Three fire outbreaks have been recorded in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, between January and October 2018, which were worsened by the failure of the university authorities to provide functional fire extinguishers in the hostels.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that one of the butteries in Adekunle Fajuyi hall, a male hostel, and a room in Moremi hall, a female hostel, were affected by fire outbreaks in the last six months.
On Tuesday evening, an inferno, caused by a cooking gas explosion, destroyed the properties of four occupants of a room in Alumni female hostel, which rendered the victims homeless.
A student, Olarotimi Olajumoke, who stays close to the affected room, said four of the occupants of the room were actually around when the incident happened but they could not help the situation.
Narrating how the accident started, she said; “when I got to the burning room while the fire was still a bit controllable, I saw the fire coming out from the gas cooker while the pot the lady was using to cook was still on it.
“She (one of the occupants) was stirring Amala (yam flour) on it and unknowingly to her, the burner got loosened and the fire engulfed from there. So, I think that caused the fire,” she said.
Ms Olajumoke further added that the unavailability of water at that particular moment worsened the sad occurrence while another occupant, who refused to disclose her name to our correspondent, identified two of the victims as Elizabeth and Faith.
She said; “Elizabeth, Faith and other two members of the room present tried to put out the fire but their fear of fire rendered them powerless.”
All efforts to contact the victims were unsuccessful as all them, displaced, had gone to stay with friends outside the school premises.
It was also rumoured that the victims will pay a fine of N200,000 to the school for the damages which may have made the students abandon the hostel.
Some of the students who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES lamented the lack of fire functional extinguishers in their halls of abode.
Uthman Samad, a 300 level student, told PREMIUM TIMES about the outdated fire extinguishers which the school used to have on each floors of the hostels.
“There was a day, when I got to the ones seen last two semesters ago, I discovered that the fire extinguisher had gone rusty and no longer functioning. Now we don’t even have any,” he said.
“If there are necessary equipment, we would not have recorded much loss in this case. It would be minimal,” another student, Folorunsho Habibat said.
Ms Folorunsho added that if no pro-active step is taken by the university authorities, “students will wake up one day to see their hostels ravaged with fire overnight”.
During a visit to the halls on Friday, our correspondent discovered that most hostels are without fire extinguishers and the few ones sighted are either broken, old, or expired.
One of the challenges that may be faced by fire service men in the case of fire outbreaks in university is that the structures of most of the halls do not make provisions for access to combat infernos.
Visits to most of the hostels, particularly Adekunle Fajuyi hall, Awolowo hall, Alumni hall and Angola hall revealed that there is no way a fire service truck can gain entry into the blocks of these buildings to combat fire.
According to a final year student of the faculty Environmental Design and Management, Akeem Lasisi, “the Israelis architects that designed the school’s building plans didn’t take the case of fire accidents into cognizance”.
“They failed to add that to their plan. It’s a costly mistake and will cost the university a whole lot if they want to alter the existing structures,” he said.
Also, one of the porters in Fajuyi hall, who spoke with our correspondent under anonymity, admitted the structural ‘error’. He said the only way to save victims during inferno, “is to break through one of the iron barricades leading to the hostel as there are no gates for vehicles to gain access”.
Some student representatives, when contacted, said the union had once approached the management of the university to provide fire extinguishers.
It was gathered that the chairman of hall executive council, Akindipe Israel, in the company of other members, after the fire incident in Moremi hall two months ago, approached the management to make provisions for fire extinguishers in the halls but their demand has not been met.
Also in a public release sent by the Great Ife students’ ‘action committee’ on Wednesday, the committee admonished students to demand for fire safety equipment in order to prevent future occurrences.
“While we sympathise, we believe that it is high time students began demanding for necessary fire safety equipment to curb subsequent occurrences. It is rather unheard of and condemnable that despite issues of several fire outbreaks that have occurred in various halls in recent times, the university administration has not deemed it necessary to put fire safety equipment in any of the halls of residence,” the statement noted.
Speaking on the compensation for the victims, the committee headed by Gbenga Oloniniran said, “the victims of the fire accidents who have lost their property to the incident should be compensated and not indicted.”
In a telephone interview with our correspondent on Thursday, the Dean of the Division of Students’ Affairs, Isiaka Aransi, assured that a renovation exercise will commence in the affected room very soon.
“Any moment from now, everything will be sorted out and the students will be back in their rooms.
“It was only one room but it was burnt beyond repairs. We will start the renovation from the roof of the affected room and it will come very soon.”
However, Mr Aransi, a professor in local government studies, debunked the rumour of a fine levied on the students.
“We have not told any student that they will pay any money. Under normal circumstances, it is students, who are supposed to that ( the renovation) but considering the circumstances, it is expedient to do something to assist our students,” he said.
Also, the spokesperson of the university, Abiodun Olanrewaju, when contacted, told PREMIUM TIMES “the university is doing its best to make the students comfortable”.
Mr Olanrewaju blamed the students’ carelessness for some of the fire accidents.
“If not that we overlook a lot, the students ought to be sanctioned,” he said.
He promised that the school authorities “will do the needful” by providing fire extinguishers in the halls of residence.