NOSTALGIA: Remembering The Ikeja Bomb Blast

NOSTALGIA: Remembering The Ikeja Bomb Blast

The Lagos armoury explosion, more popularly known as the “Ikeja Bomb Blast“, was the accidental detonation of a large stock of high explosives at a military storage facility in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, on 27 January 2002.

The resulting fire from this explosion burnt down a large section of the Ikeja area (and further upwards) of Lagos, and caused widespread panic as people fled the flames, many of them stumbling into a concealed canal and drowning.

The explosion and its aftermath are believed to have killed over 1,000 people and displaced over 20,000, with many thousands injured or homeless.

The Origin Of The Ikeja Bomb Blast

The Ikeja armory was located just north of the city center of Lagos and housed a large barracks and munitions depot. On January 27, a Sunday afternoon, a street market was set up at Ikeja when fire broke out. It spread to a munitions area and, at about 6 p.m., caused a huge explosion.

The blast immediately leveled an area of several square blocks and killed approximately 300 people, mostly soldiers and their families. The explosion was heard and felt several miles away and the tremors collapsed homes and broke windows as many as 10 miles away. Making matters worse, the explosion sent munitions debris raining down over a wide swath of the north side of Lagos. This caused fires to break out all over the city.

The explosions and fires caused a general panic in part of the city. The Oke-Afa canal, running through the city of Lagos, has a banana plantation which covers part of the canal. Much of the panicking crowd drowned in the canal in an attempt to take refuge in the banana plantation.

Stampedes in other parts of the city killed hundreds more, most of them children separated from their parents. Approximately 5,000 people were injured in total, overwhelming the city’s hospitals.

Explosions continued throughout the night and into the following afternoon. Due to a lack of firefighters in Lagos, the blazes were not contained until more than 24 hours later. At least 12,000 people were left homeless by the disaster.

Following the disaster, the Nigerian government launched an enquiry, which blamed the Nigerian Army for failing to properly maintain the base, or to decommission it when instructed to do so the previous year in 2001. The president of Nigeria at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, publicly said:

“On behalf of the military, we are sorry, this is an old ammunition depot with high-caliber bombs … some efforts were being made in the recent past to try to improve the storage facility, but this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed”

AFTERMATH OF THE IKEJA BOMB BLAST

Relief agencies, most notably the Red Cross and Red Crescent agencies, provided aid to thousands of displaced individuals and tried to reunite as many of them as possible, with their families.

People whose homes had survived were evacuated from Ikeja in order to allow military explosives experts remove large quantities of unexploded munitions from the area. The evacuees and refugees were housed in temporary accommodation at the Ikeja Police College and the Abalti Barracks Yaba. 

Some of the unexploded munitions at the Lagos armoury.
Photo Credit: George Osodi

The rehabilitation process in Ikeja took some years as the rebuilding program was both lengthy and expensive, with many people suffering homelessness and poverty in this period due to the loss of their houses and livelihoods in the fire.

The Ikeja Bomb blast and its aftermath remain a sad line in the modern history of Nigeria, but also serves as a major lesson in diligence on the part of the government, towards effective structures and safety measures for its people.

The Ikeja explosions took place over 19 years ago, but the memories will always remain in our collective consciousness.

By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.

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