Not a happy New Year.

Author:Otufodunrin, Lekan
Position:Nigeria - Brief Article

When Nigerians wished themselves the traditional Happy New Year greetings on the first day of this year, they hardly expected the strings of misfortunes that have bedevilled the country since 27 January 2002.

Nigerians are not unfamiliar with tragedies, but the string of calamities in the first two months of the new year has been such that the 7 February visit of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, to Abuja did not attract the kind of fanfare normally associated with visits of foreign leaders.

Last year had ended on a sad note for Nigeria with the mysterious assassination in December of the country's justice minister, Chief Bola Ige. The investigation into the murder was still the number one headline news when on Sunday 29 January, a massive explosion at the armoury of the Ikeja military cantonment rocked Lagos, killing hundreds of people and destroying as many homes and other properties.

A further 1,000 people died in a swampy canal near the Lagos international airport while attempting to flee from the series of explosion and fire from the armoury that lasted for over six hours.

Barely a week after the explosion, ethnic violence -- a cancer in Nigeria -- broke out in another part of Lagos between native Yorubas and Hausa settlers from the North.

In the midst of the two debilitating incidents, junior policemen found the time to go on strike (for the first time in the history of the country), protesting the non-payment of their salaries and allowances. The strike was called off only after the government had released two billion naira to offset the outstanding payment.

All said, January had been a harrowing experience for Nigerians. Until the state governor, Bola Tinubu, and the garrison commandant appeared on television almost three hours after the first explosions were heard in the Ikeja cantonment, many Lagosians thought it was another coup d'etat in the making.

But Tinubu calmed nerves by explaining that the explosion was due to "accidental discharge" at the armoury.

As relief aid continued to pour in at the time of going to press, an investigation was under way to determine the causes of the "accident" and how to avoid it in the future.

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