27th January, 2002
The news reports on this day were filled with rumors, assumptions and made up stories of what might have caused the explosion. There was no definite cause reported by any media outlet, just what they had heard and experiences shared by survivors but it was only one explanation given by National News TV that seemed substantial as it was later dubbed by other various media platforms.
The Ikeja cantonment is a large military base. It’s located in the north of Lagos city near the districts of Isolo and Onigbongo. The base storage stored a lot of high caliber bombs. This day seemed quiet and peaceful with the soldiers going on with their daily activities. Even the traders near the military structure went on about their business.
However, there was a young trader selling and refilling gas beside a corn seller in a street market held very close to the military base. At around 5:30 pm, he left the gas to leak, which caused a fire outbreak. It later spread to the base’s main munitions store causing a massive explosion. The explosion sent the people into a ruckus. Homes for the families of soldiers got destroyed. Base staff and their families present at that time were all killed. Tremors from the explosion collapsed many buildings in the area. It trapped people in the ruins. New fires from damaged cooking appliances shattered windows away from the crime scene. The blast effect was more than 50 kilometers away from inland as I recall hearing a sound like thunder boom! It was this sound my siblings and I mistook for thunder on that very tragic day.
Chaos rampaged, women abandoned their stalls and goods. Parents dragged their children as they fought their way through the rushing crowd.
Residents from other areas who saw the explosions breaking out fled their houses. Some of the buildings around the area collapsed. They fell on some of the citizens including Ma’s body. There were some people who also jumped from burning high-rise buildings, which led to their death as they tried to cross the busy Ikeja dual carriageway.
People ran out of the affected areas. The streets became more and more crowded. Explosions in the middle of the fleeing crowds created hysteria. It was a very frightening moment as some people got stuck beneath concrete. Choked from the thick smoke, as well as got burnt. People who fled in directions for safety trampled upon those who fell underfoot.
Both young and old people especially many refugees jumped into a large canal for safety. But, hundreds of panicking people fell into the water. More people who fell into the water path crushed the victims who were on the bottom. This led to the death of 600 people, many of them children. A good deal of bodies also drifted down the canal, some found as far as ten kilometers from the explosion. Although, there were some who were lucky to survive like Mama’s colleague whose account was scary. She described it as an event she would never forget as she held up a young child with both hands. While she struggled not to get swept away by the overflowing water until the chaos was over.