There was a huge blast caused by some kind of explosion in the evening of Tuesday, January 16 which shook some areas of Ibadan to their very foundations. The epicentre was the highbrow Bodija Estate built in 1958 by the Obafemi Awolowogovernment of that era. I take particular interest in this incident because the then supervising minister of lands and housing at that time was a young minister by the name Oduola Osuntokun with whom I share consanguinity. Ibadan also happens to be the second home of many Yoruba people and whatever affects the huge city has reverberating effect on many people. I had part of my secondary school education at the famous Ibadan Grammar School and my undergraduate education at the University of Ibadan of which I am proud to be an alumnus.
There is a story about Bodija that I must tell my readers. Sometimes in 1985 or 1986, I wanted to acquire a plot of land in the same Bodija. I applied for land and the chairman of the Housing Corporation, Dr Omololu Olunloyo who later became the governor of Oyo State briefly invited me for an interview. When I got there, he summoned the permanent secretary of the corporation to bring him my file and introduced me to him. He said this young man’s brother founded this estate. Please find him a plot in Bodija. After some fruitless search, he came back and he said he located a plot in a watery part of the estate. Olunloyo told him a university teacher could not build in such a place because of cost. He then said he will allocate a plot of land to me somewhere near an estate under development. I thanked him profusely. The watery soggy place is near the epicentre of the current blast. Imagine if I had built a house near the epicentre of the blast. I may have been blown to pieces or may have had a heart attack because of sudden shock as happened to some home owners. This is the uncertainty of life.
I know people in their late years who would have said to themselves that as far as shelter is concerned, they have nothing to worry about. Yet people slept and woke up and found themselves homeless or people went to work or to visit friends and on coming back to find their life property destroyed. I just narrated the story of my struggle to build a house in Bodija to show the dedication of those who served the country previously without any reward because Dr Omololu complimented my brother for not allocating plots of land to himself, children and siblings!
We can therefore thank the Almighty that the epicentre of the blast was in the corner of the estate and not in the centre. In spite of the epicentre centre of the blast, it affected many parts of Ibadan including the government secretariat and the university where windows were smashed. Many commercial and worship centres were also affected. Many houses and hotels were irreparably damaged. I live quite a bit further away, almost four kilometres away and yet parts of my home was damaged. Many people lost their homes and this included elderly people who may not be able to rebuild them. The same goes for people with housing investment and hotel. People have now had to move to live with friends and to stay in hotels just to temporarily catch their breath. There are reports of people who had heart attacks as a result of the sudden noise and tremor occasioned by the blast. There is no doubt that this blast is a major disaster especially occurring at a time of economic hardship and financial scarcity and difficulties.
In the olden times, Bodija was home to the men of influence in government and academia. Unfortunately, most of them have passed on and the importance of Bodija has virtually died with their original owners of property. But at least for history of Ibadan, the estate still carries some weight and importance. Many of the houses have been sold by their inheritors either because of hard times or because the children have relocated abroad or because the houses have become incommodious or old and out of fashion. When I pass through Bodija these days, I become nostalgic about the place and remember what some of us experienced there when we were young.
When the blast happened, I was lucky to have left for Lagos a day earlier, forced by divine providence because I was not scheduled to have left. I just decided to leave because of the inefficiency of public electricity company and I needed some respite in a place where I would not worry about lack of electricity just after I had just had a medical intervention in one of my ears. I was out of Ibadan just by a day when the blast occurred. On Wednesday morning, I started receiving telephone calls very early from former students of the Redeemer’s University. It was from them I heard about the incident. They were very specific about the cause of the blast and they were united in telling me it was caused by “Mali illegal miners living in rented houses in Bodija”. I asked them where they got the news and they all claimed that it was what the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde said. I must have received not less than 50 calls from former students and academic colleagues worried about my safety. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart and I felt I must have made some impression on these young people calling me.
When everything seemed to have settled down, I began to interrogate the events of the day and to wonder how we came to quick resolution of the complex question of bombing that led to much destruction and fatalities. In other climes, this will require proper clinical investigation. People began to react and questions were asked about the alleged dynamite or any other chemical used in the explosion. One must concede to the fact that being an engineer and also someone in possession of almost instant intelligence, the governor would know the probable cause of the explosion. But if he knew instantly, why was the whole thing not aborted by interdictory action? There was also a statement by a retired military officer who knew about ordnance who doubted the government’s assessment as to what caused the explosion. People then began to say it may not have been caused by what the governor said caused the action. The federal government promptly set up an enquiry with the National Security Adviser as chairman. I hope there will be a timeline within which he must report back to the president before the rumour mill begins to work overtime and lending authenticity to rumours. This is important in view of the gathering storm of kidnapping, ethnic violence in some parts of the country including Abuja, the federal capital.
As the Chinese will say, we live in interesting times and we must nip in the bud whatever may undermine our fragile national security at this time. Perhaps this is the time to fast forward what new security the government plans in this budget year so that the government is ahead of enemies of the state. Concerned citizens have complained about lack security in our country at this critical time. Stopping vehicles at the entry points to our towns is not enough. We have to ensure that only security personnel and accredited people have access to explosives and to agricultural chemicals that can easily, like fertilizers, be converted to incendiary materials. There are markets in Nigeria where incendiary materials can be purchased as fertilizer which can be converted for deadly ends by people who do not wish our country well. A stitch in time saves nine! I do not believe every other Africans affected by revolutionary fervour in their countries and seeking refuge in Nigeria currently should be shut out of Nigeria. But because of our current situation, we have to be more careful about suspicious foreigners who live among us especially those involved in mining because of the past experience about miners in recent times. Our lax attitude has to change this year because of the dangerous climate pervading not just our part of Africa but the entire world.