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20 Years After: What Did We Learn From Lagos Bomb Blast? - TELL Magazine

20 Years After: What Did We Learn From Lagos Bomb Blast?

From Sylvester Asoya

January 27, 2002 will remain one of the darkest days in the history of Lagos. And the day will always be remembered for the accidental detonation of explosives at a military armoury in Ikeja. That tragic event shook Nigeria’s economic capital to its foundations on a Sunday that was full of expectations. Sadly, the events of that day sent many people, especially the young, to their early graves. For those who were affected one way or the other by that tragedy, events of that January, 20 years ago, will remain a nightmare. This explains why after so many years, it still hurts even with the passage of time.

To many people, particularly those in the know about the explosives and their poor state of storage in a heavily populated environment, the ugly incident of that day was in truth, avoidable.

Explosion Shattered Buildings in the Ikeja Cantonment Barrack
Explosion Shattered Buildings in the Ikeja Cantonment Barrack

It all started around late afternoon with a loud bang that sent everybody scampering into different connecting streets and directions around the military barracks. Unsurprisingly, the explosions came with smoke, fire and tremours, leading to the collapse of a number of buildings in and around the military facility. There were also records of shattered windows and roofs that were completely blown off. However, in their confusion, many of the victims who were initially unaware of the real cause of the detonations, poured into the streets of Lagos in a desperate effort to save their lives. But a good number of them were unlucky as many actually lost their lives while trying to escape.

But the most heart-wrenching part of the catastrophe was the reported loss of over 600 drowned bodies that were recovered from a canal about a dozen kilometers from the scene of the explosions. According to eye witnesses, the victims who were running for their dear lives in the pandemonium, fell into the canal which was completely covered with water hyacinth. Apart from the unaccounted number of people who were trapped in their homes and about 5000 injured persons, it was also reported that a total of over 1000 individuals lost their lives.

It was indeed a black Sunday for many Lagos families and their friends. In fact, the carnage that came with chaos and anger everywhere, incensed everyone and this naturally flared tempers across the state on that fateful day. No one could douse the tension, including the president at the time, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who arrived the scene less than twenty-four hours after with a promise to investigate and punish those responsible for the disaster.

Oke Afa Memorial for Ikeja Cantonment Bomb Blast Victims
Oke Afa Memorial Where Ikeja Cantonment Bomb Blast Victims Were Buried

The situation was even exacerbated further with what Lagosians considered an unfeeling statement by George Emdin, the commander of Ikeja Military Cantonment.

“On behalf of the military, we are sorry. This is an old ammunition depot with high-caliber bombs…some efforts were being made in the recent past to try and improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed”, he was quoted to have said.

Anthony Patrick who lived in one of the adjoining streets still carries the scar of January 27. He says life has been tough, not just for him alone but for many people like him who are victims of the calamity. “As you know, many of us lost our homes and livelihoods. But we are even lucky because some people sustained serious injuries while others lost their lives. Unfortunately, no one remembers, and nobody cares about us. One important thing that is clear for all to see in all our tragedies is that Nigeria as a country does not learn anything. Once a disaster happens, the following day, the country moves on as if nothing happened. And this tells a lot about us as a people. In fact, we are the strangest people in the world. Today, you can see our political actors everywhere claiming to have all the solutions because they are desperately looking for votes. We heard similar stories about change in 2015 and we will continue to hear them. Every day, I remember our friends and neighbours who lost their lives”.

For survivors like Patrick, life goes on, despite all the challenges and the new realities on their path. It is also clear that there are lessons for those who survived and even the government.

However, the question is: what are those in authority doing with the lessons from the Lagos bomb blast?

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