The mangled fuselage of the crashed plane and the rubbles from collapsed buildings may no longer clutter the crash site. But a visit to Iju Ishaga, the Lagos suburb that bore the brunt of the fallen plane’s weight five months after the crash reveals the hidden face of the tragedy, writes Lanre Odukoya
The news of the Dana Air Flight 992 crash on Sunday, June 3 was received with shock by Nigerians. The aircraft, a McDonell Douglas MD-83, was conveying 146 passengers and seven crew members from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, when it crashed into three-storey building housing residential apartments, furniture factory and a printing press on Popoola Street, Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. No fewer than six were feared dead on the ground when the plane crash landed on the building, killing also at least an estimated 159 corpses as there was no survivor. The crash is believed to have been caused by dual engine failure, but investigations are still on-going as to what led to the air mishap.
Counting the loss
Collated by the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, the 3-storey building belonging to Pastor Daniel Omowunmi had six flats and this is a list of the occupants before the accident:
Flat 1 - Mr. Odika Daniel, Mr, Odika Ifeanyi, Mr. Okeke Kingsley, Onyegesi Collins, Ugochukwu; Flat 2 - Mr. Ogbonnaya, Mrs. Ogbonnaya, Joy Ogbonnaya, Olurbube Ogbonnaya, Chukwubuikem Ogbonnaya, Daniel Obasi; Flat 4 - Mr. Emeka Okafor, Chichi Okafor, Favour Okafor, David Okafor; Flat 5 - Mr. Chima Iloka, Mrs. Chidima Iloka. Ifechechukwu Iloka, Chineye Iloka, Oluchi Iloka, Uchechukwu Iloka, Obinna Iloka, Nwabuwa Iloka; Flat 6 - Mr. Eweh Ifeanyi Collins, Mrs. Eweh Chinyelu Peace, Dave Eweh, Stephanie Eweh.
These affected persons were moved to a relief camp provided by the Lagos State government in Ipaja. Some of them stayed for a couple of days before they relocated to their newly found abodes.
Shortly after the accident claiming lives and properties of the residents, Mr. Chima Iloka, an occupant of the affected building and the family head of the Ilokas in the apartment said: “we are still expecting either LASEMA or Dana Air authority to compensate us for the major things we lost to the accident. Although, the Dana Air officials met with Oba of Iju-Ishaga to discuss how much rent goes for in that neighbourhood to know what to give us as relief funds, the N200,000 they handed us cannot even secure an apartment as comfortable as that in the community anymore. We were living in two bedroom flats which our landlord gave us for N160, 000 because he’s a man of God and wanted to help most of us. I spent two weeks in the hospital after the accident nursing pains and buying drugs. All our properties have been lost to the tragedy. LASEMA is yet to get back to us, the only thing they provided us were cooking utensils, some rice and beans. But we couldn’t continue to live in that camp as we all have responsibilities to manage and the site is also far from our places of work or business.”
Another affected person, Mr. Okezie Ogbonnaya agreed. “Dana gave us N200, 000 each to just find ourselves a place to stay in the mean time and LASEMA provided us a few food items and that’s all we ever got. I know we deserve to be compensated for our losses. Red Cross also tried what they could by giving us the slim mattress, kegs to store drinking water, some clothing materials and food items too. But our lawyer is in touch with Dana and we are pleading that they expedite our compensation.”
Apart from those who lived in the severely affected residence, some neighbours also recounts some similarly despairing tales. Sixty four-year-old Alhaja Ramota Akinwusi of number 11, Popoola Street told her story in tears. “It’s true that we didn’t lose as much as others who lived in the main building, but miscreants and sympathizers took over my house on that fateful day. I was no longer in control of anything because I had to flee for my life. I had just taken stock of some voucher cards and my tubers of yam were just delivered to me that day. We used to make good sales on Sundays because most people would be at home and people from the factories patronize us. So, I lost all the cards. They climbed my rooftops and damaged most of the roofing sheets when they were struggling to catch a glimpse of the disaster. I lost my boys quarters, bathroom and toilet to the disaster. Most of my tenants have all packed out because of all they lost to miscreants and the disaster itself.
“Economic activities here have come to a standstill afterwards. You can also see that the street is unusually inactive now. I’ve been struggling to fix some divides of my house back since then. I made a few blocks, but there’s no money to make more to complete the work. The tenants that left also have their grouse. Our toilet was damaged and we are now using polythene bags to carry excreta to dump in our neighbour’s toilet. I’m fixing things gradually from the little profit I make from the scanty sales we make nowadays. But I know LASEMA and Dana visited us and said they would get back to us after assessing the amount of damage on my house.”
Mrs Adekunle, a 67-year-old widow’s account was just as grim. “My boys’ quarter was badly damaged and it affected a divide of my house because the mainframe connected the building. After the incident, we were moved to the camp and fed like destitutes and all that came with me from the camp was an umbrella given to us by LASEMA. The Red Cross also tried to alleviate our pains by donating cans for us to store drinking water. They gave us some clothes, Ankara in particular even though it was sets of blouses different from the fabric and colour of the wrappers. They showed us care and compassion. Some other NGOs also came and assisted with their widow’s mite. Our lawyer is in court with the Dana authorities, but we know that it may take almost a lifetime to come up with anything to assist those of us who are considered moderately affected persons.”
But general manager of LASEMA, Dr. Oke Osanyintolu, shed light on the role of the agency in the disaster. “Let’s get this thing clear; when you talk about disaster management, you are practically addressing the response and the recovery aspect of it. We were able to categorize these persons into three groups: the severely affected, the moderately affected and the mildly affected persons. You’d agree with me that the severely affected persons were those who lost their lives in the disaster and the state government ensured that their corpses were taken care of. They were well prepared for their beloved ones with DNA tests carried out.
“The state government spent a lot of money trying to do these identifications. We were able to open a camp for some of the people on the ground who lost their properties one way or the other. We made the camp so flexible for them to inhabit. This effort was just to reduce the impact of the disaster on them. And Dana has not even started talking about compensation yet. I’m not a Dana spokesperson but I’m the disaster manager of the state who is going to take care of the victims. Our goal is to integrate the survivors back to the society as quickly as possible.
“We didn’t want depression to set in because it could degenerate into mental illness. For somebody to just remember he had lost his family member and properties suddenly; they could suddenly start having mental illness. So, Dana authorities came in to give them a temporary assistance and not compensation. Our permanent camp is at Agbowa and we realized that it’s actually far. We looked for a place that is as close as Ipaja and they still complained that it is too far. We provided vehicles to be conveying them in and out too to ease their daily living. Dana then came in to give them just a token to get accommodation.”
A plea for the landlord
However, Mrs. Akinwusi, Mrs. Adekunle and some of the displaced persons who have now got new apartments are at present making a case for the landlord of the three-storey building, Pastor Omowunmi, to be given assistance. “I have my loss too but the man all of us plead to be assisted as soon as possible is Pastor Omowunmi because he’s truly a kind hearted man of God. He gave his house out to tenants at relatively inexpensive rate; he helped many jobless youths and had always been generous to the needy regardless of their religious and ethnicity. He had lost greatly and we think that he did not deserve this, Akinwusi said.”
Checks revealed that most of the displaced persons have relocated. While some still live in the community, a few others have fled on account of post traumatic stress. The crash site measuring about four plots of land is still cordoned off after the building was pulled down. On the site a few equipment deployed during the excavation still remains. The neighbourhood can be described as a shadow of its old self at best.
Mixed with the debris are halves of pair of shoes, rags and relics of the ill-fated airplane. That particular building was the commercial hub of the entire environment because of the printing and furniture factories it once accommodated. But the atmosphere is undisturbed, eerily serene but warm even as dwellers on the street have not stopped talking about the black day.