Like yesterday, it is already 20 years since the horrific bombings that rocked the military cantonment of Ikeja, Lagos State, shattered the serenity of a chilly Sunday evening, leaving in its wake not only the grief, tears and blood, but also deaths, numbering more than a thousand lives.
Anyone in Lagos will always remember with great clarity what he was doing on January 27, 2002, at the precise moment when loud bangs and tremors vibrating through buildings shook the entire city.
At around 5:15 p.m. on that fateful day, the explosions were triggered by a fire in nearby Mammy Market, which was also home to the families of soldiers living in the barracks. Soon after, large caliber bombs stored in the cantonment arsenal began to explode in rapid succession.
This explosion killed many base personnel and their families and immediately destroyed several nearby streets. Flying debris started numerous fires further afield. The tremors from the blast also collapsed some buildings in the area, trapping people in the ruins and sparking new fires from damaged cooking appliances.
When the bombs exploded, the town was thrown into confusion. Every part of the metropolis felt its pangs. The further we were from the scene, the closer it seemed that the explosion was happening.
Thousands of people have been left homeless after fleeing their homes; many others have lost their livelihoods. The restless city of Lagos suddenly went numb.
However, the most horrific consequence was the loss of life that resulted from the disaster. To date, no one knows the exact number of people who lost their lives, but as many as 1,000 people drowned and perished in the Oke-Afa Canal, Ejigbo, which was at the time hidden by hyacinth of water, as they tried to escape the uncertain calamity.
On the other side of the canal was a banana plantation. Apparently, a large part of the panicked crowd thought they could take refuge in the banana plantations. As thousands of people made their way to the fields, at least 1,000 people drowned in the canal.
A veteran journalist who covered the sad event for The Guardian, Ehichioya Ezomon, recalled: “In addition to reporting on the millions of people who fled via the Oshodi-Apapa highway that evening/night, I took on me to cover the developing story on a daily. based.
“In one of the blankets, I crossed this channel, through the very point from which many victims crossed, some in the dark, perhaps not realizing the depth, which is up to their necks. is why many panicked people trying to rush (wade or swim) at the same time have drowned themselves, while others have been pushed or trampled” in the process.
“Later in the week, I covered a heartbreaking scene in which a father mourned the recovered body of his approximately 10-year-old son, coincidentally at the location where the victims’ cenotaph stands today.”
Stampedes in other parts of the city killed hundreds more, mostly children separated from their parents. About 5,000 people were injured in total, overwhelming hospitals in the city. The explosions continued throughout the night. With no firefighters in Lagos, the fires were not brought under control until more than 24 hours later. At least 12,000 people were left homeless as a result of the disaster.
Subsequently, the commander of Ikeja issued a statement: “On behalf of the military, we are sorry… efforts have been made in the recent past to try to improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the higher authorities could do what was necessary. .”
The state failed the victims, but they did not die in vain. After several years of waiting, they first had a suitably well-managed cenotaph built at the mass burial site, then the street adjoining the canal was renamed on January 27, a primary health care center in Ejigbo was also named on January 27 and in honor of the victims. , a connecting bridge connecting Ejigbo to Ajao Estate was built and named on January 27 as a fitting recognition of the sacrifices of those who died, to keep their memories alive. All of this happened under the administration of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (2007-2015).
The January 27 Link Bridge, now popularly known as the Canoe Bridge, fulfilled the promise Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, then Governor of Lagos, made to the victims of the bombing in 2002.
The ghosts of the tragedy have finally been buried and Oke Afa and Ajao Estate have never remained the same. The once quiet areas have lost their serenity to smooth traffic from Ejigbo, Ikotun, Ijegun, Isolo to Iba, Ojo and other parts of Lagos, shortening travel time to Airport Road and Oshodi.
However, beyond what has been done so far, the section of the Oke-Afa Canal needs to be carefully dredged to pave the way for boat rides and jetty services linking Ejigbo to Festac, CMS and d other parts of the state. It would be the icing on the cake as part of efforts to boost intra-city transportation and bury the ghosts of victims of the Jan. 27 bombing.
In 2017, the Lagos State government promised that the Ejigbo jetty, built in 2014, would be completed and commissioned by June 2018. But five years on, it’s still a promise waiting to be fulfilled. outfit.
The pledge was then made on behalf of the state by the then Governor’s Special Advisor, Akinwunmi Ambode on Community and Communication, Mr. Kehinde Bamgbetan.
Bamgbetan, whose administration as chairman of the Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) built the jetty, said dredging and the Faseun wooden link bridge were the only impediment to operation. from the pier.
Ejigbo LCDA chairman Monsuru Oloyede Bello said the jetty project has not been abandoned, adding that the council is taking steps to ensure the bridge is rebuilt so that the jetty can begin operations.
Olaiya is the editor of The Guardian