The Blast and The Aftershock

by Osita Okoroafor

“…And I think to myself what a wonderful world!!”
Louis Armstrong

Any given Sunday, Lagosians throng the various churches adorning every nook and cranny of Metropolitan Lagos. We love God here (even if our amoral and corruptive tendencies tend to belie this fact) and never fail to utilise this singular day of the week set out for His worship. Every Sunday morning in Lagos, the streets teem with colourful and gay churchgoers. The skies ring with praise and worship. We embrace piety and shun the madness characterising our daily lives (even if it is just for a couple of hours).

Sundays in Lagos is the only day of the week devoid of the lunacy of Living in this burgeoning city. There is no chaotic traffic, no blaring of horns, no maddened danfo or molue driver deluding himself that his ramshackle shell has become an aeroplane, no whining siren heralding The Big Men or the bullion vans ferrying cash. There is a pervading sense of tranquillity, which is almost alien to this concrete jungle.

We cherish Sundays because of its serenity. Now we fear these Sundays because of this same serenity. There must be something combustible in the air of peaceful Sundays in Lagos. Sunday, January 27th, 2002 was a Sunday as peaceful as a ‘Lagos Sunday’ can be, but then the heavens wept fire and expired bomb casings; lovers were in each other’s arms, friends were seeing off visiting friends, parents were in the company of their beloved children when peace was herded into the brackish waters of Oke-Afa canal.

We have barely commemorated the anniversary of that tragic Sunday and now we have another cause to rue Sundays. Sunday February 2nd, 2003 was just another peaceful Sunday till it turned bloody and nightmarish for Lagos residents. Explosions rocked the Idumagbo district of Lagos and the hapless inhabitants of this area of Lagos Island suffered loss of lives and properties. The effects of these explosions were ghoulishly similar to that of January 27th, 2002, only that this time people were buried under tonnes of concrete and steel rather than dying in the cold embrace of grimy water.

As is the case with the Oke-Afa tragedy, pertinent lessons abound from this unfortunate incident. While I accept the inevitability of tragedy in the course of living, I ask nevertheless: can certain tragedies be averted? I laud the quick response of the State and Federal governments to the Idumagbo calamity, however I state that such response should go beyond Government officials wrapping folds of Agbada over protruding potbellies and extend to effective rescue missions involving earth-moving and heavy duty equipments needed for such missions.

Hours after the incident, which enjoyed live coverage on some television stations (a marked improvement on the Ikeja Cantonment tragedy). there was glaring absence of effective rescue equipments, which would have ensured casualty rates are pegged at minimum. Besides a motley crew of rescuers who were mainly inhabitants of the area, there was no organised search for bodies still buried under the rubble by men trained for such emergencies. There were neither fire trucks nor firemen to be seen. The Nigerian Red Cross brought credibility to the exercise as it ensured ambulances and other emergency units were effectively employed.

The absence of emergency response equipments especially in dense and highly populated districts is lamentable and calls for some serious concern. It is commonplace in Nigeria that in the unfortunate event of catastrophe, rescue of victims who survived their ordeal is hampered by either government’s lackadaisical attitude or the unavailability of needed equipment. In most cases rescue machineries are leased from Julius Berger Plc. (the German construction firm, which has become a construction giant in Nigeria.) and in such circumstances, as is the present; rescue of victims becomes recovery of dead bodies.

It thus behoves the National Assembly, which pockets fat allowances and other “ex gratia” payments for fanning simmering pots of intrigue to legislate to the effect that certain tragedies, which cannot be averted, are at least curtailed. It is the responsibility of Government to sensitise the public with a view to creating awareness on methodical reaction to catastrophes. This will arrest panicking and ultimately limit prodigious casualty rates attendant with calamities in Nigeria.

The drama was further heightened by sickening display of apathy to the plight of victims of Sunday’s explosions; while rescue efforts were being carried out to salvage souls from the debris of collapsed buildings, street urchins (Area boys) made their grand entrance. It was disgusting that our beloved menace to society chose to loot affected banks while fellow citizens lay dying under the rubbles of buckled buildings. It is saddening that the value of human life has so depreciated in our society that the living now feed off the dead. Are we so shell shocked by hunger and poverty that we have become shells emptied of empathy and regard for our kind who are in pain? It is a wonderful world after all and will be even more when we learn to cherish its most priceless gift – life.

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