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DEVELOPMENT-NIGERIA: Compensation Disputes Haunt Anniversary of Ikeja Blast

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Jan 27 2004 (IPS) - Relatives of those who died during the 2002 explosions at a military barracks in Lagos have boycotted a ceremony to commemorate the event, Tuesday – this to show their displeasure at government’s treatment of blast survivors.

The explosions, at the Ikeja barracks, led to the death of more than a thousand people – many of whom drowned in the nearby Oke-Afa canal while trying to flee the scene. Schools, offices and factories near the barracks were also destroyed, with damages amounting to millions of dollars.

Tuesday’s commemoration was held at the site of a mass grave for blast victims. During the ceremony, Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu said the government remained willing to help those who had survived the accident – within its limited resources.

"Today we grieve for the dead, especially children and youths whose lives were prematurely terminated. We love them, we remember them as we continue to pray for the peaceful repose of their souls," Tinubu told those present.

But, relatives of the dead say the past two years have shown government pledges of assistance to be largely empty.

To begin with, they complain that authorities have yet to erect a monument at the blast site.

"There is no place to lay wreaths in memory of our loved ones. The government promised to erect a cenotaph in their memory two years ago, but up till this moment nothing has been done and we are still waiting," said Funmilayo Adeyeye, who lost her husband and two children in the canal.

People whose property was destroyed or damaged say they’re also waiting for compensation – even though huge sums of money were collected by authorities on their behalf.

Adesola Areago-Elegbede, the widow of a man whose property was located directly opposite the barracks, says she submitted an estimate of about 150,000 dollars for damages. However, she later found her name missing from the list of blast victims who were supposed to receive government compensation.

"My name did not feature among those who benefited from the 500,000 naira (about 3,700 dollars) cash relief given out to each of the heavy casualties of the disaster. I have not been paid anything," she claims, adding "I cry any time I think of the amount I need to spend to make these houses look good again."

According to structural engineers, over 900 houses within a 10 to 15 kilometre radius of the blast sustained damages, and may have to be pulled down. Owners of buildings which burnt down completely as a result of the explosions were supposed to be paid between 30 and 40 percent of the total cost of damages.

Francis Ashogbon, a member of the 2002 disaster rescue team, says relatives of the blast casualties were angered by the treatment they received when they visited the state secretariat to discuss compensation.

"They do not want to have anything to do with the remembrance ceremony because of the way government has turned the disaster into a political issue without really caring for the victims’ relations," Ashogbon noted.

However, Ayo Oshintelu, Chairman of local government structures in Ejigbo – the suburb where the blast occurred – has called on relatives to be patient.

"Those things that the state government had promised would be done – by the grace of God by this time next year, they (will) have been done," he said.

The Lagos Explosion Disaster Relief Fund says it has received donations worth just over six million dollars for blast victims. To date, almost 1.5 million dollars has been distributed to about 123 small- and medium-sized businesses affected by the accident.

The Nigerian Red Cross, in its turn, received 750,000 dollars from individuals and organisations locally and abroad, which it used to restore homes.

According to the Red Cross Secretary-General Abiodun Orebiyi, 1,258 houses were restored – enabling over 10,000 families to have a roof over their heads.

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