Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
THE IKEJA MISHAP: WHO DUNNIT?
Two years after the Ikeja Military Cantonment bomb explosion, the Federal Government is yet to make known the report of the investigation committee set up. There seems to more to it than meet the eye.
Tuesday, 27 January marked two years of the Ikeja Cantonment bomb explosion. While it remains to linger in the memory of the families of the victims and the living victims, some of us, including the Government are too busy to remember the incident of that day.
On the fateful day I was in my hotel room in Abuja in pursuit of a story on the mafia behind oil bunkering in Nigeria (see Mafia Behind Oil bunkering in Nigeria: The Military Connection, 23 August 2003). The investigation was based on a 250-page document I got on the cause of the fuel crisis that rocked Nigeria from June-December 1996. I was going through the document, marvelled at my discovery from the Warri jetty, when I heard on the CNN that there was explosion in Lagos.
I think now what Nigerians are interested in is what could be the necessary cause of the mishap? What are the rules guiding the construction and maintenance of an ammunition dump? According to military sources, ammunition dumps are designed to avoid certain kind of accidents. So many theories have come up on what brought about the unfortunate incident of January 27th, 2002.
Experts revealed that the nature of ammunitions that has been said to explode in Ikeja cantonment is high calibre weapons. According to a military analysts weapon kept in ammunition dumps range from small arms, artillery, mortal armoured vehicles, shelkers, which are normally segregated, and stored separately. The nature of storage must conform to the regulations for the storage of explosives. Explosives are generally stored in a special way especially constructed with storage facilities, there are regulations as to how many tonnage of explosives can be stored in particular place and segregation and separation of the various and different nature of explosives precisely designed to avoid the accident from one particular set of explosive due to heat due to movement and circle of chain reactions.
The Ikeja cantonment dump, according to military sources contained, anti-amour tank mines, 75mm artillery launchers, 95mm anti-aircraft bombs, 100mm bombs, Olikum bombs used for blasting bunkers, Rocket launchers and many others.
The kind of accident that can set off an ammunition dump can normally be attributed to fire, heat resulting from the fire, sparks from unauthorized movement. Another problem is to have a dump in the area not designed for it and it might have been a temporary arrangement except investigation establishes the nature and reason for the storage. According to Lt-Gen IBM Haruna (Rtd) 'It is an expensive lesson to learn how to be sensitive to the storage and transportation of explosives.'
There are no doubt that the army has trained personnel in ammunition, it has a trained service department from the Ordinance Corps that deals with the regulation, inspection and disposition of ammunition and explosives.
If the Army has such calibre of officers why did the explosion take place? What was responsible for the Sunday January 27 2002 mishap? Maj-Gen Haruna (Rtd) in an interview on the Nigeria Television Authority in January 2002 attributed it to heat or spark.
Brig-Gen. Gabriel Emdin, the Commander of the Cantonment then, had hinted during the broadcast on that fateful day that the explosion was caused by heat resulting from overloading of the ammunition dump. According to him the case has been reported to higher authority without response. General Emdin's face betrayed his emotion on that Sunday. The man was visibly annoyed, many thought he should not have said what he said but he chose to say the 'truth'. Even after Sunday some thought that the Commander said what he said because of tension but his subsequent utterances showed that he was sure of what he was saying.
According to a source, but for Emdin's good sense of responsibility and sound mind the cantonment, housing more than two military units, would have recorded casualties. It was gathered that immediately the first explosion occurred and he was alerted, he ordered that everybody in the cantonment be evacuated. And this was done with dispatch. As the occupants of the cantonment were evacuated the cantonment was cordoned off. Our source disclosed that a senior officer who got to the gate to rescue his children was not allowed in. The soldier in the officer took him to Onigbongbo the next street to the cantonment where he scaled the fence to rescue his children. 'If not for the commander, everybody living in the officers quarters called 1004 flats would have perished,' a soldier said.
On Wednesday January 30th 2002, the Senate President Pius Anyim visited the cantonment in company of some principal officers of the senate, senators from Lagos State and the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi. In the Commander's office, a drama ensued. Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, now a Minister, triggered off the drama. He bombarded the commander with questions. Why did you people keep ammunitions in a place where you keep human beings and a host of other questions? As the commander was about to reply, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi also added his own barrage of questions.
The Commander went to his table and brought out a file. He said sir, and presented the file to the Senate President. In his defence he said that when the Senate committee on Defence came in 2000 led by its Chairman, Senator Nnamdi Eriobuna, the case of the ammunition dump was reported to the committee who promised to give their report to the Senate President. He made a copy of the report he gave to the Eriobuna-led committee to the senate president. At this point, the fire burning in the two senators from Lagos went down. The senate president himself was speechless, he could neither deny nor confirm if the committee submitted any report to him.
Was any report submitted to the Senate President? Is the Senate President the appropriate person for the committee to submit their findings to? What is the proper procedure for the committee? Gen. Emdin's submission showed that the accusation of negligence by the senate on the military is misplaced. It would be recalled that it was the Defence committee headed by Senator Adolf Wabara that came out to tell the public its findings on the tour of military formations in November 1999. The committee visited Jos, Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna, Makurdi, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Enugu. The report was laid on the Table on December 17, 1999 of the senate observed that the military has accommodation problem, obsolete and unserviceable military hardware/vehicles as well as failed and abandoned projects. The committee also observed that the military needs the country's help. It requires that the National Assembly should formulate clear guidelines for effective monitoring of contracts awarded by Ministry of Defence under its capital expenditure. The committee in its report also noted that despite over 4 billion naira paid to the Chagoury and Chagoury to construct a permanent site for the Nigerian Defence Academy in Zaria, this contract that started in 1991 was far from completion. The promise made by Senator Wabara to repeat his visit was short-lived as he was removed as the chairman by then Senate President Chuba Okadigbo. Eriobuna, a crony of Okadigbo replaced him. The committee under Eriobuna suffered set back as it lagged behind in its over sight functions. The trip it embarked upon in 2000 was taken by Eriobuna to cover up for his negligence. Under Eriobuna the report of the crisis in Choba was not pursued till he left for Power and Steel committee.
If the senate did get the report from the committee of Eriobuna why was Senator Ogunlewe accusing the military of negligence? The action and utterance of some members of the National Assembly on the explosion show that something is amiss. It shows that someone is been economical with the truth. Hon Ned Nwoko, a member of the House of Representative and a member of the House committee on defence then said that when the committee visited the cantonment the case of the dump was reported to them. When it was reported what measure did the committee take to prevent the occurrence of that day? This also goes to show that the speech of the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Umar Ghali Na'Abba may be shedding crocodile tears or played to the gallery.
Apart from the case of dereliction of duty on the part of the National Assembly members, the Executive arm of the government is also culpable of killing the nation's means of defence against external aggression. According to Senator Sai'du Dansadau, former Vice-Chairman of Senate committee on Defence and now Vice-Chairman committee on Judiciary, the civil authority has not reciprocated the way the military has done. To him the civil authority is unfair to the military. 'While the military has subjected itself to civil authority the civil authority has failed in its duty to respond in like manner,' he said. The senator gave example of money allocated to defence in the budget since the inception of this democratic government. As far as Dansadau is concerned the money is grossly inadequate, 'not only that, they are not released to them,' he added.
For example, in 1999 what the National Assembly appropriated in the 1999 Supplementary Appropriation Budget was not what the executive released. According to Dansadau, only 30 per cent of what the National Assembly appropriated was released to the military for capital project. The joint defence committee of the National Assembly appropriated the sum of 21 billion naira for the personnel cost; 6.4 billion naira was appropriated for overhead cost while recurrent got 3.2 billion naira.
Against the 3.3 billion naira recommended by the Finance ministry the committee recommended 7.7 billion naira. Senator Nuhu Aliyu, the then Senate Chairman committee on National Security confirmed this recently when he blamed the executive for its fiscal policy. General SVL Malu (rtd), former Chief of Army Staff, said 2001 before his compulsory retirement that the military is under-funded. According to him, ' our training institutions have not improved, the training aid with which we conduct the training to re-professionalise have not been provided.' He added that 'the situation in the barracks has not changed. And as a matter of fact it has even deteriorated. To that extent I will say we have not fared well.' 'We are hoping that this year (2001) things would be better than last year. As I have been saying we did not get anything done last year (2000) by the way of capital project and we thought these were the things we were supposed to do if we are going to improve on our well being to keep us busy in the act of professionalising,' he said. What Malu did not say is that the year 2000 allocation for the Nigerian Army got to him in December of the same year. He was asked to spend it that month or retire it back to the federation account. This is the tight corner they usually put them. This made it difficult for the Army to embark on any capital project. The Army in 2000 proposed 800million naira for rehabilitation of barracks, it was cut down to 200million, and the 200million did not reach the Army. It is not clear who withholds the money for that long between the Finance ministry and the Defence ministry.
The President set up a committee to look into the renovation of barracks and to date nothing has come out of the committee's findings. The soldiers in their respective barracks have resorted into maintaining the barracks from their salaries. They contribute money to fix electrical faults from NEPA. Soldiers at the Bonny Camp have on many occasions contributed money for NEPA to either change their line or carry out major repair. The condition of their barracks is getting worse by the day. But the finance ministry cannot readily absolve itself of complicity in this matter.
In 1999 when the Army was making effort to evacuate the wounded ECOMOG returnee soldiers effort to get lifeline from the ministry failed. The Army then raised the sum of 135 million naira, which was given to the Defence ministry to change to US Dollars. The Defence ministry claimed that the 135 million was forgotten in Lagos when it was relocating to Abuja. And it took the Army 9 months with the intervention of the Minister to get the money in July 2000. To date nobody in the defence ministry has accepted responsibility for the misconduct. A very reliable source disclosed that some top officers of the ministry (and that it may be difficult for the Director of Army in the ministry to clear himself) are responsible for the fraud. Similar thing was repeated when the Defence went to defend the 2001 budget at the National Assembly. During the presentation, a military hospital was proposed for the Nigerian Navy in one of its units in the East. The then Chief of Naval staff was said to have exclaimed that 'how can you be building a hospital for me and I don't know about it?' This laid the matter to rest.
The Ikeja cantonment ammunition dump was not like that until recently. Sources disclosed that what really caused the overloading was the return of the unused weapon brought from Liberia and Sierra-Leone which were dumped there temporarily. This increased the capacity of the dump beyond the standard set for it. The overloading led to the failure of the cooling system, which could not cope, with the excess load. This according to military sources, led to heat, which later developed to chemical reactions that eventually gave way to the explosion. The preliminary report gave the cause of the mishap as chemical reaction caused by heat as a result of the cooling system occasioned by the overloading of the ammunition dump. From all indications Gen. Danjuma (rtd) seem not to agree with the report. Though he admitted to be a layman in armoury matter he maintained that the explosion might not be accidental. He said that whatever any military officer might have said is premature. This indirectly dismissed the claim of the commander of the 9 Motorised Brigade who went on air on Sunday to tell Nigerians that it was as a result of failure of the storing system which has been reported to the higher authority.
The statement well interpreted is an indictment on the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi, now retired. President Obasanjo did not hide his displeasure in the way the commander has handled the case. His reaction to the commander during his visit on Monday showed this. He was reported to have asked the commander not to talk again as he talked too much. A source disclosed that the GOC 2 Mechanised Division was directed to ensure that he does not talk to the press again. Even with a retired General as the civilian President and a former chief of Army staff as the minister of defence, the Nigerian military is yet to have anything to show as its own dividend of democracy. The issue has not exonerated the chief of defence staff who oversees the activities of the three services. If anything fails he is expected to be in the know. A source disclosed that nothing gets to the minister without his knowledge based on the chain of command in the military. Many have complained that the President has around him many who are spent and who have nothing else to offer the nation.
It has been said that the two problems of the military are the minister and the Chief of Defence Staff. The two according to military sources are obsolete. The minister is said to have lost touch with the modern idea of soldiering. Though Danjuma's recent outburst tried to throw more light on the attitude of Obasanjo's administration to spending and it also vindicated Lt. Gen. SVL Malu (rtd) on the under-funding of the Nigerian Military by President Obasanjo. But Danjuma has not answered question on the involvement of his wife who was alleged to be at the heart of the contract scam over the MIC 20 aircraft bought for the Nigerian Air Force. According to sources the favoured Israeli Company lost it for a less favoured Russian company that has been traced to Mrs. Daisy Danjuma, the wife of the minister of Defence. The Russian Company got the contract against the advice of the Nigerian Defence Attaché to New Delhi that the Russians should not be given the contract.
According to Maj-Gen. IBM Haruna, the Sunday 27 January 2002 explosion is a hard lesson that will teach the government to do what is right at the time. To him the Sunday mishap could have been avoided if the appropriate authority did what it ought to do.
The National Emergency Management Agency failed to rise to the occasion. The then Director-General Mrs. Olowu, now Deputy-Governor of Osun State failed woefully in responding to the Lagos explosion. Inspite of the resources available to NEMA, the agency failed to handle the Lagos crisis safe for the Red Cross. Today, she is a stinking Millionaire and even contested for the State Governorship before becoming Deputy-Governor. No one bothered to ask where she got the money she spent on her election.
But could all the reasons given for the explosion true? Was it as a result of negligence on the part of the government? Where did Brig-Gen. Emdin get his report that the explosion was caused by heat resulting from overloading of the ammunition dump?
Based on information available, the cause of the explosion may not have been chemical reaction or heat as claimed. This latest information raised very serious questions. The event that took place about two and half hours before the explosion indicated that it might have been sabotage. It was reliably gathered that President Obasanjo visited the cantonment and specifically, the ammunition dump in the afternoon of that day.
Investigation revealed that the President visited the ammunition based on the report he got and condition of the ammunition dump. According to sources, the President was informed of the danger the dump posed to the cantonment and the need to relocate the dump. The bill was outrageous and the President wanted to see what could make him to spend so much. This must have been a way to lure him out to the cantonment since they him to be tight-fisted
On Saturday before the President's visit, there was an environmental sanitation at the cantonment from 7 am till 12 noon. A source disclosed that the ammunition dump was also affected by the sanitation.
The President was to come at 4.30pm to visit the dump and Governor Ahmed Tinubu had made preparation for the President's short visit. While awaiting the President's visit, the Lagos State Governor planned a luncheon with the Government House Correspondents, but the luncheon did not take place. A call from the Presidency stopped it. The President had a change of mind; he was not coming by 4 p.m., but 12noon. The President's change of mind shocked Governor Tinubu; he did not realize the consequence of the President's decision until after 4.30pm that day.
Sources at Otta disclosed that when the explosion began, the President was in his Otta Farm House; family sources disclosed that he was prevailed upon to go into hiding. ''Baba initially dismissed the advice but later accepted and drove himself in a Datsun car followed by his BGs to his Ibogun village in Ifo.
If he had visited the cantonment at the appointed time of 4.30pm more casualties would have gone with him. According to one Governor Tinubu's aides, the Governor still could not explain why Baba changed his mind. What informed the President's change of plan? Was he aware of the plan? Why was this not raised? Why was his visit before the explosion not mentioned?
This discovery may have informed the President's directive that Gen. Emdin should be advised to talk less over the explosion. And Gen. TY Danjuma's remark that whoever says that what happened was an accident did not know what he is saying may have been informed by what they know about the explosion. This may also be responsible for the setting up of a military panel of investigation that sat in camera.
Observers are not surprised that the president's angle was played down. According to our source, there had been such attempts in the past but the President did not make a case out it. Sources disclose that the President does not want to give the international community that there is a state of instability in Nigeria. For example when the light went off at the airport just as the President's aircraft was landing at the Nnamdi International Airport, it was claimed by the airport authorities that the power failure was from the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), but NEPA quickly came out to dissociate itself from it. According to NEPA the Airport authorities should own up for the negligence. It was a clear case of sabotage but the President was silent about it.
Who could be responsible for that, and why? I think Nigerians are more interested in the cause, who and why the Ikeja explosion took place now. Our government should endeavour to make the report of the investigation panel public.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.