BY OLASUNKANMI AKONI
At the 12th anniversary of the scary Ikeja Cantonment bomb blasts, late last month, two groups embarked on protests at the memorial arcade built in remembrance of the victims.
On Sunday, January 27, 2002 at about 1 pm, staccatos of bomb explosions from Ikeja Military Cantonment rocked Lagos and its environs. During the race to escape from the blasts, at least 1,000 people to died in the Oke-Afa Canal, in the then Oshodi Isolo Local Government Area.
The groups of protesters at the anniversary – bereaved families and the divers, who retrieved the bodies from the canal, showed their unhappiness with the way the state government handled the issue of compensation
Some families of the victims, numbering about 20 clad in black attire, stormed the venue with placards of different inscriptions, to drive home their complaints over their exclusion from the beneficiaries of government’s compensation till date.
Speaking on behalf of the families, the Vice Chairman of the group that calls itself ‘January 27th Struggling Group’, Mr. Christopher Isedigu, raised some concerns, saying, the master and a comprehensive list earlier computed was manipulated as some of them were excluded in the final list.
According to Isedigu:“The issue of compensation would have been settled if the Lagos State Government had used the master list of verified victims submitted to the Federal Government in 2003.
“Lagos State Government should go back to the list to know the true victims worthy of compensation.
“Now 79 families and relatives of victims had been compensated while 84 of us are left. This is unfair, that is why we are appealing to government to come to our aid.”
Also President of the divers group, Mr Ola Majekodunmi, who led some members to the commemoration event, expressed disappointment with the way they had been neglected.
Majekodunmi claimed that the state government was yet to compensate some of their members as well as fulfil the promise to employ some of them in the state civil service.
His words: “After this event, we are planning to stage a peaceful demonstration to the state House of Assembly to register our profound disappointment with the way and manner they have left us to our fate, having made several unfulfilled promises to us.
“They promised us some compensation and employment in the state civil service which have not materialised. We appeal to our amiable governor to intervene by fulfilling the promise as an encouragement to others in future,” he said.
There were also complaints of unfulfilled state promise of scholarships to the children of victims of that dark Sunday catastrophy.
The Special Duties Commissioner, who was a Special Adviser, during the 10th anniversary, two years ago, Dr Wale Ahmed explained then that:“The state government was carrying out an enumeration to ascertain the exact number of children orphaned by the incident, saying the step was to ensure that all those affected benefitted from the gesture.”
According to him:“The scholarship grant and other forms of assistance would be given to the children in order to make sure that they are not at a disadvantage in their education having lost their parents to the blasts.
“We believe that the death of their parents should not signal the end of their studies. That is why we are coming with this support.
“Right now, we are still conducting an enumeration exercise of children who lost their parents to the incident .This is to ensure all those affected benefit from the gesture,” he said.
Sadly though, nothing has happened in that direction.
Fashola, at the official handing over of the Ajao estate to Oke Afa link road in old Oshodi Isolo Local Government Area, observed a minute silence and prayers in remembrance of the over 1000 victims of the dark Sunday, saying, the disaster would have been avoided if the Federal authorities were alive to their responsibilities.
He recalled that, women, children and men perished in the Oke-Afa canal because a national government failed to do its duties, there is no other excuse. That was their responsibility to manage bombs and explosives and to look after the Nigerian military, but they dropped the bombs. Since then, they have pretended as if nothing was wrong”.
The governor noted that the inensitivity of Federal Government prompted his government to intervene by rebuilding the schools and hospitals located within the Ikeja Cantonment which were destroyed by the incident.
On the inauguration of the Ejigbo-Ajao Link Road as Janaury 27th, Fashola, affirmed that it was another fulfilment of the state government promise in 2002 to open up the area as part of government’s drive to renew inner city roads.
“My predecessor promised you then that a bridge will be built to link Ejigbo to Ajao Estate, I have come here today to fulfil that promise”, he stated.
Responding to the call for compensation made by some families of victims of the bomb blast, Fashola said it was impossible for government to compensate survivors of victims every year. He however, assured that genuine beneficiaries not yet captured will be paid soon.
“No amount of compensation can bring back those who died during the blasts and as much as we are willing to pay, you must assist us to verify who the real beneficiaries of compensation are”, he added.