On 1 June, an explosion occurred at the Disease Control Unit (Epidemiological Centre) of the Borno State Ministry of Health, in Maiduguri, Borno State. The blast instantly set off a fire that destroyed tens of thousands of doses of polio, measles and meningitis vaccines, and other private property worth millions of naira.
Details of the incident are yet contradictory. Some residents said they heard one explosion, others two.
It is also not clear whether the incident was an attack by members of the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, as local residents say, or an accident, as some police sources claim. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
One account said the building was attacked with explosives around 7.25 pm, while most local residents were huddled together in front of television sets, watching a friendly soccer match between Nigeria and Argentina which was massively followed by people all over the country. It further said the explosion was followed by gunshots, people running for safety, and then a huge fire from the warehouse which soon engulfed nearby stores.
Another account said some men came to the building around 7 pm, chased out an elderly man who was “guarding” the entrance, went in and planted explosives which went off and set the warehouse ablaze. The source said the fire soon spread to a shopping centre and a private house located behind the vaccine store, and also to three cars that were parked on the grounds around the building. One shop owner, Mohammed Mustapha, said he lost goods worth about N25 million.
However, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Malam Lawal Abdullahi, ruled out any attack or sabotage.
He told a newspaper reporter that: “It was purely a fire incident and the police have already commenced investigations into the cause. There was no life lost, but we are yet to quantify the value of the property lost”.
The Epidemiological Centre, which doubles as the warehouse for vaccines being used for the National Programme on Immunisation (NPI) in Borno State, is the biggest store for disease control resources in the state. Its destruction is a major setback to the Borno State Government’s programme against major child-killer diseases.