18 years after Ikeja bomb blast, mother cries out: ‘My son still crying for help in my dreams’

Posted by News Express | 26 January 2020 | 1,311 times

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•  Ikeja bomb blast

Perhaps, the agony of a missing child is worse than that of a dead child as the mother of a dead knows where her child is, and never hopes to see him again unlike the mother of a missing child, who is always hopeful to reunite with him someday. This is the reason for her multiple nightmares.

Mrs. Rebecca is going through most trying times, waiting anxiously for her son’s return. Ayo would be 31 years today and perhaps, would have been a father of many children, if the ugly typhoon didn’t sweep him away with other 150 families which were affected by the tragedy

Each time she dreamt of him, it changed her mood and made her miserable all the day. In most cases, she would decide to stay at home or visit lively friends in order not to remain upbeat throughout the day.

Mrs. Adeniji who is a petty trader said the missing of her son is a hard blow on her, saying that it would have been easier if he had died and his remains buried than excruciating trauma she is going through, waiting perpetually for him to return.

“Each time I see him in the dream, it affects my day seriously. I used to see him in the dream on regular basis. He will be crying for help but will not tell me anything. This tears me apart,” the agonising mother told Sunday Telegraph.

More so, the case of Rebecca’s son was a  peculiar one, as they were far away from the Oke-Afa swampy canal where hundreds of others drown. It’s not clear, however, whether her son died in the swamp or was knocked down by a fleeing vehicle on the Oshodi-Ikeja Expressway as were the cases of many others. His body was not recovered.

She recalled that her children were with her on that fateful day but ran in different directions when they heard the heavy bang which preceded thick smoke and fire that sent everyone scurry and seeking for a safe place, thinking it was another coup detat.

“My children and I ran in different directions for our dear lives. As kids, they ran towards the Oshodi-Ikeja Expressway, but as fate would have it, two of them, two boys and a girl, returned but I’m yet to see my last son, Ayo,” she said shaking her head.

“I was traumatised for 10 years. During this period, I could not get pregnant because of my condition. I only took in 2012 and now I have two other children,” she added.

In the same optimism, Mrs. Chinyere Igwe, a mother of five and a civil servant, strongly believes that her missing daughter, Chioma, would return home someday.

“Every January 27, I am reminded of the sad memory of my daughter’s disappearance after the bomb blasts. It is 18 years already, when my little girl, was declared missing, but I know for sure that, she would walk into the house someday since she was not among the dead. For me and my family, my daughter is not dead,” she said.

Mrs. Igwe is optimistic that her daughter didn’t drown in the Oke-Afa swamp canal and she was not among the dead evacuated from the swampy canal.

“Since Chioma was not declared dead, then I will continue to wait for her. We have heard of missing persons coming back home after many years; it’s just 18 years that she has not been back. She will surely come back someday,” she said.

On the compensation, she said, “I have not heard anything from the Federal Government. It was only the Lagos State Government that gave us N250, 000 in 2012 when they unveiled the Oka-Afa Wall (Cenotaph), the mass burial tomb for the victims.”

Interestingly, a survivor of such tragedy, a mother of three, Seyi Ogunbumi, who is currently thanking the Almighty God for His mercy would have died or perhaps, missing for 18 years if God didn’t wade into her case.

She recalled her horrifying experience: “I was lost for three days. I was among the people that fled the troubled area and got trapped in the swamp. I was just a little over 10 years old. I saw other people running towards that direction and I followed them all for the sake of safety not knowing they were racing to their death.

“While some people ran through the swampy canal and sank gradually, one unknown man suddenly held my right hand as I ran with the bunch, we ran side-by-side. It got to a point, this strange man started sinking. Up till now, I cannot explain how I escaped drowning like other kids.

“Unfortunately, this man who held my hand sank in the swamp too. When I realised that he was sinking, I snatched my hand from his firm grip to escape going down like others. I don’t know if this man made it out of the swamp or not. My family searched for me for three days among the dead not knowing I was alive.

“It was a terrible experience; my parents told me that it was on the third day that a distant relative alerted them that he saw somebody that looked like me wandering on a street not too far away from the Oke-Afa swamp. They followed the man’s description to where I was found.

“In these three days, a Good Samaritan woman took care of me. I cried every day. This woman consoled me saying that my parents would surely come for me. And  true to her words, my parents eventually found me after three days. It was a happy reunion, one of the happiest days in my life.”

Also, Ifeoma O. was just four years old at the time and she survived. Back then her photograph made it to the covers of several national newspapers.

Remembering the sad day 18 years after, she wrote, “The past is but a story told and the future has been written in gold. Today mark’s 18 years I escaped death. It would have been too young to die, but God changed my story during the bomb blast that happened in Ikeja cantonment, when I was just 4 years old.

“That took the lives of millions of souls including that of my kid brother, and left me the only surviving child among all those who drowned on that day at the Canal. So many lives and properties were lost on that day.

“But here I am today thanking God for He has preserved me because He knows He has a greater plan for me, which I haven’t fulfilled on earth. RIP to those souls that were lost including that of my brother. May God console their families. May God still touch the heart of the government to fulfill her promises to the victims.”

However, tomorrow, Monday, January 27, 2020, will mark the 18th anniversary of the Ikeja Cantonment bomb blasts that killed over 1,000 people, injured 5,000, left 12, 000 homeless and displaced about 20, 000.

The Lagos State government under former governor Babatunde Raji Fashola remembered the victims in 2012 and presented N250, 000 to each of the identified 70 families of victims out of the affected 154 families.

It was gathered that the Federal Government had earlier paid the sum of N500, 000 each to victims’ families, and N250, 000 each to the families of missing persons as succour. These were the only supports the victims’ families got from the federal and state governments.

The Ikeja Military Cantonment was a large military cantonment and storage area in Lagos, situated north of Lagos centre, near the districts of Isolo and Onigbongo. Prior to January 27, 2002, the cantonment was being used to store a large quantity of high calibre bombs and other sundry explosives.

On this fateful day, fire broke out on a street market next to the base, which was also the home to families of soldiers. Soon after, the fire spread to the military’s main munitions store, causing explosion. This blast killed many of the base staff, their families and destroyed nearby streets.

Tremors from the explosion also shattered many buildings in the area, trapping people in the ruins. Windows shattered 15 km away from the point of impact and the blast could be felt beyond 50Km inland.

Also, thrown up by the blast were thousands of yet unexploded military munitions, which fell in a rain of shells, grenades and bullets, casting further destruction across the city.

Thousands of people from Ikeja and neighbouring districts, seeing the explosions and fire fled their homes for safety, resulting in a stampede, where people were trampled to death. The host of others, who jumped from burning high-rise buildings died in their desperate attempts to cross the busy Ikeja dual carriage way.

Worst still, the fleeing residents didn’t know that 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 falling shells and spreading fires.

Unfortunately, the canal separated the plantation from the city and was covered by water hyacinth and thus invisible in the darkness. As the crowd surged towards the plantation, hundreds fell into the water. Those on the bottom were crushed by yet more people falling into the waterway. At least, 600 people were killed here and many of whom were children.

The affected areas of the city burned through the night, with explosions continuing to boil out of the wrecked armoury until the afternoon of 28th January. The emergency services were 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.

By the evening of the same day, the fires were under control and people started returning to the city and attempting to find loved ones lost in the stampede. On top of the dead from the canal, several hundred people had died in the city itself, killed by falling munitions, trampled by the crowds, or trapped in the fires.

At the end, the final death toll was hard to compute, though the Red Cross claimed that, at least, 1,000 bodies were recovered and a number of people were reported missing and never found.

In addition to the dead, 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 after one week.

The country’s president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, who arrived Ikeja that same day, alongside senior politicians, publicly demanded answers from the military as to why such a huge ammunition dump was kept in such a poorly maintained and public location.

It later emerged that a small explosion had occurred at the base the previous year, which the army was advised by city officials to remove or modernise the armoury, but took no action.

Again, the Commander of the Ikeja base, George Emdin, who was absent 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 made in the recent past to improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed.”

This statement provoked fury from Lagosians, 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.

Sequel to this, numerous relief agencies, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent provided aid to thousands of homeless and lost people in the preceding weeks of the disaster, attempting to reunite, at least, 2,000 separated or displaced families. People, whose homes survived the tremor, were evacuated in order that military explosives experts could remove 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 programme was both lengthy and expensive, with many people suffering homelessness and poverty in the period due to the loss of their houses and livelihoods.

Regarding this communication gap   between the people and the corresponding government authorities and the poor storage of these obsolete weapons, Sunday Telegraph sought the opinion of the military, security experts, police and other stakeholders to speak on the lessons learnt from this ugly incident and how to prevent its reoccurrence.

According to an elder statesman and former leader of pan-Yoruba Organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, civilians may not be able to speak whether the army has learnt anything from the incident or not as information regarding the military is classified.

But he quickly added, “Though the civilians will find it difficult to speak on the matter but something may have been learnt from it as we have not seen or had any repeat of the event in the military or any other place in the country.”

Sequel to this, Sunday Telegraph contacted the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations in charge of Lagos and Abeokuta, Lt. Col Daudu Olaowu, but he declined comment, saying that he does not have the authority to speak for the army.

Asked which areas he has power to comment on, he replied “I can only speak for 81 Division Lagos and not for the Nigerian Army and your Defence Correspondent will know. May be you have to get the Army Headquarters, in Abuja..

More so, when the Assistant Defence Director of Information (DDI) Army Headquarters, Abuja, Col Kingsley Samuel, was contacted, he said: “I have nothing to say. I have left Lagos since 2017… My brother I have nothing to tell the families of the victims or the survivors. Thank you.” He immediately ended the call. (New Telegraph)




Source: News Express

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