By Gbenga Akinfenwa
Not many would remember Lisa village, site of the ill-fated Boeing 737 plane owned by the defunct Bellview Airline, which claimed the lives of 117 people. Though it was a tragic incidence that threw the whole nation into mourning on October 22, 2005; seven years after, the grief has been reduced to a faint memory by Nigerians, relations of victims and government.
Lisa, a remote community in Ifo local government area of Ogun State is about 40 kilometres from Sango. But for the crash that gave it prominence, the community would have probably remained unknown. The disaster has, however, done little to uplift the infrastructure of the village despite government’s yearly fanfare to mark the day.
Seven years after, the eerie silence that last Monday pervaded the Lisa Memorial Arcade and Garden – jointly built by Ogun and the federal governments was never imagined, considering government’s routine jamboree in the first five years of the anniversary.
Though dead and long rested, the 117 crash victims would find it difficult in the world beyond to decipher the unusual stillness that ruled the arcade last week. During a visit to the arcade, built to serve the dual purpose of a resting place for the souls of the victims and also a tourist centre, it was a diminished edifice that greeted The Guardian.
The bushes at the front gate of the muddy entrance had wildly grown; but for a narrow footpath, there wouldn’t have been any access to the arcade. The surrounding bushes too are begging for urgent attention, which is derogatory to the memory of the victims.
In seven years, the arcade has lost its radiant look. The paints are fast fading and the walls are cracking too. Though there were signs of a recent weeding of the graveyard, it still looks unkempt. The floor of a section of the arcade from the entrance is already sinking. Sadly, nametags attached to the cenotaph are falling off, making it difficult for victims’ relations who had visited the site for long to locate their departed.
While there was no representatives from both the state and federal governments, only relations of two victims were at the arcade that Monday to remember their loved ones. Just nine people, including The Guardian signed the visitor’s register. Even tourists who had shown interest in the centre deserted the arcade.
Some villagers attributed the uncanny neglect to the bad state of the road, which is discouraging regular visitors to the arcade. It was a nightmare getting to the site as the road constructed shortly after the crash has deteriorated. Erosion has washed away the tarred portions of the road, leaving it with wide ditches. With the raining season, the condition of road has worsened.
From Sango through Ijoko-Ogba-Oluke, the road is so bad that transporters have abandoned the route. The only available means is through commercial motorcycles, popularly called Okada, who charge exorbitant fees to the discomfort of commuters.
Though the community has moved on with life after the tragic incident, Lisa is suffering from government’s neglect. There is no primary and secondary schools in the community. The nearest secondary school to Lisa is in Oluke, which is already over-populated. There is no hospital; the nearest one is in Ota, which is about 40 kilometres away, while the area also lacks a police post to safeguard the lives of residents.
This discomforting situation has forced the Baale of the community, Chief Najeem Oladele Odugbemi, to embark on many self-help projects, including the construction of a police station, health centre and market to make life meaningful for his subjects. The state government, through the ministries of Community Development and Culture and Tourism recently visited the community, promising to execute some valuable facilities, but nothing has been heard from the state since then.
A resident, Mr. Aliu Saheed, recalled that the crash was a sad moment for residents but they have overcome it, adding that the volume of human traffic and government presence the community witnessed for about three years after the incident had since ceased.
He lamented that Lisa lacks basic amenities, a government responsibility the community leader has hugely taken on his shoulders to make residents live comfortably.
For Chief Odugbemi, there is nothing to cheer about the anniversary because government has not kept its promise to the community. He lamented that the memorial arcade had been left to rot away like other monuments in the country.
“The primary duty of government is to take care of the welfare of the people and provide security. We applied through the state Police command for the approval of a police station for us and we laid the foundation in 2008 with my personal effort. We have reached a level where government and the police should help us to complete it and make it operational.
“How can a community survive without health centre, talk less of a hospital. I started the building of a health centre, which is about 70 percent completed. We are even contemplating putting up a secondary school here. I have acquired over two acres of land for that too, using my personal money to acquire it from my people here. So, if government comes tomorrow and need a land to build school for us, the land is already secured.”
The Baale pleaded with the governor, Ibikunle Amosun, to make true the promises made by his commissioners who visited Lisa to inspect ongoing projects in the community. “All we are saying is that we need government’s support. We are tired of taking over their responsibility. Government is a father to everybody and as such, must live up to its responsibilities,” he stated.
Residents are also appealing to the state to upgrade the status of the Baale to a monarch in order to use his connections to bring more developmental projects to the community. Joseph Ayoola said “Lisa is big enough to have an Oba. This is the time for government to upgrade our leader and link us with the national grid.”