By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
At long last, victims of the January 27, 2002 bomb blast have not died in vain, particularly for the hundreds that drowned at the Oke-Afa canal while trying to escape the thunderous sounds of explosive device that horrific Sunday.
First, they got a befitting well-managed cenotaph built at the mass burial site, then the street adjoining the canal was renamed January 27.
Every year since the catastrophic disaster, markets around the Jakande/Oke-Afa axis are shut on January 27, while families of victims congregate to pray for the repose of the souls of their lost ones.
During the 10th anniversary in 2012, Lagos State government responded to calls for compensation and handed cheques of N250,000 each to 70 surviving victims.
Kudirat Adenekan Street, Oke-Afa, Ejigbo… road leading to the newly constructed January 27 Bridge, linking Ejigbo to Ajao Estate.
Also, a healthcare centre built by Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), which initially bore the name of the governor, Babatunde Fashola, was renamed January 27 Health Centre when the governor commissioned the facility for use.
The ceiling came at the 12th memorial on Monday when a much-needed link bridge connecting Ejigbo to Ajao Estate was named January 27. It was a fitting acknowledgement of the sacrifices of those who perished at the spot, as it would keep their memories in perpetuity.
Monday’s commissioning of the January 27 two bridges and four roads, however, did not put an end to clamour for compensation by some of the victim’s relatives.
Nurudeen Oyegbemi, who led the Ikeja bomb blast victims to the venue of the commissioning, said the state government left out 84 people when it handed out cheques during the 10th memorial.
Some relatives of the bomb blast victims awaiting the arrival of Governor Fashola to stage a protest over compensation issues
“The state government has the full list of victims numbering 154, which was published in the national dailies when the incident happened. We did not just assemble ourselves to defraud government. It would be unfair to leave out 84 of us. What the governor has done is heart warming, but the exercise should be completed,” he said.
Oyegbemi took a swipe at the Federal Government for abandoning their responsibility to families of victims 12 years after. “It’s sad that the Federal Government, who should take all responsibility for the disaster, has abandoned us to our fate.
“In 2003, they set up a committee, headed by then Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Ufot Ekatte, to look into our matter. We were attended to at the former House of Assembly complex at Race Course, Onikan. Since then, we have not heard from them. Several letters have been written to concerned ministries in Abuja with no response.”
Embattled traditional ruler of Ejigbo, the Ojon of Ejigbo, Oba Moruf Ojoola (left), making his first public appearance since the story of the three women tortured for stealing pepper at Ejigbo Central Market broke. With him is the Osolo of Isolo, Oba Kabiru Agbabiaka at the commissioning of the January 27 Bridge
In his address at the commissioning to traditional rulers, community leaders, politicians, party stalwarts, residents and corporate citizens, which included the Ojon of Ejigbo, Oba Moruf Ojoola; Osolo of Isolo, Oba Kabiru Agbabiaka; and managing director of Chi Limited, Roy Deepanjan, Fashola said he was willing to bring closure to the issue of compensation for victims’ families.
“I still hear that there are issues of compensation. As willing as we have been to pay compensation to survivals of victims, there is no amount of compensation we pay that can bring back the lives we have lost. You must assist us in a way that helps us to verify who the real beneficiaries of compensation are and we cannot have compensation every anniversary.
“I am ready to pay compensation to anybody we may have missed out, but you must give us a very clear basis for verification so we can put a closure to it.”
Governor Fashola giving his address before the commissioning
The governor berated the Federal Government for failing in its duties and causing the avoidable death 12 years ago. “It was because a national government led by the PDP failed to do its duties. It was their responsibility to manage bombs and the military.
“Since then, they have pretended as if nothing was wrong. But the Lagos State government responded by rebuilding the schools and hospital damaged in Ikeja cantonment. That is not our responsibility but the people who suffer and live in this community are our responsibility.
“In the same vein, my predecessor promised that a bridge would be built to link the two communities; I have come here to fulfill that promise. We not only now have a bridge; we have two bridges and four roads.
“The reason you have two bridges is because there were houses on the alignment and instead of demolishing the houses to build one bridge, we decided to redesign the project to preserve your properties. It cost a little more but it shows the character of our government that unless there is no other way, we will not touch your houses.”
Mass burial site… Final resting place of the bomb blast victims
Fashola used the occasion to address the issue of lingering Iyana Ejigbo road repair. “Our contractors are on that road. The problem, which the Commissioner of Works has briefed me, is finding a major drainage solution that if we do not solve and we attempt to do the road, it would not last. Be patient with us,” he pleaded.