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Obasanjo stuns Nigerians with insensitivity, nonchalance over bomb blast; Lagos newspapers, individuals criticise him

Special to USAfricaonline.com
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston

The rather belligerent attitude of Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo toward the stunned survivors and family members of the Lagos bomb blast has been drawing equally harsh headlines and responses to what many characterize as Obasanjo's insensitivity and nonchalance. Almost 620 Nigerians have since perished. The Nigerian army leadership has not been spared for leaving a weapons depot in a high residential area.

One of the newspapers, the popular Lagos-based Vanguard ran a Tuesday, January 29, 2002 cover with the former military head of state saying to an unruly and mourning crowd near the scene of the blasts: "Shut up.... I don't need to be here."

"So far I have not heard of any loss of life in the incident" the President claimed.

USAfricaonline.com reporters in Lagos Adebayo Ojo and Ikenna Nwosu note that Obasanjo's asserting that he was not aware "of any loss of life in the incident" stunned not only his audience but Nigerians and some members of the international community since it was common, early knowlegde that hundreds of Nigerians had died from the blast. Those facts had been reported on local radio and international news outlets on the night of the event, early Sunday morning and afterwards.

Vanguard reporters Kingsley Omonobi and Prince Osuagwu wrote in the newspaper: "President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday (January 28, 2002 stunned thousands of displaced Lagosians including soldiers and their families who suffered the consequences of the bomb explosions at Ikeja Cantonment when he said "I didn't need to be here to see anything because my being here will not solve anything."

Apparently angry at what he called the unruly behavour of the displaced persons who refused to listen to him, the President said, "shut up. I took the opportunity of being here to see what could be done. I don't need to be here.... Afterall, the Governor of the state (Bola Tinubu) is here, the General Officer Commanding Two Division and the Brigade Commander as well as the Police Commissioner are all here. These set of people could between them do what needs to be done. I really don't need to be here."

The President who arrived the Cantonment as early as 7.30a.m from Ota in Ogun State where he had gone for an undisclosed function was without his Defence Minister, National Security Adviser, the Chief of Defence Staff or the Chief of Army Staff. Obasanjo promised food relief for the displaced and affected residents even as he denied knowledge of any loss of life in the incident.

His words, "we need to get emergency food relief available to the displaced and affected people. Policemen and other security would be sent out so that children would be collected and re-united with members of their family."

To Lagosians, he said, "we would try to learn not to allow these kind of things repeat itself. Right now we don't know exactly what happened, the actual cause or who to blame, but we must thank all those who acted and tried to see that the situation did not get worse than what was witnessed."

Authorities in Lagos State described the explosion at the Ikeja army munitions dump as an accident involving bombs. Lagosians were panicked, dived into and drowned in the Canal while some ran to buses and cars to drive to safety, following hundreds of casualties. The Lagos airport was rattled by the blast while the law chambers of a human rights activist, Femi Falana, was destroyed.

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