BY: SUNDAY ADEBAYO
Just like any other day, January 27th, 2002 will be a day Lagosians will never forget in a hurry. It was a Sunday afternoon, just after church service, we all thought it was going to rain as there were thundering sounds, I remembered my uncle told me to go and pack the washed clothes inside because it was about to rain, little did we know that calamity and wailings await the center of excellence. Over 2000 were reported dead in the Oke Afa river of the Ikeja cantonment bomb blast. This is not to bore you, but to have a reflect on Ikeja 27th January bombing in Lagos.
Being an unprecedented occurrence and not knowing what was actually happening, people, understandably, started running helter-skelter. And whilst scampering for safety, they heard several other explosions, of same intensity, and in the imagination of many, it was as if another war had started. The vibration shattered windows, roofs and brought down buildings several kilometres away.
Unknown to many, the explosion, which sounded for about seven times and almost ripped the metropolitan city apart, was coming from Ikeja Military Cantonment. It was later gathered that some high calibre bombs kept underground at the military facility were not well stored, which led to the accidental discharge of the bombs. Another version said there was a fire outbreak at the Armoured Technical Dump within the facility which later spread to where the bombs were stored and triggered the deadly explosions.
Within seconds, there was commotion across the city, and as people were running for their lives, the stampede led to deaths, and by the minute, the death toll began to rise. Thus, across the city, dead bodies littered the streets. Out of panic, people jumped into fire, some ran into moving vehicles and were knocked down while some were burnt to death by the raging fire. While those situations were incredibly unfortunate, one location that seemed to record the highest number of deaths was a large canal at Ajao Estate which links Oke Afa in Isolo. Unfortunately, the canal (filled with water) had been covered by water hyacinth, and as people ran into the supposed ‘bush’, they were being drowned in the water. People stepped on themselves and many more were drowned. Children, parents and several others were killed, while some families were completely wiped off.
By the time the last bomb went off and a bit of calmness returned to the city the following day, over 2,000 persons were found to have died, several others went missing and had not been found till date, while several thousands were displaced and thousands had varying degrees of injuries. It was one accident too many.
Following the incident sixteen years after, SOCIETY REPORTERS spoke to some lagosians on their experiences during the bomb blast and here is what some have to say……..
MR STEVE AYORINDE
( Honourable Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture in Lagos State)
I was in the office at The Comet. It was a Sunday evening I reckon. And the booming sounds got to Ijora where Comet was. Fear and palpitations all over. Phone calls. Lines jamming. Then reporters managed to get in with gory tales, funniest of which were the Afoganna Adinnis (those who scaled high fences with ease only to land on top of each other at the other end). Getting home in Ketu was war on its own. Battle of tokunbo tyres and tired legs that chose to go on foot. And next day’s headlines were simply spectacular: ‘War’ in Lagos was how Gbenga Omotoso captured it in The Comet. What a day! May the departed souls continue to enjoy eternal rest. May Lagos never experience such ‘war’ again.
OTUNBA FEMI DAVIES (PUBLISHER, METRO NEWS)
I was the Editor in Chief of Ace Magazine then, was returning from a family outing in Abeokuta with my daughter and her mum, on arrival to Lagos, decided to visit the Printing Press to check how production was going. The Press was in same compound with Alaroye Magazine, was going through the first printed edition when the blasts started. Meeeen. Madness took over, my main task is to ensure my family that all is well and that we are safe while driving, and at the same time wondering what was going on, then the rumors started flying in, military coup, Obasanjo killed, Ikeja bridge bombed, pen cinema raised down, Ikeja airport set ablaze…… after going through cars and men, was able to arrive home 3 hours later expecting the arrival of Jesus Christ.
What a day. May the departed RIP.
MR BOSUN SOSANYA
It was on a Sunday. I was living at Ajah. And when the blast started, I thought it was a tremor….earthquake in Nigeria. Nay, not one of our known force majeure. That was incredible. Corruption or coup de tat would have been more believable. Not too many people were on mobile phones, signals in that axis was relatively poor at that time. It became worst within the course of the incident. We were practically cut off from the supposed thick of the action, which of course we didn’t know what it was until the following day.
MR DELE OLUKOJU (Lagos Based Media Practitioner)
I was shooting a skit for Nigerian Breweries at Night Shift, Opebi in Ikeja, when we heard the explosions. I called an officer friend whom I’d served with at the same Directorate, and he confirmed that it was from the Cantonment in Ikeja. NB officials then asked that we suspend the shoot, but by the time we got outside, 4 of the 5 buses that brought promoters for the shoot had disappeared with the young men and women, and were later said to be at RCCG Camp where they’d gone for succor because they believed we were at war.
MR JAMES IREKEFE (Lagos Based Business Man)
The memory is clearer than diamond’s crystals. The fateful Israelis Sunday (27th of January, 2002) which marked the beginning and end of some phases in my life came. We were late from church, coming home around 17:30. Through the window I saw my neighbor distributing some handbills to passersby. I went downstairs to join him. The first person I handed the handbill seems to be what ignited the bomb. I and the person gazed at each other after we both must have been off ground for about 5seconds. I saw cars jumped, packed bikes fell and a great reddish dark cloud arose. It seemed the earth turned in her sleep while all in it turns upside down. The second blast sent me inside as my legs raced me in. Inside was worse: ceilings broken, ceiling fans fell, window nets torn everything was in chaos. With speed of light everyone was on the street road. For the first time in my life I felt claustrophobia, like cheetah I flee with others to the ground floor.
My street was now filled with everyone out wondering if the end time is come. Some phantom it’s Cameroon invading us for Bakasiland, others affirmed falsity that some filling stations were on fire and their banks of fuel had caught fire.
Next minute, it seemed the only route out of this ruckus is my street as zillions ran pass, most with bags and baggage. As the blast seemed to consume everything in it way, many others joined the running multitude. Before we joined I remembered my mother said ‘let me get my credentials’.
Where to? We don’t know. Airport (International/national) or seaport (Apapa) were sitting top on our priority but to get there was more difficult than difficulty. The leggers were held in ‘stand still’ while vehicle users only risk and waste their life and time respectively in their vehicles. The more we walked the more it seems all we’ve passed have turned to ashes.
I dare not say I’m tired, for where the strength came from I knew not. I didn’t cry as other kids and even as older people did. I wasn’t afraid like others for I (myself) became FEAR.
Then, we got to the point where many fell prey to the deceit of Ejigbo swamp (Ira Ejigbo) but HIS GRACE miraculously saw us through. Like twins tied by umbilical cord, so we were (are).
That day, I saw Alfas with huge turbans in churches we ran to, Pastors with collars in mosques. I heard confessions of all sorts: ‘pls., forgive me I killed my mother’ etc. We ended on a highway which was blessed with ‘Hold up’. A helicopter heightened our/the tension as people further ran for their dear lives.
When the blood coloured sky changed to normal but still with vampiry atmosphere. I told my mum ‘lets go back home’. She hesitated but it wouldn’t hurt trying. Streets away from ours, we saw buildings still as they were but deserted by occupants. We became hopeful, extending our necks and strained our sight with hope to see our home if it still stand.
That night everybody slept outside as a family. The whole building shared a night prayer (THANKS) the first and only that had happened.
Sadly the next day, news of my friends, schoolmates, neighbours, classmates, lagosians and Nigerians evicting this world for a better world became known.
From this event I have learnt numerous lessons of life: not to run from what I do not see/know and my ‘Thomas’ type nature etc.
I thank God,I and many others are alive hale and healthy sixteen years after, to give thanks to the Supreme Being. I pray this sort of disaster never occur again for it seems every ten years multitude do die at Ejigbo swamp,1992 it was a plane crash.
Pls., pray against it happening again and ever. Exercise one minute silence at night for those who we lost.
BY: SUNDAY ADEBAYO