New Telegraph

Bellview Crash: 17 years after, memorial arcade turns national embarrassment

October 22 this year will mark 17 years that the nation was plunged into mourning following the crash of a Boeing 737-200 aircraft, flight 210, operated by Bellview airlines in Lisa town, Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State. The ill-fated flight killed all 117 passengers and crew on board and was the first crash among strings of aircraft accidents which rocked Nigeria in 2005 and 2006 prompting then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to vow to overhaul the aviation sector. The tragic Bellview Airlines incident put Lisa town, a once sleepy village, on the world map as people from both within and outside the country thronged the town to catch a glimpse of the crash site of the plane which had only taken off from the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos a few minutes earlier on its way to the nation’s capital, Abuja.

One year after the incident, the Federal and Ogun State governments jointly built a memorial arcade at the site of the crash to honour the memory of the victims who came from eight different nations including at least 10 Ghanaians, two Britons, two Gambians and one each from Germany, Mali and South Africa. United States officials also confirmed the presence of a U.S military officer on board the flight.

There was also a Sierra Leonean on the ill-fated flight. Some prominent personalities on board the ill-fated flight were Cheick Oumar Diarra, a General from Mali and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Deputy Executive Secretary, Waziri Mohammed, Chairman of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) and a close aide to former President Obasanjo, and the nation’s Postmaster General, Abubakar Musa Argungu. Usman Umar, a member of local council who was also the Chairman of Nigeria’s Board of Directors of the National Programme on Immunisation.

The arcade also served as the graveyard for the remains of the victims, whose bodies had been pulverised by the impact of the crash, with their names boldly inscribed on their tombstones. Aside from being a graveyard, the arcade became a “tourist” site for school children and other interested parties. To make the arcade accessible for visitors, the then government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the contract for the construction of the road.

Abandoned, neglected and forgotten

Sadly nearly two decades after the crash, the memorial arcade now lies in ruins and has become a national embarrassment follow-ing years of neglect by both the Federal and Ogun State governments. The once beautiful scenery is now an eyesore, bringing disrespect to the memories of the victims. When New Telegraph visited the colonnade recently, the arcade from outside did not in any way bear the semblance of a national monument. Overgrown by weeds, reptiles and other wild animals, the graveyard is unkempt with the dilapidated buildings begging for urgent attention. Some of the gravestones which bore the names of the victims had already fallen off, while parts of the concrete floor leading to the centre of the arcade are already sinking. Whatever that is left of the memorial arcade brings nothing but sad memories to the souls of the victims. Approaching the entrance of the arcade, two men who sat under a shed which looked like a mechanic’s workshop by the arcade accosted our correspondent and asked for his mission. The two men, who later took our correspondent round the arcade, could not hide their disappointment about the current state of the memorial site. “This is where the plane crashed (pointing to a spot). As you can see, the tombstones were built round the spot. “This is really a national embarrassment. The government has totally abandoned this place. I don’t think they (government) even know this place still exists.

“There is nothing memorial about this place again. Few years after the arcade was constructed, the guards employed to watch over the place left when the government stopped paying them. “It is the traditional ruler of the town that employed a new guard. The Kabiyesi even uses his money to maintain the place, paying gardeners to cut the weed once in a while,” one of the men who simply identified himself as ‘Salau’ said. The New Telegraph observed that part of the site is being used by locals for farming, while the concrete floor now serves as a place to spread cassava for sun drying.

Monarch’s lamentations

Lamenting the sorry state of the arcade, the Olu of Lisa Kingdom, Oba Najeemdeem Oladele Odugbemi described the arcade, as “an eyesore and embarrassment to the country and souls of the victims that perished in the plane crash.” The monarch, in an interview with New Telegraph in his palace at Lisa town, said it was regrettable that, the arcade which should serve as a national monument has been neglected by the Federal Government and left to rot away. He said the arcade had become a national embarrassment rather than being a symbol of remembrance for the souls of the victims. Oba Odugbemi lamented that the arcade which used to attract many visitors from different parts of the country in the past “has now been abandoned and can no longer be referred to as a memorial arcade”.

“The Lisa memorial arcade is jointly owned by both the federal and the state governments. “It is very pathetic to say that that particular arcade has been neglected. It has been covered by bushes; I cannot even imagine that the notable souls of those who perished there have been forgotten inside the jungles again. “The first two years after commissioning of the arcade, it was good and I can remember very well that during that time, each time I came here, I would drive straight to the arcade and they would give me the register and whenever I checked I would see that over 200 visitors had come to Lisa to see the memorial.

“There was a day, out of the 200 people that visited the place; there were students of three secondary schools. “But today, the arcade cannot be referred to as a memorial arcade again because weeds have taken over the whole place. There is nothing good to write home about the arcade again,” Oba Odugbemi lamented. “In any country, the arcade would have been a tourists’ centre.

You saw what happened in New York after the 9/11 attack. When the tragedy happened, they turned the place to ground zero and that place has become another tourist centre in downtown Manhattan in New York City. So, anybody that visits New York would like to go to that place and when you go there, you will like to buy things, so they are using that place to attract visitors to the ground zero of the tragedy of that 911. It is supposed to be the same thing here, Lisa arcade should be showcased to the outside world.

“They should keep the souls of those people that perished there by renovating the place. At least for their souls, we should keep that arcade as a memorial arcade where everybody could come and see what happened there. “But, it is a pity they have neglected the arcade, the road is bad, so the arcade is not functioning again,” the monarch bemoaned. The monarch also lamented the deplorable condition of the road leading to the arcade. “We have to appeal to the government; I mean the Ogun State government, since the road falls within the state government purview. We are appealing to them to rehabilitate or reconstruct the road.

“The road has gone back to its original very bad state after the construction in 2006. It is unfortunate that within six months of completion of the road, it went back to its very very sorry state. “This is what we have been suffering since. Where there is no good road, there will never be development. A good road drives economic development to any community. “If we have been enjoying a good road since 2006 till date, Lisa would have become a small London. Some of the people who have relocated here before have left because of the bad roads. “If the inner cities of any state are not developed, definitely the city centres will have problems.

Problems of kidnapping, banditry, criminality will be much more pronounced in the city centres. So, I think the state government should try to help us to fix our roads,” he added. Unfortunately Lisa is not the only sign of the government’s poor treatment to the memories of Nigerians lost in tragic ways. The cenotaph built in Ejigbo in the wake of the January 27, 2002 Ikeja Military cantonment bomb blast is a shadow of its self due to negligence on the part of the government. Usually the place is spruced up towards the anniversary and then left unattended too thereafter until the next memorial.

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