On this day in the year 2002, the city of Lagos was brought to it knees by the devastating explosions in the Ikeja Military Cantonment .
I would never forget that Sunday afternoon as the sounds of explosions ripped through the city just as my family was about having lunch. No one knew what was going on at the time. There was no light to watch the news on television and I don’t remember if we had a radio set. Everyone remained huddled as we prayed silently. As someone who had heard stories of political clashes and had witnessed the horrors of a tribal clash, I feared for the worst.
Towards the evening, bits of information began to flood in. There had been a bomb blast at the Ikeja cantonment. Somehow, I released the breath I didn’t realized I had been holding. At the time, lived in Mile 12 and even though nine-year old me didn’t know where exactly the cantonment was located, I knew we were somehow safe from whatever was going on. Perhaps it’s not as bad as I had feared.
But the worst was yet to come. The next few days, I was exposed to the horrors that had been unleashed. I started to piece together the stories from what I had heard from the adults and what I watched in the news. Explosives kept in a warehouse had gone off. But nothing prepared me for the videos. God, the videos. I watched as bodies of men, women and children were dredged out of the canal. Many people had died, running towards a concealed canal that claimed more lives more than the actual bomb blast itself.
Kenny Saint Brown sang a song about it, a song I remember so well. A song I’m currently humming as I type this. It’s been 19 years and it still hurts. I honestly thought I had safely buried this memory. But the tears threatening to crawl out of my eyes beg to differ.
There’s a personal reason why this day shakes me. On that day, my parents were supposed to attend a birthday party inside the cantonment. My father has this ideology that whenever we are going for a party, everyone must eat to their fill at home before we head there. He hates when people are using their eyes to follow food servers. “We are not hungry people,” he’d say. That day, they were a few hours late because my mum took time while preparing lunch. We were about digging into our meal, when we heard the explosions. For a long time, I wondered what would have happened if my parents had made it to the birthday party earlier. I just wondered what if.
The city of Lagos has seemed to move on from this disaster as no one really talks about it or remember it anymore. My heart goes out to families who lost loved ones during this incident. May their souls continue to rest in perfect peace. and may those they have left behind continue to find comfort.
You can read about the bomb blast in depth here
Jan 27, 2002. We’ll never forget.