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Bellview crash: 15 years after, memorial arcade reeks of neglect, decay

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Overgrown entrance of the arcade and garden. Inset is Oba Odugbemi PHOTO: GBENGA AKINFENWA


It is now exactly 15 years after that fateful evening. There was nothing to suggest that it was an ill-fated flight. It was a scheduled flight: A Boeing 737-200 aircraft, Flight 210, operated by Bellview Airlines. It crashed in Lisa Town, Ifo Local Council Area of Ogun State, killing the 117 passengers on board.

After the crash, in response to the national outcry of pain and anguish, a Memorial Arcade and Garden and other infrastructure was put in place to mourn the departed and as a memorial for the victims. But, 15 years after, as most things in Nigeria, the facilities are in ruins out of neglect.
 
On October 22, 2005, the airplane, a scheduled passenger flight from Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos en route Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, crashed shortly after takeoff. The flight departed Lagos at 20:35 with 111 passengers and six crewmembers on board.

Although initial reports indicated that at least half of those on board survived the crash, it was later discovered that there were no survivors. Yet, after the crash of the twin-engine Boeing 737-200 registered in Nigeria as 5N-BFN, with manufacturers serial number 22734, which was built in 1981 for Maersk Air, searchers were unable to find either the voice or flight data recorders. That actually hampered investigations and the official report was not released until February 2013.

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The victims include, former Postmaster General of Nigeria, Mr. Argungu Abubakar; Director of Research and Documentation, Nigerian Press Council, Mr. Omang Ojang; ECOWAS Director of Finance in Nigeria (A Ghanian), Mr. Emmanuel Quaye; former Managing Director of defunct Peoples Bank, Mrs. Maria Sokenu and traditional ruler of Daddare, Obi Local Council of Nasarawa State, who doubles as Chairman, Board of Directors of the National Programme on Immunisation, Usman Umar, among others.
Decay Amid Waning Pain
  
At the time it occurred, the tragic incident threw the entire country and beyond into a state of mourning. But now, 15 years on, the grief has waned to a mere flicker of sad memory by Nigerians, especially relations of victims and government.
  
Without doubt, the tragic incident brought Lisa, a community of about 10.5 kilometres distance from the boisterous city of Sango into limelight. The disaster has, however, done little to uplift the infrastructure and condition of the town regardless of government’s previous yearly fanfare to mark the day.
 
The silence that pervaded the Arcade and Garden, jointly constructed by Ogun State and the Federal Governments, when The Guardian visited on Thursday was unimaginable, considering the government’s routine jamboree in the first few years of the memorial anniversary.
 
Like the graveyard it is, the unusual silence was disappointing based on expectations that the 15th year memorial anniversary would be marked more with seriousness to honour the 117 victims.
   
The bushes at the front gate of the muddy entrance have grown wildly. But, save for a narrow footpath, there wouldn’t have been any access to the arcade. The surrounding bushes, which have practically turned into a jungle too, raise their disorderly climbers, begging for urgent attention and in stark derogatory pose to the victims’ memory.
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To say the arcade is fast waning, is to put it mildly, because the level of neglect was boldly etched on the entire edifice. The once appealing gigantic billboard positioned at the Arcade’s entrance has fallen off and covered with weeds. Even the once radiant arcade, built to serve the dual purposes of a resting place for the souls of the victims and also a tourist centre of sorts, has lost its appeal in diminished architectural splendor.

The paints are fading as fast as the walls are cracking too, burying the fact that the place was repainted six years ago by First Nation Airline, which bought over the defunct Bellview Airlines.

Despite the visible signs of a recent weeding, the graveyard still looks unkempt. While a section of the Arcade’s floor, from the entrance towards the centre is already sinking, the floor of the backside has speeded up its cracking. Sadly too, nametags attached to the gravestones are all falling off.
 
Trying to gain entrance to the sleepy community was a nightmare due to the awful state of the road that was constructed by the government after the incident. It was gathered that the road lasted for only three months before its eventual collapse. The rainy season had made the matter worse, as some vehicles were seen stuck on the road.

Echoes Of Neglect
Sadly, unlike previous years, none of the victims’ families showed up for the memorial anniversary, just as there were no representatives from both the state and Federal Governments. Even tourists that had shown interest in the centre turned their backs on the arcade. A regular caller, Mrs. Victoria Olumekun, whose husband, Mr. Johnson Olumekun, a former Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), who also died in the crash, while on official assignment, was conspicuously absent on Thursday.

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Though the conspicuous absence could be linked to the curfew imposed on some states in the country, coupled with the anti-SARS protests, some residents attributed the canny neglect to the bad state of the road, which they said discourage regular visitors to the arcade.
  
It was a nightmare getting to the site as the road constructed shortly after the crash had deteriorated. Erosion has washed away the tarred portions of the road, leaving it with wide ditches. With the raining season, the condition of the road has worsened.
  
From the Sango end through Ijoko/Ogba-Iyo, the road is devastating, to the extent that commuter drivers have shunned the axis, but for the commercial motorcycle operators who charge exorbitantly, it would have been an impossible task for anybody to get there. The roadblocks mounted by protesters aggravated the road challenges, as motorcyclists charged higher rates.
 
It will not be overstatement to say the victims are crying from the grave, due to neglect and total abandonment by the government.
 
The Amona of Lisa, Chief Adeyinka Adefunmiloye, told The Guardian at the arcade ground that the promise made by the Federal Government to make the place a tourist centre of international repute never came to fruition, noting that the place has completely been abandoned.
 
According to him, the first two years after the construction of the arcade, over 300 tourists across the country, including school children visited the place. He added that families of the victims also visit often until the road, which began to collapse few months after it was constructed deteriorated and scared visitors away.

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He said: “This place has been abandoned, even the two guards in charge of the arcade have for a very long time ago stopped receiving salaries from government, but unfortunately one of them is dead. It is the monarch that has been paying the salary, likewise the regular weeding of the place from becoming a jungle.
 
“We have made several efforts as a community to draw the attention of government to the state of neglect. Few years ago, I was with the former Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs. Sally Mbanefo to discuss the state of this arcade. She made efforts, which led to the visit of a Director of Tourism from Abuja a week after, who took pictures and the necessary information with a promise to feed her boss what she got here, but since then, nothing was heard.
 
“Coming to Ogun State, we started when the Gateway Tourism Development Commission was in operation. When the former Governor, Ibikunle Amosun came on board and established the ministry of culture and tourism, several letters were written. When the first commissioner in the ministry got our letter, he visited with officials of the ministry and saw the state of the arcade and the neglect, with a promise to do something. While being hopeful of the result, he was moved to another ministry.
 
“A lady was brought in as commissioner, she came here and also promised, but nothing was done until she left office. Since then, we’ve been talking to the government, but the state of neglect is giving us serious concern.
 
Adefunmiloye said under the current administration in the state, though they visited the community a few months ago, as part of the mandate  of visiting tourist centres across the state, he said nothing has been heard from the state government till date.
 
The Olu of Lisa, Oba Najeem Oladele Odugbemi, revealed that since former President Olusegun Obasanjo left office in 2007, the place has been experiencing neglect. He said throughout the tenure of Amosun, several efforts were made through the ministry of tourism but nothing happened.
 
“We wrote letters to the agency in charge of tourism in Abuja about 10 years ago and a representative from the office visited, with a promise to act within two months but nothing happened. What has actually broken the camel’s back is the deplorable condition of the access road, from Ijoko to the arcade ground. That actually contributed to the abandonment of the place. When the road was good, many visitors came from far and near, students across the country, but sadly it’s been abandoned for 12 to 13 years now, it’s only the jungles one can see there.
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“I have been using my personal resources to make the place appealing but the attitude of the government has been not encouraging me. When Otunba Gbenga Daniel was in office, the state acquired more lands around the arcade to build hospitality centres around the site, but the lands are lying fallow and it has become jungle because of the neglect… Nothing has been done by the current administration in the state, as far as the deplorable condition of the arcade is concerned.
 
Oba Odugbemi, who revealed that tourism is the second revenue earner, outside oil, said if the government rehabilitates the arcade; it will generate more revenue for the state. “I am appealing to the government of Prince Dapo Abiodun to rehabilitate the arcade which is supposed to be a monument that should not be forgotten because of the souls that were lost there, so that they can be remembered. I think the government owed these people, to give them befitting remembrance every year, which will definitely enhance the development of the Lisa community.
 
“Visitors will be coming around from far and near to see what we have there, that can actually attract investors to put small scale and medium scale industries around Lisa community and our people within the community will have things to do because now we have to bring industries, we have to bring employments, to discourage people migrating to urban centres. Lisa is one of the inner communities; small scale industrial area needs to be established.”

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He also appealed to Governor Abiodun to address the deplorable state of the road from Ijoko to Lisa, noting that any time it rains; it’s always difficult to pass through a river along the route. “Two people died in the river last year, despite several letters to the ministry of works no attention was given, we’ve been doing several things here through communal efforts. The access road, which connects over 21 towns and villages, should be rehabilitated.
  
“To come out of our community is a headache, to come in is a headache and the local council cannot handle this road, the government of Ogun State should remember us. It is a 10.5 Km road from Ijoko road. They should look into this critically in the 2021 budget to make life more meaning for our people.”

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