?”
Residents of the estate, built and managed by a Chinese real estate company, said there were strict safety measures in the estate and expressed shock that fire could raze a building within the time it did the Johnson-Eijes’ apartment.
“We have strict safety measures against fire accident,” a resident told our reporter, “I can say that such mishap has never happened in my 12 years of residing here,” an eyewitness who identified himself simply as Tunde said.
Another eyewitness blamed the fire service for responding late, stating that if it had responded earlier than it did, some valuables would have been savaged from the inferno.
“We kept calling them but they said they were held up in traffic. We did our best to quench the fire in their absence but there was so little we could do. A more rapid response could have saved some things.”
Mr Johnson-Eije, however, alleged that he suspected foul play in the fire that razed his house. “It is premature but I am not a kid. There are so many questions to be asked and answered. I and my family have been threatened severally by an acquaintance who had threatened to make me homeless for a reason I can’t tell you for now,” the Benue State-born man said.
When our reporter visited the Life Camp Police Station to investigate Mr Johnson-Eije’s claim, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of the station said the victim had reported an issue of threat to his life to the police in the past, although he further explained that investigation would be needed to determine the cause of the fire.
“We are working with the fire service to determine the circumstances that led to the fire incident. Mr Lawrence Johnson-Eije had made a complaint regarding a case of threat to his life before at our station but we are treating this as a separate case until we can establish a link,” the DPO said.
LEADERSHIP checks reveal that Johnson-Eije’s claim may not be unconnected to a marital crisis involving a formal partner to his wife, Rachael, who he married in 2015. According to extracts from a police statement made available to our reporter, Mr Johnson-Eije reported to the police that one Alhaji Abubakar Musa, ex-husband of his wife, constituted a threat to his life.
However, the police cautioned that jumping to a conclusion was untimely and promised to “keep all possibilities” open during the investigation. “I can confirm that arson is on the table, just as accident and negligence are also on the table. We want to keep all possibilities open but we can state categorically that preliminary investigations show that the fire occurred under questionable circumstances,” the DPO said.
Our reporter’s effort to speak with Mrs Rachael Johnson-Eije proved abortive, as the overwhelmed and physically demoralised mother could not hold back her tears. His husband pleaded that her privacy be respected and she was let alone.
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