Lagos State Emergency Management Agency and the Nigerian Railway Corporation have blamed the driver of a Lagos State Government staff bus for a fatal train accident which killed six people and injured 96 in the PWD area of the state on Thursday.
Tragedy struck in Lagos a few minutes before 8am on Thursday when a passenger train collided with a fully-loaded staff bus belonging to the Lagos State Government at the PWD rail crossing, off the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.
Giving reasons for the deadly crash, the Permanent Secretary of LASEMA, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, told journalists that the bus driver ignored signals from the NRC officials as he was in a hurry to cross the rail.
Also, the NRC, in a statement by its Deputy Director Public Relations, Yakub Mahmood, said the bus failed to obey the instruction of the corporation officials as he overtook other vehicles waiting for the train to pass.
The Federal Government has ordered an investigation into the accident.
The ill-fated bus with registration no 04A- 48LA was navigating its way to connect the Government Residential Area, Ikeja en route to the state secretariat, Alausa, when it collided with the train at the PWD rail crossing.
The bus was said to be coming from Isolo while the train was heading to Ido from Ijoko, Ogun State.
According to eyewitnesses, the train dragged the bus on its rail for about 100 metres from PWD to Sogunle before getting stuck.
Some panic-stricken passengers of the bus, especially those close to the exit doors, reportedly made frantic efforts to jump off the bus being dragged by the train.
By the time the train and the bus finally stopped on the rail, the bus passengers fell upon one another in their attempts to find their way out of the trapped vehicle.
Two passengers were said to have died on the spot while others sustained various degrees of injuries.
Rescue workers who were mobilised to the scene evacuated the victims and rushed them to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
The Chief Mechanical Engineer and Lagos District Manager, Nigeria Railway Corporation, Augustine Arisa, confirmed to The PUNCH that the train pushed the bus for about 100 metres before stopping.
This, according to him, is because of the high speed of the train.
Arisa disclosed this in an interview with one of our correspondents at the scene of the accident.
He noted that at 7.50 am, he received a distress call from one of the drivers of the NRC, alerting him of a train-bus accident at the Shogunle Level Crossing.
Arisa said, “At 7.50 am, we got a distress call from our driver that there has been an accident at the Shogunle Level Crossing.
“On further interaction, we found out that the level-crossing keeper was there. The LCK is the man with the red and yellow flags at all times at the level crossing.
“If he gives you the red flag, you are to stop. If he gives you the yellow flag, you are to move with caution. If he gives the yellow flag to the train driver, that means he has asked the train driver to start coming.
“With that, the train driver has the confidence that the rail is clear for him to drive through. This simply means all buses should wait and not move till the yellow flag is given to them. With that, the train driver has the confidence that the rail is clear for him to drive through.”
Arisa, narrating how the accident occurred, said the BRT driver veered off from where other buses were waiting and entered the track, ignoring the red flag by the level crossing keeper.
“Before the train driver could stop, he had already hit the vehicle and pushed it to a distance of about 100 metres before finally stopping. This is because the train cannot stop immediately,” he added.
He further emphasized that no one should be on the rail track for whatever reason.
According to him, anyone seen on the rail track is an intruder and has no business being there.
He added, “I need to emphasise this and drum it to the ears of people that a moving train cannot stop immediately.
“So, no one has the right to stay on the track. You don’t have any business being on the track. For you being on the track, you are an intruder.
“If anyone dies on the track, your family members will have to pay a railway fine before retrieving your corpse, because no one is supposed to be there in the first place. When the flag bearers tell you to stop, please, stop.”
On his part, Oke-Osanyintolu said the accident was caused by reckless driving on the part of the bus driver.
“Investigation gathered revealed that the immediate cause of the incident was due to reckless driving on the part of the bus driver while trying to beat the train traffic signal before the moving train rammed into the bus,” he added.
The PUNCH learnt that rescuers started taking victims to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja at 8.30am.
The Chief Medical Director of LASUTH, Prof. Adetokunbo Fabamwo, in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, said the teaching hospital admitted 102 victims of the crash.
Fabamwo, who described the experience as overwhelming, said the hospital received 85 victims at once.
He revealed that the health facility embarked on open space treatment also known as triage, which he said is the world’s best practice in emergencies.
He said triage was the best option because the hospital’s emergency unit only has 30-bed spaces and that some other patients were already occupying some of the beds before the crash victims were brought in.
Fabamwo said, “I got a call very early in the morning about the mass causalities, by the time I got to the hospital, I saw that 85 causalities had been brought to us.
“They were on their way to work and the accident happened around 7.30am, and our emergency unit is just a 30-bed unit, imagine if they brought in 85 victims and don’t forget our bed cannot be lying fallow, they will always be occupied.
“So, we had to do what is done internationally, international best practice, and that is called open triage which means you put all the victims on the ground, in a spacious space, luckily, we have a helipad which is spacious.
Hospital erects canopies
“So, with canopies and all the victims on the floor and we started to triage them. To triage means that those that have mild injuries, moderate, and those that are critically injured are detected and treated.
“To my amazement, I found hundreds of our health workers on the ground; doctors, pharmacists, nurses, Lab scientists, everyone was on the ground, giving a helping hand. Drips were set up for some of them, and the response was just amazing and that was because we set up monthly drills to stimulate disaster situations, so we won’t be running helter-skelter.”
Fabamwo revealed that six deaths were recorded in the crash.
According to him, while two died at the scene of the accident, four others died later in the hospital.
He added that some of the victims were also taken to some hospitals around LASUTH to reduce the pressure on the institution.
He explained, “As concerns our 85 victims, two died on the spot at the accident scene, three of them died while we were trying to resuscitate them because they had very serious injuries, one of them who was bleeding internally that we took to the theatre didn’t make it.
“So, four died in the hospital making a total of six fatalities now. As we speak, another 17 causalities have been brought to us making a total of 102 casualties.”
He appealed to Lagosians to come to donate blood to replace the ones used. Fabamwo advised that the recruitment process of drivers, generally, should be refined.’’
A consultant surgeon at the LASUTH, Dr A. O Oshodi, said the victims were taken to different wards which include medical emergency, big auto, and critical care unit, among others.
Another doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said some of the victims would be released after 24 hours of surveillance.
He said, “Four of the victims have been admitted in a medical emergency and there is space for six persons. Medical emergency gave us six beds, there is one female among those that were taken there.
“The children will be taken to a different ward, they can’t be in the same ward with the adults.
“We have some that will be leaving tomorrow, we are keeping them for surveillance purposes. Their injury is minor.”
A trader around the rail track, Mrs Chika Joe, told The PUNCH that it was like a dream how the accident occurred.
She said, “I saw the bus driver driving through the crossing as the train came from the right. The flag bearers were shouting and blowing their whistles, asking him not to make the move, but somehow, he was in so much hurry.
“In a few minutes, we saw how the train carried this bus down the other side of the level crossing. Parts of the bus smashed into a fence. I have never seen anything like that in my life.”
Joe added that she saw a man attempting to jump off but was hit by a fence, causing him to fall off the train and onto the track.
She said residents of the area rushed to the rescue but he had already been badly injured by the metal fence.
“I saw one woman covered in a pool of her own blood. She had hit her head on a slab of stone. Everyone was panicking. I could not open my shop for more than three hours because of the crash,” she added.
Another eyewitness who did not want to be named claimed that the bus driver did not hear the noise of the whistle from the level crosser and the other bus driver because he had something plugged in his ears.
He said, “The man (driver) was not focused. He plugged in a device in his ears that did not allow him to hear the noise. I could hear it from the other end of PWD where I was. It is still a wonder why he couldn’t hear it.
“I rushed to the scene to see what I could do but I broke down crying. I saw young people. I saw women, covered in blood. A middle-aged man just sat on the floor. He couldn’t even stand when we tried to help him. His legs were shaking.”
An officer of the Federal Road Safety Corps, who refused to identify himself because he was not authorised to speak to the press on the matter, told The PUNCH that the driver tried to escape but was caught by some young men who identified him.
Another eyewitness, Steven Samson, said, “The train was moving at top speed when the bus was about to navigate the rail into GRA. And by the time he got to the middle of the rail, he could not move fast away from the rail track and that was where the train met the bus.
“The train dragged the bus on the rail line from PWD to Shogunle before it stopped. Although, he was flagged down by the man manning that point but the driver probably did not see it or maybe he ignored it and thought he had the time to cross before the train approached him.”
Also, Dare Adeoti, who claimed to have witnessed the crash, said some people attempted to jump out of the bus and sustained injuries in the process.
Confusion at LASUTH
When our correspondents arrived at LASUTH at about 10.45 am, victims’ relatives, sympathizers and security operatives besieged the health facility.
Victims with varying degrees of injuries could be seen waiting at the entrance of the emergency ward with friends and families who looked dejected waiting outside.
The accident victims were laid on mattresses under emergency tents at the hospital helipad.
Patients whose cases were more critical were conveyed from the helipad with the Lagos State Ambulance Services buses to available wards.
No fewer than 28 patients were laid on mattresses, some groaning in pain, and a number of them were still unconscious as doctors, nurses, and other health workers struggled to administer healthcare to them.
Most of the patients had sustained degrees of cuts across their faces, arms, chests, and legs, and their wounds were observed to have been treated and sealed with cotton wool and plasters.
Many of the patients’ clothes were either stained or drenched with blood and some had to be changed at the scene.
While our correspondents were at the hospital, one of the victims, a woman garbed in a hijab, died and was moved to the mortuary.
A woman who was identified as a friend of the deceased wailed as she ran away from the surgery centre when she was told of her friend’s death.
While treatment was ongoing family members of the victims soon began to troop into the premises of the hospital. They were seen frantically searching for their loved ones among the victims lying on the bed, while those who could not find theirs rushed into the emergency sections.
Meanwhile, some of the relatives who heard about the death of their loved ones upon their arrival broke down in tears.
Some government workers who also lost their colleagues were seen in a pensive mood.
The increasing surge of their presence also resulted in gridlock as vehicles had a tough time accessing the premises.
The medical staff who were at some point overwhelmed by the number of victims who were in critical condition however resorted to pleading for blood donation from relatives and bystanders who besieged the tents.
While some of the victims who sustained minor injuries were quickly attended to at the spot, others with critical cases were immediately moved to emergency units.
Those who had fractures started receiving the results of their x-rays at about 12.15pm.
One of the accident victims who gave his name as Chike told The PUNCH that he sustained a minimal injury because he was close to the door of the bus.
He said, “I have not done any X-Ray, but I can move my hand. They said my muscle was affected not my bone and that is why I could sit down.
“I was close to the door when the accident happened which is why I didn’t sustain many injuries. I can’t recollect how it happened because it happened so suddenly.”
Another patient, who refused to disclose his name said, “There were screams when the train hit the bus, I thought the world had come to an end. Please, I don’t wish to remember it because it was a bad experience.”
One of the relatives of a man simply identified as Mr Adeyinka regretted that the incident took place as he was just recuperating from sickness.
A victim whose ear was damaged and other parts of his body swollen was seen pleading for medical attention while lying on the bed.
He was heard saying, “Please don’t let me die. I still have an infant I am taking care of.”
A retiree who is in his early 70s was in a coma and lying on one of the beds.
A civil servant who identified him said, “He had already retired from civil service.
“He started coming recently to do his clearance at the secretariat. So, he decided to join the bus this morning since he has another clearance to carry out today before he got caught up in this unfortunate incident.”
The number of victims lying on beds under the tents reduced to 23 as of 3.30pm but a health worker who craved anonymity confirmed that the casualty figure had increased by then.
One of the survivors seen under the tent is a nine-year-old boy identified as David who had a bruise on his face.
The PUNCH gathered that his mother was in critical condition when brought to the hospital.
Families of the victims were pleading for blood donations as health workers battled to save them.
Another staffer of the state government who had a minor injury said, “David was sitting beside his mother when the accident occurred. Her mother was badly injured and is currently in the intensive care unit. He attends a school close to the state secretariat and he joins his mother every morning.”
One of the occupants of the bus who gave his name only as Chinedu said the driver struggled to move past the rail track but was unable to do so, adding that those who stood in the bus were the ones severely injured.
Another victim, Tijani Kazeem, who had a broken jaw, said he went unconscious the moment the incident happened.
He said, “No one expected that the train would meet us at that point. Besides, I didn’t notice anything. The train was already closed before we started hearing its horn, and the next thing I saw was that everything went blank.”
The Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in the company of the state Commissioner of Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, the Head of Service, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, and some other members of the State Executive Council also visited the hospital.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, has directed an immediate and full investigation into the accident.
A statement by the ministry’s Director, Press and Public Relations, Henshaw Ogubike, noted that the minister sympathised with the victims and prayed for the repose of the souls of those that died and quick recovery for the ones injured.
Also, the Nigerian Railway Police Command has effectively taken over the investigation into the incident as a result of the directive of the Minister of Transportation for a detailed investigation of the incident.
The Commissioner of Police in charge of Railway Command, Yetunde Longe, confirmed the arrest of the bus driver to The PUNCH.
The Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau is also set to commence an investigation into the accident as directed by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
The minister who gave the directive to the NSIB assured the public of the capacity of the bureau to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the accident and proffer ways to prevent a reoccurrence.
In a statement signed by the minister’s Special Assistant on Public Affairs, James Odaudu, he commiserated with the government and people of Lagos state, especially those who have lost their loved ones, while he prayed for the quick recovery of those injured in the accident.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) expressed sympathy over the accident.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President said, “The accident at the level crossing involving the train and the BRT staff bus is distressing and extremely sad.
“I pray for the souls of the deceased and quick recovery of the many who were injured.”
Reacting, the state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, called for prayers for the families of the victims and ordered for all flags to be flown at half-mast.
“Lagos is in a state of mourning and for the next three days, I am suspending all campaign activities. All flags will be flown at half mast and tomorrow (Friday) all civil servants will work till noon before returning home to be with their loved ones during this trying time.
On his part, President-elect and former governor of the state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, condoled with the victims and promised to monitor the situation with the necessary support
“My thoughts are with them and with the Lagos State Government, even as I continue to follow the emergency response efforts closely and offer support, where necessary, to ensure that survivors and others involved receive the best care,” he tweeted.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, in a tweet called for appropriate measures to be put in place to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.