It was a cool Sunday evening on the 27th of January 2002, suddenly the skies turned black at about 5pm. For a moment, for those who were over 30 miles away from the city center of Lagos, it was difficult to figure out what was happening as many gazed at the skies, some believing rapture had caught them unaware, another fraction thought war had begun somewhere in the city.
Shortly, information got spread by thousands of people who shouted as they kept running across neighbourhoods, crying and screaming! Many couldn’t understand, yet they joined the fleeing stampede and ran for their lives without knowing what was chasing them.
Many took to their hills, the streets were filled with chaos and commotion as thousands filled the roads, running back and forth with no certain direction, all looking to secure their lives and their loved ones from what was initially perceived to be a natural disaster. At this point, no one had a clue of what was happening but only knew what was perceived to be a rumour, until the news broke on the media that the Ikeja military cantonment was under fire as a result of stored munitions.
The news went round very quickly and everyone eventually realised that it was the military depot in Ikeja Lagos State, called the (Army Cantonment), that had exploded. The stampede of fleeing people that was triggered by the explosion was so enormous that the explosion claimed over a thousand lives.
The military depot/Ikeja armory was located in the northern part of the Lagos city centre, which housed a huge munitions depot and a barracks. There was an ongoing street market that was setup when the fire broke out. This fire immediately spread towards the munitions area, and at about 6:00pm that evening, the fire resulted into an explosion that turned out to be a historical event that will never be forgotten.
This explosion soon covered several square blocks which killed about 300 people instantly, although, the people who were initially killed by the sudden blast were said to be some residents of the barracks who were soldiers and their families, even though this explosion shook the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.
So many people felt and heard the heavy blast from over 30 miles away, because the effect of the blast was so powerful that many buildings collapsed and windows shattered as far as 10 miles away from the event scene.
It didn’t end there, as the explosion worsened, so much of munition debris were seen raining down in different locations as you can see in one of the pictures above, most especially on the northern part of Lagos. This evetually resulted into a fire outbreak in some parts of the Lagos city.
There was severe panic in the city of Lagos that evening, which made many fear for there lives and tried the best they could to defend themselves and their loved ones, of which a particular area worthy of mention is the Oke-Afa region where a large canal runs through from the northern to the southern part of Lagos, and the other side of the canal had a banana plantation.
Some fraction of the fleeing stampede of people who expressed panic, must have thought it wise to seek refuge inside the banana plantation, but many of them forgot to remember that there was a huge canal around the area possibly because it was late in the evening and was already getting dark for them to notice.
Thousands of them rushed towards the banana plantation field, and as a result of that not less than 600 of them ended up drowning the huge canal. In the images above, we can see the swampy canal and the place where the victims were buried, which is the Oke-Afa Memorial Arcade.
Many were seen crying for different losses such as properties and their loved ones as many went missing. Other areas of the city also experienced ironic events that claimed the lives of hundreds of people, including children who were separated from their guardians or parents.
No less than 5,000 people were found injured as many hospitals around the city of Lagos were overwhelmed by huge number of people who suffered injuries from the chaos in one way or the other. The explosion event lasted all through the night even up until the following day afternoon.
The blazes of the fire outbreak couldn’t be totally contained until over 24 hours later. An evaluation of the event revealed that at least 12,000 residents of the state became homeless following the disaster that shook the city on the 27th of January 2002.
Quite a number of Lagos residents and some families protested for the state government to see to their welfare due to their losses, this continued until the state government responded and initiated the process of compensating some families for their losses.
The then governor of Lagos State – Babatunde Raji Fashola, organised an anniversary event in honour of the many who were affected by the disaster in 2012, which was the 10th anniversary since the blast in 2002. Some families were eventually compensated, while some still claim they weren’t compensated. In view of this please kindly click here.