When Canadian music diva, Celine Dion sang the hit track” I’m Alive,” only few ]people knew she was hitting a sore chord in the life of a young Nigerian girl. Pretty Miss Ifeoma Emmanuel who lost her four month old kid brother in the infamous Ikeja Cantonment Bomb explosions of the 27th of January was barely three years old herself then but nothing brings more tears to her eyes than whenever the lyrics of Celine Dion come wafting through:
That horrific incident is said to have been caused by a small fire that razed a shanty wooden shed near a Military Cantonment in the heart of the industrial district of Lagos. The fire inferno happened at the peak of the very dry harmattan season and it didn’t take too long for dis-used bombs stored at the military base to begin what seemed like an endless series of explosions. Then all hell was let loose! The serial sound of deafening blasts triggered a massive panic amongst residents of neighbouring communities and everybody took flight heading towards a canal, apparently just so they can survive by dousing themselves in water.
According to Ifeoma’s mother, whose family unfortunately moved into their brand new house in Ajao estate only hours earlier “I wish you were here that evening. If you saw the way people were rushing, they said fire was coming. In short, you would think the fire was just in front here. This whole place was full of people, rushing, shouting and pushing”
It was therefore no surprise that Mrs Emmanuel succumbed to her motherly instinct and ordered her children to follow suit and dive into the canal to escape the approaching inferno. Several minutes later, it was all eerily calm. Only a few actually died from the direct bomb blasts but hundreds of drowned bodies started to float in the canal. Relatives began identifying loved ones who had perished while trying to flee into safety. Sadly, Ifeoma’s baby brother was amongst the dead. The Punch Newspaper reported that the Nigerian Red Cross issued a grim report that estimated at least 535 souls as still missing.
A mourning nation led by then Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Lagos state Governor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu visited the scene to commiserate with victims. Families were promised monetary compensation and the re-building of lost property. Monetary compensation actually commenced but ended no sooner than it had begun. Instead bulldozers moved in and leveled what was left and fences became erected.
For majority of those that lost relations and property, despair set in, a situation that remains unaddressed till date. For Ifeoma, who has now grown into a beautiful student of Maryam Abacha University in Togo, the quest for justice will never end. She writes on an Instagram post
“Here / am today thanking God who has preserved me because He knows He has a greater plan for me, which I haven’t fulfilled on earth yet. RIP to all those souls that were lost including that of my brother. May God console their families, even though the government is yet to fulfill her promises. May God touch their heart for them to remember us.”
So how does Ifeoma and other victims like her commemorate the sad chapter of their lives while waiting for succor to arrive? She says,
” I usually go to church in Thanksgiving every January 27th but this year I chose to visit my kid brother’s grave”.
On the brighter side, 21 year old Ifeoma Emmanuel believes that she has had enough of the numerous failed promises of the authorities. Last year, she elected to spearhead a pressure group of concerned citizens to peacefully press their case for recognition and compensation. She is of the firm belief that it is the only way to assuage the feelings of hurting relatives and the souls of all the departed victims.