The tears for those who died in the Ikeja Cantonment multiple bomb blasts in 2002 remain fresh 10 years on at the memorial to commemorate the tragedy on Friday January 27, 2012. The atmosphere was a mournful one. Not the even the “Let go of your grief and March on” appeal by the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola could assuage the bereaved who gathered at the Oke-Afa canal for the occasion. Neither the cheques of N17.5 million handed to 70 families of those killed were enough to console them.
Thousands of people, mostly relatives of the victims – women, children, elders and aged and survivors – gathered to offer prayers for the repose of the souls of their departed loved ones. The songs were of unkept promises by the successive administrations at the federal level since the carnage that shook their lives. The material losses of the tragedy could not be quantified 10 years on, and there were no knowing details of the human losses including the physical and mental trauma that the families of the victims suffered.
Seventy-six-year-old Madam Fausat Alimi who lost two of her children told Weekly Trust that since the incident claimed her niece, Kudirat Ahmed and her two children, Kemi and Halimat, life has not been the same again. According to the octogenarian, Kudirat was about six months pregnant when the incident happened, adding that she drowned with her two children at Oke-Afa canal as they were running for safety.
By March 2012, Ayisat Azeez would have been 27, obedient and hard working. Ayisat was, according to her father, Hakeem Azeez, the pride and joy of the family. But on January 27, 2002 the dream of Ayisat of becoming a lawyer was shattered, as she got drowned at the canal while escaping the bomb blasts.
It would be recalled that on the day of the incident, the Lagos State government mobilized throughout that night but it was little to what was compared to what was at hand. The state ambulance service (LASAMBUS) was taking both the injured and the dead to different hospitals in the metropolis – Isolo, Gbagada, Ikeja and Lagos Island General Hospitals that were overstretched with the number of injured crying for medical help while mortuaries were filled.
By the following morning of the bomb blast, Isolo General Hospital had no space for the dead who were bloated and had started to decompose. The stench of the decaying corpses became unbearable, but family members who were desperate to see their missing persons, dead or alive did not flinch.
Today, 10 years after, the experiences are still fresh in the minds of Nigerians as people who have lost their dear ones and property besieged Oke-Afa canal as early as 7am to pay respect to their loved ones and wait on the authority of the Local Council in charge of the area, the state and federal government for compensation. A cheque of N250, 000 was presented to each of the 70 family members verified by the state government to have been affected by the blasts. Fashola, who performed the symbolic ceremony amidst ovation, urged the families to “Let go of your grief and march on.”
Fashola said eight school blocks containing 82 classrooms have been fully built and operational at the Ikeja Military Cantonment since 2010, while government has equally rebuilt and fully equipped the damaged hospital in the cantonment. The governor also said building 10 blocks of housing units would soon commence under the Lagos HOMS scheme on a piece of land adjacent to the cantonment. He continued: “These structures would stand as enduring testimonials to the ultimate sacrifice of our loved ones. We can never regain the lives that we lost, but the depth of our compassion for one another has put death to shame”.
The Chairman of Ejigbo Local Government Area, Kehinde Bamigbetan told Weekly Trust the compensation would be in cash and relief materials already prepared by the state government. He said the compensation could have come earlier than now, but due to logistics and paucity of funds.
Speaking on behalf of other recipients, Mr. Olaniran Majekodunmi praised the state governor for fulfilling his promise. He said the agitation for the payment of compensation began two years ago, and thanked the governor for putting smiles on the faces of the downtrodden who lost their loved ones in the tragedy. He however said the group would still continue the agitation for the payment of compensation by the Federal Government. But many of the victims’ family members, before now have been accusing the state government of neglecting them after the promises made by the then Governor Bola Tinubu administration which led to the postponement of the 9th commemoration last year.