• Expert raises the alarm, accuses FG of refusing to pay for destruction of explosives
From Molly Kilete, Abuja
Fear have gripped residents of Owerri, the Imo State capital, as a private explosive expert, Professor Bala Yakubu, has raised the alarm over the possible explosion of 17,000 live bombs stockpiled in the city.
He alleged that the Federal Government has refused to pay the contractors to destroy the bombs despite persistent warnings on the dangers of the explosives.
The bombs, which are said to be among those used during the Nigerian Civil War, according to Yakubu, include 81 and 82 mm Mortar Bombs, 2” mortar bombs, which are all area neutralising bombs; 100 mm air defence ammunition for anti-aircraft defence and Fragmentation anti-personnel land mines. Others are General purpose aerial bomb 75kg, Energa grenade, anti tank land mines locally made and small calibre ammunition.
Professor Yakubu, an explosive expert and a stockpile manager who is also the managing director of Demining Concept Nigeria Limited, said the 17,000 live bombs currently being stored at number 109, Achike Udenwa Avenue in new Owerri, a densely populated area, could go off anytime, especially now that the rains are here.
He cautioned that if nothing is done to urgently dispose of these bombs, Owerri, may be another theatre of horror.
Lamenting the security situation in the country, he urged the federal government to stop playing politics and act quickly to save the country of further loss of innocent lives.
Yakubu, who spoke with Daily Sun in Abuja, narrated how he got a contract from the federal government in 2009 to clear land mines and explosive remnants in the Southeastern part of the country, and had successfully removed over 18,000 explosives before he got a stop order from the Ministry of Defence in 2012.
Before getting the stop order, Yakubu said his company had successfully destroyed 608 land mines laid by the federal government troops against the enemy at the time in the territory of the former eastern region.
Since then, he said he had written several letters to the federal government and got no positive result, but that things got worse with the coming on board of the current Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, who, he said “is playing tribal and religious politics with the issue.”
Yakubu, who said he was raising the alarm to alert Nigerians, the public and the world, of the impending dangers, said “despite two court orders, one from the High Court Owerri, giving instructions that those bombs should be relocated, the government has not shown seriousness.”
He said: “In the whole of the South-East, South-South and parts of North Central region of Nigeria, there were a lot of explosive ordinance left after the civil war. We took a technical survey of the entire area that was contaminated, and from the various contaminated areas, we started removing bombs up till the time we got a stop order from the Ministry of Defence. We had removed 17,605 bombs, including locally made weapons like Ojukwu buckets, Ogbunigwe rocket launchers which were all locally made. And we had destroyed 608 land mines.
“The land mines were laid by the federal government against the enemy at the time in the territory of the former eastern region. The work progressed until we got the stop order in 2012.
“Mine action centre is a specific installation of the United Nations from where you coordinate all mine actions which include removing bombs, removing land mines, taking care of the injured and so on.
“Now, we have dug out where we put these bombs, and the heaviest bombs I have in that place is 75 kilograms each, and I have two of them. We co-habit with people on 109, Achike Udenwa Avenue in New Owerri. It is not too far from the Concord Hotel.
“Remember that Ikeja, some years back, had explosions, resulting from explosives from the depot. If such a thing happens where we have these bombs today, sincerely speaking, I don’t know how many casualties we are going to have in Owerri. First and foremost, most people on that street, including us, would be gone.”
On what could lead to possible explosion of the bombs, Yakubu, said: “If fire is thrown there, it will lead to an explosion. And now that we are in the rainy season, it is possible from lightening, although we have taken precautions against lightening. People could get into the stockpiles and pick the bombs and go and use them elsewhere, that is possible because in the past, like in Igwuruta, in Rivers State, I met women who cracked palm-kernel with these bombs and when you try to stop them from doing so they tell you they have been doing that in ages. They don’t know the dangers of what they do.”
When contacted on the matter, the Director of Press in the Ministry of Defence, Charles Nwodo, told Daily Sun he was not aware of the contract and promised to get back to us today.
He said: “You know that such contract is not new. It may have been awarded 10 years back, and I am not even aware of such contract, but I will get back to you tomorrow (today) as soon as I get more information on this because I have to go into the archives and if I get any positive response from my colleagues, then I will feed you back.”
Meanwhile, following Prof Yakuza’s alarm, residents of Owerri are now living in fear over the non-detonation of the bombs. They fear that the explosion of the bob will be disastrous.
According to one of them, who gave his name simply as Okenwa, the non-detonation of the bomb poses danger to the city and residents. He cited what happened in Lagos some years ago when bombs exploded in Lagos military cantonment as consequences of such neglect.
“The explosion of bombs at the Ikea military cantonment is still fresh in our memories. Something has to be done urgently to destroy the bombs to avoid a calamity.”
Another resident, Nwachukwu Obike, said nobody is safe when live bombs are “left at the mercy of the elements.”
He said he and others living in Owerri do not feel safe again.