– An explosion was recorded on this day in 2002 at the Ikeja military cantonment
– Over 1000 Nigerians died, with at least 5,000 people injured and over 12,000 homeless.
– Survivors talk about the incident 14 years after
The Ikeja military cantonment was a large military cantonment and storage area in the city of Lagos and in January 2002, the base was being used to store a large quantity of “high calibre bombs”, as well as other sundry explosives. However, on the afternoon of January 27, a fire broke out in a street market being held next to the base, which was also home to the families of soldiers and at around 6pm, the fire had spread to the base’s main munitions store, causing a loud explosion.
Immediately, the blast killed many of the base staff and their families and destroyed several nearby streets as the flying debris starting numerous fires further afield, collapsing many buildings in the process. But as people fled the flames, some stumbled into a concealed canal and were drowned, many of them children separated from their families in the confusion.
However, the erstwhile president Olusegun Obasanjo arrived at the scene of the disaster on January 28 along with most senior city and national politicians, and he told the crowd waiting to see him: “I took the opportunity to come to Lagos very early this morning to assess the situation on ground, I don’t have to be here (he muttered when the angry crowd refused to listen).
“The GOC has reported to me, the governor has reported to me and I have deliberated with them on what we have to do to provide relief and immediate attention. We will connect children with their parents and to provide food for those who are scattered from their homes.
“We have decided to make sure this is looked into. We will help you as much as we can but you should also help us to be able to help you, all that needs to be done will be done.”
14 years down the line, Naij.com remembers the over 1,000 Nigerians killed in the explosion. Our correspondent embarked on a mission to the Ikeja military cantonment to speak to some survivors and find out what sort of renovations had taken place in the cantonment.
Some eye witnesses who spoke to our correspondent also narrated how many Nigerians lost their lives in the horrible scene.
An eye witness on the condition of anonymity told Naij.com: “It was January 27, 2002, I think 4pm if I can remember well. It was on a Sunday and I just got back from Church and I was supposed to go to a place within the Barrack with my family which was very close to where the bombs were kept. I wanted to do a dental surgery but the dentist wasn’t around, so I had to take my family back home, that was when we suddenly heard a very loud explosion and that was it.
“The next minute everybody took to their heels but fortunately for my family we found ourselves after we were separated and so we were able to run together which a lot of families couldn’t. Some people went north, some went south. It was very down casting because it was like the world was coming to an end at that particular point. What I had in my mind was to just run out of Lagos because the explosion continued. For me and my family we ran from Ikeja to Mile 12 to stay with my sister, some people ran to Ikorodu. In Mile 12, we had to follow update on radio of what was happening back within the Ikeja axis. But I believe that those that really died were not from the Barrack, I can say 90% of those that died were those outside. Due to anxiety, many of them fell into a concealed canal but there were a lot of bombs scattered in the whole place which had not detonated, so coming back to the barrack was dangerous. However what the government did was to take many of the affected people to different camps across the state to feed them. This lasted for about three months and gave opportunity for some International bodies to come around to inspect the barracks.
“In the process, they realize some bombs lying around the territory which they eventually took care of. The government didn’t do much renovation because what they did was just to fix the damages in some buildings and the renovations didn’t even start immediately so we were living dangerously. A lot of people renovated their houses themselves as government didn’t take immediate action towards that. If you go round the barracks, you’ll see some houses have been abandoned. If you go there you wouldn’t know some people once lived there.”
Another eye witness told Naij.com: “That’s still my worst experience in this country, so many people died that night especially little children. Some days even after the incident, some still lost their lives because I can recall that there was a man who went farming with his wife. In the process of trying to cut the grass, he mistakenly hit a bomb with his cutlass and it exploded, killing him and his wife. It was just so sad.”
Speaking to our correspondent, a civil servant narrated how he drove all the way to Shomolu with his family to escape from the scene. He said: “I was at home when we suddenly started hearing loud explosion and I thought a war was about to start. I immediately told my kids to enter the car with my wife and we drove to my office at Shomolu. We were there and I could still hear the explosion, that is to tell you the intensity of the sound.
“After hours the sound stopped and I took my family back home and we realized that all our windows had broken and our doors were opened as a result of the explosion. It was really bad that night.”
Our correspondent went round the Ikeja cantonment to see what sort of renovations had been done after 14 years but it was learnt that some houses were indeed abandoned as some our sources had earlier stated