They ran into a canal and perished no thanks to carelessness from the military authorities. We remember them today
Dateline: January 27, 2002.
I remember where I was.
I was with the family. It was a Sunday.
We were on our way back from visiting a close acquaintance after Sunday service when the car in which we were riding, began to vibrate from a bang so loud, everyone immediately slipped into panic mood.
I remember muttering my last prayers.
My nieces were screaming, while elder brother Ken who was behind the wheel, did his best to steady the car and calm frayed nerves.
I recall traffic getting light one second and becoming chaotic the next. Bedlam is the word.
The loud bangs went on and on and on...
We got home still panicking and scrambled for the radio.
"It must be a coup", one radio presenter was guessing. We all nodded in agreement. We had little choice.
"The military bad boys are on their way to truncating Nigeria's democracy yet again. They'll begin with Lagos because the city is the country's commercial nerve center", another radio presenter on another dial, offered.
It had to be.
We huddled in the living room in trepidation and prepared for the worst possible news the next day.
The kids were in tears as the bombs continued to go off.
At the time, we lived somewhere near Ikeja. So, a few window panes were shattering from the vibration the bombs were setting off.
In the distance, we heard cries and howls and screams. Lagos was in panic. Nigeria was in panic.
We slept with eyes opened and woke up to hear that all of that booming, banging and shattering from the day before, was the result of carelessness.
The Lagos armoury explosion was the result of an accidental detonation of a large pile of military high explosives in a storage facility in the Ikeja cantonment.
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The Ikeja military cantonment was used as a storage base for high calibre bombs.
"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."
As people fled from the epicenter of the blasts, they ran into a canal lying parallel to the Oshodi-Isolo expressway. This canal was covered with water hyacinth. In the darkness of it all, those who ran into the canal got trapped and were joined by more and more people running into the canal.
They all got trapped as well. A stampede ensued and by dawn of January 28, 2002, more than 1,000 persons had perished in the canal.
Wikipedia's account of events is a vivid one:
"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 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 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. Many of these bodies drifted down the canal, some being found as far as ten kilometers from the explosion".
The death toll from the canal stood at 1,100, by some accounts. Thousands more had been displaced, injured and left homeless.
Then President Olusegun Obasanjo arrived the cantonment on January 28 and told aggrieved persons who were heckling him that he didn't need to be at the scene of the explosions in the first instance.
Nigeria's democratically elected President felt he was doing the people a favour by merely showing up.
Obasanjo blamed the military high command for the blasts, but all everyone remembered from his visit to Lagos, was his cavalier attitude and lack of empathy as the TV cameras rolled.
Homes in and around Lagos had been destroyed by the tremors. Whole blocks of flats had been blown apart.
It was a dark period in Nigeria's already dark history.
The federal government of Nigeria launched an enquiry.
The enquiry found that the military had failed to maintain the bomb storage facility or decommission same, even though it had been asked to do so a year before the explosions.
"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," said George Emdin who was the commander of the Ikeja military cantonment.
15 years on, Pulse remembers the thousands who were left injured, who were left homeless and who haven't psychologically recovered from the Ikeja bomb blasts.
We also remember the dead and the families they left behind.
If there's one thing we learnt from the Ikeja armoury explosions, it is that war is such a horrible and devilish event...that those who pine for war do not mean the best for our country or for the rest of the world.
Were those responsible for the loss of lives and destruction of property ever punished?
What became of the panel of enquiry set up by the federal government?
Where were you on Sunday, January 27, 2002?