27th January, 2019- It was the Cantonment bomb explosion memorial. A solemn remembrance.
The explosion was the result of an accidental detonation of high calibre military bombs in the armoury — a storage facility — in the Ikeja cantonment.
Mr Jaleel Qaasim Olatubosun, a survivor gives a bone-chilling account
Sunday, 27th day of January, 2002 was a day I can never ever forget. Apart from the disaster, the motherly love displayed by my mother is something I will forever appreciate.
The whole thing happened like a joke. My uncle had an introduction the previous day. I was playing table tennis at the back of the house when I heard my mother popularly called Iya Dauda called me JELILI and I responded MAAAA… She gave me some money to go pay Alhaja for the drinks bought for the introduction.
On my way outside, we heard the first sound shaking the whole house, shattering some louvers. I exclaimed “oh! This transformer Don blow again” by the time the second sound came, everyone had rushed outside because it was clear this wasn’t any transformer.
My mother quickly back-strapped our last born Yusuf, who was just two years old. My elder brother Kazeem held my younger sister Nimah and Dawud and I followed behind. My father had travelled to Abeokuta[Ogun State].
By this time, the bombs had started exploding haphazardly. We could all see it. It was a day, I don’t like remembering. At a point the bombs were flying around and at a point one made all of us scatter. My brother was able to catch Nimah and Dawud but Jaleel had gone. They didn’t see me again.
I was just running, never knew where I was going to. I just kept running and chanting the shahadah [a Muslim innovocation] hoping it would be my last statement.
I was in JSS 3 at that time. I actually got to the canal where people died but I have phobia for body of water. I just stayed back when people were trooping in. I took another route and I was just running.
After sometime, the sound subsided. I just sat down somewhere when one Igbo guy approached me and took me home and I spent the night in his house.
At home, other family members returned home except me. My mother said perhaps she would have died assuming I was not found. She went to the back of the house; she saw my slippers were I left them while playing table tennis. She constantly woke up at the middle of the night seeing all her children asleep except me. She visited the toilet nothing less than 15 times before morning.
What a day.
The guy I slept in his house told me of a woman backing a baby that died and instantaneously I remembered my mother and bursted into tears.
The Igbo guy took me home the following day after I gave him the direction to our house. Come and see my mother rolling on the floor out of happiness. She was shouting “Igbo thank you, Igbo thank you.”
I use to think my mother does not like me because of the way she used to treat me when asking me to study. After that day, I realised how much parents love their children.
Yaa Allaah, I pray for forgiveness for those who lost their lives and I thank you for sparing my life.
As people fled the flames, many stumbled into a concealed canal and drowned. The explosion and its aftermath are believed to have killed at least 1,100 people and displaced over 20,000, with many thousands injured or homeless. The government of Nigeria launched an enquiry, which blamed the Nigerian Army for failing to properly maintain the base, or to decommission it when instructed to do so in 2001.
On the afternoon of 27 January, a fire broke out in a street market being held next to the base, which was also home to the families of soldiers. At around 18:00 the fire apparently spread to the base’s main munitions store, causing an enormous explosion.
This blast killed many of the base staff and their families and immediately destroyed several nearby streets, flying debris starting numerous fires further afield. Tremors from the explosion also collapsed many buildings in the area, trapping people in the ruins and starting new fires from damaged cooking appliances. These tremors were so powerful that windows shattered 15 km away and the blast could be felt more than 50 km inland.
Also thrown up by the blast were thousands of as yet unexploded military munitions, which fell in a rain of exploding shells, grenades and bullets casting further destruction across most of the northern section of the city. Thousands of people from Ikeja and neighbouring districts, seeing explosions and fires breaking out, fled their houses in an attempt to leave the affected areas.
As the streets became more and more crowded, explosions amid the fleeing crowds from shells falling from the initial explosion created panic.
A stampede developed as panicking people fled in all directions, trampling those who fell underfoot. Reports also describe people jumping from burning high-rise buildings and being killed in desperate attempts to cross the busy Ikeja dual carriageway.
In central Lagos there is a large canal, which runs from north to south parallel to the Isolo-Oshodi expressway through the centre of the city. It borders a banana plantation, which many refugees thought might be safe from the rain of flames.
However, the canal separated the plantation from the city and was covered by water hyacinth [free-floating plants] and
thus invisible in the darkness. As the crowd surged towards the plantation, hundreds of panicking people fell into the water.
Those on the bottom were crushed by yet more people falling into the waterway, and in the struggling confusion, at least 600 people were killed, many of them children.
The affected areas of the city burned through most of the night, with explosions continuing to boil out of the wrecked armoury until the afternoon of 28 January. The emergency services were woefully inadequate to deal with the devastation, as there were not enough fire crews or water points available to cope with the fire, which consequently consumed large parts of the city’s northern suburbs. City hospitals were also utterly overwhelmed, many injured going for hours without any medical attention even if they did manage to reach an undamaged medical facility.
The military, too, having suffered the loss of many of its Lagos-based personnel in the initial explosion, was not in a position to assume control of the city and did not appear in large numbers until late on 28 January.
By the evening of 28 January, most of the fires were under control and people began returning to the city and attempting to find loved ones lost in the stampede.
Many of the dead were children, separated from their families in the confusion and subsequently crushed in the crowds that filled the streets and canal.
On top of the dead from the canal, several hundred people had died: killed by falling munitions, trampled by the crowds, or trapped in the fires.
The final death toll is hard to compute, although the Red Cross claims that at least 1,000 bodies were recovered and a number of people were reported missing and never found.
In addition to the dead, at least 5,000 people were injured in the disaster and over 12,000 left homeless, with entire districts of the city gutted. About 20,000 people had fled the city on the night of the explosion, and the survivors gradually returned over the course of the next week.
The Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjoa larrived in Ikeja on 28 January.
It later emerged that a small explosion had occurred at the base the previous year, following which the army was advised by city officials to remove or modernise the armoury, but took no action.
On the evening of 28 January, George Emdin, the commander of the Ikeja base who had not been present during the explosion, issued a statement:
“On behalf of the military, we are sorry, this is an old ammunition depot with high-calibre bombs … some efforts were being made in the recent past to try to improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed”
This statement provoked fury from the people of Lagos, who claimed that the military was making excuses for their mistakes and that nothing would be done to improve safety at other neglected ammunition dumps, many of which have not been properly maintained since Nigeria gained democracy in 1999 following twenty years of military rule.
There were widespread fears in the immediate aftermath of the explosion that it signified the beginning of a military coup, although the government later released a statement ruling out this possibility.
Numerous relief agencies, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent, provided aid to the thousands of homeless and lost people in the weeks following the disaster, attempting to reunite at least 2,000 separated or displaced families.
People whose homes had survived were evacuated from Ikeja in order that military explosives experts could remove large quantities of unexploded munitions from the area. The evacuees and refugees were housed in temporary accommodation at the Ikeja Police College and the Abalti Barracks Yaba.
The recovery process in Ikeja took some years as the rebuilding program was both lengthy and expensive, with many people suffering homelessness and poverty in this period due to the loss of their houses and livelihoods in the fire.
Information source: Wikipedia
Today we remember all those who lost their lives on this tragic day.. Rest on. Nigeria remembers you