By Bennett Oghifo
She was barely four years old when, for still undetermined reason, bombs in the arsenal of the Military Cantonment at Ikeja, Lagos exploded, causing panic, disorientation and death within and outside the barracks.
It was a sunny Sunday on that January 27, 2002 and everyone in Lagos went about their business, particularly their social affairs as scheduled or impromptu.
All that peace was shattered within a split second when the first blast of the exploding bombs rent the air throwing up silver flashes. Flying shrapnel killed some people and the loud sound ripped the internal organs of others, causing them agonising deaths.
A more painful mass death occurred down the road away from the barracks, of men women and children, who were disoriented and fled in all directions from the wrath, but most of them thronged towards the north side of Lagos where their path was checked by a canal with putrid water covered by water hyacinth.
Ifeoma Evelyn Ndionyemma, 4 years old, saw the huge crowd racing towards their home close to the canal but did not know what to make of it. She only realised that there was some form of urgency when her terrified mother pushed her towards the canal. Already on her mother’s arms was her 13 month’s old brother and they surged with the crowd to the canal and commenced the journey across the narrow stretch, but none of them could swim.
Up till this day, neither Ifeoma nor her mother could figure out how she crossed that canal and survived, but her brother unfortunately did not make it across. Their mother hit the water and sank and when she came up for air, the baby was no longer in her arms. Her mother-instinct took over and she lunged down trashing wildly in the black water until she realised that death was close and then she crossed. Sympathizers took over the search for the boy and for other drowning people but the child was not among the bodies they brought from the bottom of the canal.
Ifeoma wailed beside her mother inconsolably for the number of days the search for bodies lasted and that was when the family attracted the attention of Alhaji Atiku Abubarker, who was Vice President then and who visited to see the canal where the avoidable tragedy occurred.
Fill with compassion, Vice President Atiku Abubarkar carried the 4-year old Ifeoma in his arms and consoled her family.
Sixteen years after, on January 27, this year, Ifeoma took to social media to tell her story and she immediately caught the attention of former Vice President Atiku Abubarkar, who promised to visit the family and make a difference in their lives.
Last week, Ifeoma and her parents relieved their experience and the bomb blast that brought them desolation. “I looked through my dad’s bag and found the newspaper which had a picture of me in the arms of Vice President Atiku Abubarkar. Since most people now say their story online, I decided to say mine too. I did a short video of me with the newspaper so that I’ll have evidence to show so that it does not look like a fake story. I posted it on Istagram and after that day, I received a call, I don’t know how, from Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar. I spoke to him and he spoke with my dad.”
Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar, who was Vice President when the tragedy occurred, visited on behalf of the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration and he read out a long list of what the government would do to heal their lives, but none came.
Regrettably, 16 years after, the government has not kept its promise to compensate all the victims of that dreaded bomb blast, according to Ifeoma’s father, Emmanuel Ndionyemma.
Ifeoma’s father, a commercial motocylist, was one of the several people displaced by the tragedy, which threw his family into sudden destitution.
Last week when THISDAY visited his abode, Ndionyemma described a very pathetic livelihood the family has had to endure all these years, after they were dislodged from a home he build by the canal, which he moved his family into a couple of days before the bombs went off.
So, 16 years after, Ifeoma is still struggling to make meaning of her life. She could have had a better life, she said. Certainly, not as she does with her four siblings and parents at her home in an informal settlement at the edge of the canal on the fringes of Mafoluku, a community off the Murtala International Airport.
She told of her pain and distress all these years, particularly the bitterness that came when she was old enough to realise that she could have had a better life if those bombs did not go off on that fateful Sunday afternoon.
Ifeoma said, “The international community gave Nigeria a lot of money to assist the victims. The government said it was going to compensate us but we haven’t heard from them.”
They hate living in squalor, said Ifeoma’s father. “There are a lot of pythons in this place; two were killed here last week and our house gets flooded whenever it rains and we stay out until the water ebbs.
“We need assistance to live in a better place,” said the father of four girls and a boy.
Experts Brainstorm on Importance of Chemical Safety
n an effort to educate, sensitise and enhance awareness on regulations and the role of chemical industrials, which include producers, users and handlers, on the implementation of the chemical weapons conventions, the National Authority on Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention (NAC and BWC) organised a Seminar/National Discourse on Chemical Safety, Security and Declaration in Lagos, recently.
The Permanent Secretary Political and Economic Affairs Office and National Authority on Chemical and Biological Weapon Convention, Mr. Gabriel Tanimu Aduda, who gave an oversight of the seminar said during his opening remarks that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created and opened for signature on 13th January, 1997 in Paris and that Nigeria signed the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC) on the 13th January, 1993 and ratified same on the 1st of March, 1999, thus becoming a State Party to CWC and a member by the OPCW.
He said The OPCW is an independent autonomous international organisation and works under the United Nations. Its aim is to eliminate an entire category of weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), provides for the destruction of Chemical weapon (CW) stockpiles and CW production capacity (disarmament), promote free trade in chemicals, as well as international cooperation and also exchange of scientific and technical information in peaceful use of chemistry.
He explained that the bill seeks to establish a body that will serve as the national focal point for the effective implementation and liaison with the OPCW and other state parties to the convention, and also to fulfill Nigeria’s obligation under the Convention. The bill has passed 1st and 2nd Reading and Public Hearing was held at the NASS.
He furthered explained that the Bill, which is divided into six parts, provides for the establishment, structure, composition of council, functions and funding of the National Authority on chemical Weapons Convention ( CWC). The bill also stipulates various offences and penalties for violation.
Mr. Aduda stated that since the federal government approved the establishment of the council on the National Authority on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) by the circular No 59752/51/ 3 of 18th March 1999, Nigeria has been in full compliance with its annual declaration to the OPCW mostly on imported scheduled chemicals. He added that the 2018 assessment is currently ongoing.
He said Nigeria hosted a national workshop on Assistance and Protection against chemical weapon which was held between 31st October and the 4th of November, 2016 in Abuja. As fallout from that workshop, a draft National Action Plan on Nigeria’s Emergency Response to Chemical Weapons incidents and accident is being developed.
The Chairman of the Senate committee on Science and Technology, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, who was represented by the Director of Research, National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Dr. Uzo Boyce Agunwa, in his goodwill message, stated that the security situation in some parts of the country has exposed how hazardous or even simple chemicals can be employed for the harmful and destructive purpose. “It is obligatory for our country to ensure the peaceful and productive use of chemical as dictated by the CWC,” he said.
The Director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Yakubu Suleiman, during his goodwill message revealed that NEMA have developed plans, strategies and procedures to comprehensively manage disaster that will promote public health safety in the country.
In the same vein, Director Biotechnology Advanced Research Central Sheda Science and Technology Complex Abuja, Professor Paul Onyenekwe in his presentation on The Dual Nature of Chemicals highlighted that the Dual use chemical are substances that can be used for the beneficial and harmful purposes.
He said a number of dual use chemicals are regulated as chemical weapons because they have a history of being used as such. Chemical safety, security and environmental protection are interlinked with internal and external security, public health protection, economic and trade cooperation as well as development and humanitarian policies.
In addition, Professor Onyenekwe stated that strengthening safety and security program in chemical activities is an important task in preventing the wrongly deploy of chemical which is an important requirement of the UNSC Resolution 1540 and the provision of the Chemical Weapon Convention.
To reduce risk of criminal and terrorist threats, effective security measures should be put in place to mitigate potential risks that chemical could be to people and environment.
In his contribution, he said for university, the curriculum should be review to encourage the research on green chemistry also known as alternative chemistry to reduce the risk chemical substance pose in our science laboratory and also for the advancement of the science world.
The Director General, National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was represented by the Director Chemical Evaluation and Research NAFDAC, Pharmacist Ngozi Onuorah during her paper presentation on effective oversight of scheduled chemical in Nigeria ; the role of NAFDAC as an regulatory body said the agency has the mandated to control and regulate the importation, exportation, manufacture, advertisement, distribution, sales and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemical, detergents and packaged water.
Mrs. Onuorah stated the NAFDAC through the two chemical regulatory directorates ensures that chemical industries adhere to the stipulated guidelines for the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisements and use of chemicals on the market.
For effective service delivery the agency have embark on the following stride which include the electronic processing of chemical import permits, development of Biometrics database for importers of chemical for security and also listing of manufacture, she said.
She added that adequate regulations and sound management of chemical towards developmental purpose is key to Nation’s sustainability and economic development.
Certified Inspector of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapon Mr. Ukaegbu Samuel Enyinnaya during his presentation on Identification, Inspection and Declaration of Scheduled Chemical discussed the provision of the convention in relation to declaration requirements for declaration under the article VI of the Bills.
Mr Aduda said executive orders are not just set up to easy business with government organisation but to make the / end users hold government agencies accountable for every service which they are supposed to deliver and also make government more effective.
He therefore advised that end user should study every procedures and order of application, adding that every government agency should include on their website time frames for every application for effective service delivery and smooth governance..