Losing one child can be traumatic and painful to most parents and losing three at the same time is certainly unimaginable.
Thus, Mr. Raheem Ameen, 53, and his wife, Maryam, 38, have yet to recover from the shock and the trauma they went through penultimate Friday, when they lost their three girls in a fire incident.
To them, it was still a bad dream, which they believed, they would wake up from and find out it was not a reality.
But then, the little girls, Christiana, 12; Feranmi, 8 and Pelumi, 6, have passed on in a painful death that any parent would never wish for his/her child.
The incident, which claimed the lives of the children, happened in the early hours of Friday, around 2:30am, around the Bungalow end of Jakande Estate, Oke Afa, Isolo, Lagos, where their mother, Maryam, was operating a salon and provision store in a property belonging to her husband.
Raheem. Photo: Tunde Ajaja
Eyewitness accounts had said that the fire was caused by the action of some policemen who were allegedly pursuing a Volkswagen LT bus loaded with kegs of petrol. It was gathered that in his bid to escape from the police, the driver of the LT bus ran into a danfo bus parked in front of Maryam’s shop.
Because of the inflammable nature of petrol, the collision resulted in fire and the spillage of the fuel across the premises made the fire to spread to the shop where the three children were sleeping, burning them to death, whilst destroying property worth millions of naira. About eight shops were burnt, including the two buses and a Toyota Liteace utility vehicle.
There was an uneasy calm at the Ejigbo (Lagos) residence of the bereaved when our correspondent visited their apartment earlier in the week. The situation appeared more pitiable as the couple wept uncontrollably.
In company of relatives and family friends, the Raheems were all tears, defying all the consolation and words of advice their visitors could muster, while they (visitors) also took turns to talk about the children and often ended it with tears.
Struggling to appear calm and composed as she made to explain her side of the story to Saturday Punch, she burst into tears again. Not even her husband could help, as he also went through rounds of tears, saying he had left everything to God, whom he described as the giver and taker of lives.
After much persuasion, her explanation as to what happened, even though riddled with long pause and occasional tears, provided an insight into how her kids lost their lives untimely.
Maryam said she closed from her shop around 11pm the night the incident happened when she finished plaiting her last customer’s hair. Since it was already late, the hairdresser said she couldn’t go home with her three children when it wasn’t certain that she would quickly get a bus home. Thus, she had to leave the children in the room behind her shop, where she used to sleep with them.
She explained that she left the key with them and that they were even watching a movie and in a very good mood when she left them and went home to prepare food that her husband could use to break his fast and the children could eat from the next morning.
Pelumi and Feranmi
She said, “I was in my salon with my attendant on Thursday evening, and we finished plaiting the last hair around 10:30pm. I left the place 10:45pm, because it was late, I didn’t want to go with them. It would have been too risky and we might not get a bus on time. My husband was fasting, so I left and they were very lively. They were even playing, watching film while I was leaving. I didn’t know that was the last I would see of them.
“We used to sleep together in that house, and that night was the second time they would sleep there alone. The room behind the shop is like a house on its own with toilet and bathroom and even kitchen. Sometimes, I spend 24 hours in the house. Sometimes, we sleep in Ejigbo and go to the shop to bathe and eat. Sometimes, when I’m not there, they take care of themselves, cook and take care of the shop. So, it’s like our second home.”
Her voice faded out into tears as she struggled to continue, saying, “That Friday morning, around 4am when my husband was about going out for prayers, someone called him and said our shop was on fire, so I started screaming about my children but the person said it was only the provision store that was on fire.
“There was a shop between the provision store and the salon. I kept telling the person to go and wake the children, not knowing they were already burning. When I got there, the first place I went was the room where they slept, but the fire was so fierce. I kept shouting, screaming about my children, but I was told the children were rescued and had been taken to the police station. Somebody even told me that the person who rescued them was demanding for N1m, and I said no problem.
“I was there when the three fire fighting trucks came, but suddenly, I heard someone saying, ‘Where is the mother of those children, we will beat her to death because the children are dead’. That was the last thing I heard. The next time I woke up, I found myself on the hospital bed, crying and asking about my children.”
Relatives who were present said that the couple had not been able to have a good sleep since the incident happened and that Maryam had been having nightmares. “Sometimes, she would wake up in the night, shouting the names of her children repeatedly,” one of the relatives said.
Maryam continued, “Christiana was to collect her report card last Wednesday but now she is no more. Her father, who happens to be my ex-husband is also very pained but there is nothing we can do. Each time I see children of their ages, I remember my children. Even if I give birth to three other children today, they won’t grow immediately to be like the ones I lost. If it was just the property that got burnt I wouldn’t mind, but my children, how do I get them back,” she said faintly as she went into another round of tears.
“If I were to be there, it wouldn’t have happened. I had planned for their summer class but now they are no more. I didn’t even see their corpse. If not for those people carrying fuel and what happened, I won’t be in this crisis. People now see me as a wicked mother, without knowing what happened,” she added.
Apparently worried and unsettled by the misinformation about the circumstances surrounding the death of her children, she said, “I won’t really blame those who have been accusing me. Some people even said I went to a man-friend’s house. I worked at Nigerian Red Cross Motherless Babies Home as baby attendant for 11 years before I resigned. So, I value children because I’ve been too used to them.
“I wish there is an opportunity to clarify this issue openly so people will not make things worse for me. People already gave me two images. That my children got burnt to death and that I went to a man’s house. That is not true. Please help me tell them.”
On his part, Raheem said those who said she locked the children up in the shop and went home were unfair. He said, “She has a shop there and they sleep there sometimes when she closes late. Everything they need is there. The difference is just that it is behind the shop. In fact, it has its own entrance at the back.
“I was fasting then, and it’s the usual six days fasting after Ramadan, so she came home to prepare food for me. She worked late that Thursday, and because of the risk of moving about with three children at that time of the night, she came alone.
“It was around 4am when I woke up to go and pray that I received a call. The noise at the background was too much, so I dropped it. So, her phone rang too, and the person told her. We got there after 4am. The key was with the children, so, we were given the impression that the children had been rescued, not knowing they were inside. That was the last I remembered, until I woke up in the hospital. We were discharged just on Tuesday.
“I still saw them that very day, the youngest of them, Pelumi, even told me to buy her gala (sausage). I used to give them anything they needed because I love them. But I didn’t know that would be the end.
“It was when I became conscious that I realised that I fainted and sustained injury on my head. But God understands. I had already lost hope. I thought that was the end, because I have been hypertensive but thank God for the people around us.”
According to them, Christiana had promised to celebrate her 12th birthday on August 21 with her group (choir) in the church, but now she is no more. Beyond the property they lost, which they said was worth N4m, the loss of their children is one they might live with for the rest of time.
On the progress made so far by the Police on the investigation into the cause of the incident, the Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Patricia Amadin, said no arrest had been made.
Culled From Punch