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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Nigeria military under fire
Blasts light up the Lagos sky
The army had already been warned about the dump
Widespread anger at Nigeria's military is rising as the commercial capital Lagos counts the cost of a catastrophic series of explosions at an army munitions dump.

How can you have an ageing armoury that is not well protected

Federal senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi

Hundreds of people died as a result of the explosions at the poorly maintained weapons storage facility.

Questions are being asked about how such a quantity of hazardous material could have been stored without regard for public safety.

Reports are also emerging that the army had already been warned about the dump after a small explosion last year.

President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the scene of the tragedy, at one point clambering up on the bonnet of his vehicle to try and calm the angry crowd.

But Nigerians, who lived under military rule for almost three decades until 1999, are furious.

Artillery shells

"How can you have an ageing armoury that is not well protected?" asked Tokunbo Afikuyomi, a federal senator for Lagos state.

Lagos woman
Anger at the military is now widespread

"And why, in the first place, are you going to start putting bombs and explosive materials that are high calibre in a purely residential area?" he told the BBC.

Artillery shells ignited by the explosions ripped through densely populated areas overnight, sending thousands of panicked local residents stampeding into a nearby canal.

Hundreds of bodies, many of them children, have been recovered from the canal. It is still unknown how many people were killed by the explosions themselves.

The commanding officer of Ikeja garrison, Brigadier-General George Emdin, appeared on television on Sunday night to apologise to the city.

"On behalf of the military, we are sorry," he said.

"This is an old ammunition depot with high-calibre bombs ... some efforts were being made in the recent past to try to improve the storage facility," he said.

"But this accident happened before the high authorities could do what was needed," he said.

Local anger

But local residents were clearly unimpressed by the apology.

"The army, they ruin this country for so many years and now they scatter our city," Edwin Ojila, owner of a bar destroyed by a shell, told the French news agency, AFP.

"They are too much. No one can ever want them again."

An unidentified member of the Army Wives Association also told AFP that her group had warned the army a year ago about the dump after a small explosion.

"The army wives had been complaining that it was dangerous, but they did not do anything. They did not care," she was quoted as saying.

An expert on Nigerian military affairs, Kayode Fayemi of the Centre for Democracy and Development, said the elite brigade based in Ikeja was clearly responsible for the tragedy.

But he also questioned the level of support the brigade had been receiving from the Ministry of Defence.

"The military had been complaining that (the dump) had been suffering a great deal of neglect," he said.

During his visit to the site, President Obasanjo promised an immediate inquiry into how and why the appalling accident happened.

There was no immediate statement from defence headquarters in the capital Abuja.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs visits the munitions dump
"People are getting angrier"
See also:

28 Jan 02 | Africa
Eyewitness: Lagos blast
28 Jan 02 | Africa
In pictures: Lagos explosions
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