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DISTRESSED BUT RELUCTANT TO RELOCATE TO A NEW ABODE

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DISTRESSED BUT RELUCTANT TO RELOCATE TO A NEW ABODE

The need for the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) to save lives may have informed the swift demolishing of marked defective structures after the Ita-Faji and Kakawa Street building collapses. And as part of efforts to provide succour to the victims who are affected by this exercise, the government has provided accommodation at the State Relief/Resettlement Centre in Igando, Alimosho Local Government Area. ISIOMA MADIKE, who visited the Island as well as Ignado, tells a story of a distressed people who are reluctant to relocate to a new abode

 

A woman, identified only as Madam Sidikatu, has said she needs to be left alone to die peacefully in her ancestral home instead of being forcefully taken to a ‘foreign’ land she never heard of in her 86 years sojourn on earth. She is frantically pleading with the Lagos State government not to pull down her house which is one of those marked for demolition in the Ita-Faji community on Lagos Island.Sidikatu, who lost a relation when the building housing the pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School on Massey Street, collapsed, explained that the neighbourhood had been their ancestral home where they had all lived in harmony. She said: “I don’t want to die in a ‘foreign’ land.

The place they are relocating us to is not known to us. I have lived all my life on the Island and would wish to die there like my ancestors. We don’t have any problem with our house; the one that collapsed was caused by evil spirits. Or does the government want to use cunny cunny to take over our houses?” However, the grandma is not the only one agonising over the relocation plan by the government. Another elderly man, who did not give his age but wants to be identified simply as Arowomagbe, also said he only heard of Igando on Tuesday when some people in the neighbourhood were going round with the rumour of the government’s new plan of action.

“Where is even Igando? He asked. Is the place part of Lagos? Why Igando, why not somewhere on the Island? Why would the government want to inflict another pain on us after what we had been through these few weeks? Let them be prepared to kill all of us here because we are not moving anywhere. But why would they even want to pull down our houses down, are they theirs? Please tell the government this is our village, our home.

We are comfortable the way we live here,” Arowomagbe said. For the younger ones like Kassim, the move is a welcome development, if only the government is serious about it. Although he said they are not happy the way and manner the government is going about the whole thing. “Nobody is happy about what happened here; no one wants to die in that manner.

But the collapsed building excuse is not enough reason for the government to just give us a day notice for demolition. Are we no longer humans? “They said the buildings had cracks and they must bring them down immediately, is that the way things are done? Since they started pulling down the buildings, some of us have become destitutes in our land.

To add to that insult, they now want to make us refugees in Lagos. Are we Boko Haram victims? Are we in a war situation? These are the only conditions people are moved to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Do they want to turn us to slaves in our Lagos? “But, let us even look at it critically, is the government even serious or they just want to play politics with our lives. How long are we supposed to be in that camp, or is it going to be for eternity? The officials have not been here to tell us about their plan, some of us only heard from the news and that is the reason why many of us don’t believe in this gimmick. After the camp, where do we go from there?” Kassim asked with tears rolling down his cheeks. However, demolitions were ongoing when our correspondent visited the community.

The way and manner the officials of government were pulling down the defective structures appears to show the authorities proving true to their words. Our reporter noticed a few blocks from the building that collapsed that most houses in the area are old and repoorly planned. There is barely an arm’s length of space in between them, which continues to baffle people how the developers managed to construct the houses in the first place.

The government’s action, as painful as it seems, is seen by many as the needed change the people on the Island need to right a century wrong in which illegal structures spring up with reckless abandoned. As the younger inhabitants of the Island affected by this wave of demotions grumble over the distance of the resettlement camps, the elderly among them have vowed to remain homeless and sleep on the streets or under the bridges than move to a “strange land”. Their worries, some have reasoned, might be legitimate as relocation might constitute yet a problem by cutting off their source of livelihood. There might also be more trouble for the communities affected as the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye, has said that people currently resident in buildings that are not structurally sound should take this opportunity to resettle in Agbowa or Igando to prevent another Ita-Faji incident.

“I got a letter from someone on the Island telling us of another building that is in a bad shape, somewhere in Tokunbo. Obviously, that place is occupied. For that kind of structure, we would advise those people to take advantage of what the government is providing for temporary settlement so that we are saved from this incident of collapse and loss of lives and properties,” he said. Ita-Faji community has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons. Massey Street, one of the streets within the neighbourhood, has also become popular in a notorious manner. One of the recent buildings that collapsed in the ‘Centre of Excellence’ was on that street.

The edifice housed a children’s school in which many of the pupil died. The death of the little souls sparked a reaction from everyone who has a heart. The community was not happy about the unfortunate incident, so was the government also, and indeed Nigerians across tribes. However, the building was said to have been marked, like many in that neighbourhood for over five years for demolition by the state government because it was alleged to have been defective and was no longer safe for human habitation. But what baffled many was why the same government waited for the disaster to happen before doing the needful.

“If the government had been alive to its responsibility, perhaps, the calamities would have been avoided,” said a man who lives on the Island but decline his name in print. Many toed this line of thought as they blamed the government for what they viewed as double speak. This sentiment may have moved the officials saddled with the responsibil-ity of making sure the authorities walk the talk to swiftly swing into action after a second building came down also on the Lagos Island within days of the first occurrence. And so, the bulldozers were deployed by the state officials to pull down faulty structures earlier marked.

This action, however, rendered a lot of people homeless, with many now leaving like the destitutes within the environs of their ancestral homes. The thriving businesses in this community is buying and selling. Little wonder many now find solace in their tiny shops and kiosks with others without such luxury sharing the open space with the ubiquitous, notorious area boys. But Ogunleye was quick to counter such assertion when he said: “The structures being demolished on Lagos Island are not occupied, so the issue of having people rendered homeless is not there. However, where we have people like that, the government has made provision at our Igando and Agbowa resettlement sites to take care of those that may be involved.” Speaking during a tour of the Resettlement Centre in Igando at the weekend, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Kehinde Bamigbetan, also stated that Governor Akinwumi Ambode has approved that those affected as a result of the ongoing demolition of defective buildings be resettled at the Relief Centre in line with international best practices.

Bamigbetan said that the camp was ready to accommodate no fewer than 500 displaced persons from Tuesday, March 26. He declared that the exercise was part of the state government’s efforts to ensure that the effect of loss on the victims is mitigated to the barest minimum. Also speaking, the General Manager of the State Emergency Management Agency, Adesina Tiamiyu, said that the camp would be open for three months after which the government would review the need for an extension. Tiamiyu added that a medical team would arrive at the centre to ascertain the health status of those affected, while the Igando General Hospital would handle referrals from the camp.

The Igando centre, he said, has facilities to provide relief for affected victims, including those living with disabilities. But when Saturday Telegraph team got to the camp on Thursday, the edifice, which is constructed in chalet forms, has an ambiance that is inviting yet desolate as those they were built for are not there at the time. A few people, who were noticed within the complex, are either officials of the government, security personnel or those keeping the compound clean. Aside that nothing else seems to be happening there for now. A man, who introduced himself simply as engineer Ilori, said some people from the Island had started trickling in.

He explained that the complex has a sub-power station to guaranty steady electricity within the centre and a marketplace for convenient shopping so as to help settle the people fast. He said: “Yes, they have started coming in, but I can’t give the number of then that are here now. Don’t forget they are working, so they have gone to work, and their children have gone to school.

That is why you may not see anybody around. But I can assure you that we already have a good number of them around.” When this reporter put a call across to LASEMA’s spokesperson, Kehinde Adebayo, he only allowed Saturday Telegraph team to take photographs from the outside of the compound explaining that he is the only one authorised to take journalists round the complex. “I wish I’m around there now to take you round to see what we have on ground,” he added.

IDP Camps and resettlement shelters were concepts previously unknown to residents of a metropolitan city like Lagos. But, on November 26, 2014, all that changed as the then governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), commissioned LASEMA Operational/ Resettlement Camp at Igando. Before the Igando centre, the state had created the Agbowa Camp. Fashola had promised to provide facilities like schools and others to make life comfortable for the would-be settlers, as, according to him, it was an extension of their lives.

His, some said, was a government that was well-prepared for any disaster. But while it seems like an easy, fix-it-all solution to the building collapse and subsequent demolitions, many are of the opinion that the government needs to do more of sensitisation that is capable of allaying the fears of those who may have lived all their lives elsewhere before being moved to the shelter. And while some seem to have faulted the hasty nature with which the state officials are demolishing the marked building, an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Sulaimon Oluwatoyin Abou-Nollah, said it was a welcome development to save lives. Abou-Nollah, who is the Chief Imam of Lagos State, charged the state government to enforce strict compliance with building regulations. He said the agency in charge of building regulations should ensure defective buildings were demolished before they kill the occupants.

He spoke when he visited the survivors of the Massey Street collapsed building at the General Hospital, Lagos Island. According to him, strict enforcement will reduce the incidences of collapsed building in the state. The Chief Imam, an engineer, commended the state government for its quick response, describing the problem of collapsed building as technical. He said: “We should not wait for this kind of unfortunate incident before we do the needful. It is better to pull down defective buildings than to lose lives. We all know that it is a technical issue and what is important is for us to maintain the code of building which is very important to avoid building collapse.

Those in charge should ensure compliance with the regulations. “It is important to have LASBCA officials go out to check defective buildings and do the needful. This will help reduce calamities happening today because, in every country, there are mechanisms to check defective buildings. When we have dilapidated buildings, they need to take them down.” Already, about 20 buildings on the Island have been brought down by LASBCA since the exercise to prevent another disaster started. Ogunleye described the exercise as a holistic response to the challenges posed by derelict structures and unapproved schools.LASBCA acting General Manager, Tayo Fakuloju, and Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development Permanent Secretary, Mrs Boladele Dapo-Thomas, led the team that carried out some of the demolitions. The houses pulled down were 25, Elegbata Street, Apongbon, 199, Tokunbo Street, 27, Inabiri Street, 16, Egatin Street and 45, John Street – all on Lagos Island.

They joined the earlier demolished ones at 60, Freeman, 47 Smith, 16, Apatira, 28, Apatira, 39 Alli, 21, Okediji, 34 Seriki and 33 Ojo Giwa streets. While others are waiting to be demolished, the government, Fakuloju said, had taken over the collapsed Massey Street building that killed at least 20 people. Ogunleye, had, in a statement advised landlords and developers, whose structures had been marked for demolition to pull them down or risk forfeiting them. Commiserating with the bereaved families, he solicited the cooperation of the public to rid the state of distressed buildings. According to him, the ministry has identified 149 distressed and defective buildings, of which 40 have been demolished. He said 38 others were slated for demolition before the latest unfortunate incidents. “In some instances where the owners and occupiers were served with notices and evacuated, people secretly returned to re-occupy the buildings despite the sealing off of the structures by the LASBCA,” he added.

He said that LASBCA would step up the ongoing demolition of the affected buildings, adding that all parts of the state would be reached. He equally warned that the government would invoke Section 74 of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law on forfeiture against any owner or developer whose negligence leads to building collapse. Meanwhile, professionals and other stakeholders in the building construction industry have called for the involvement and collaboration of experts in the building sector and related government agencies in putting up buildings to guide against building collapse in Lagos State.

They also called for strict application of building regulations by the state government and prosecution of developers, owners and builders, who fail to adhere to the regulations as required by law. They spoke at one day public hearing on the collapsed building at 63, Massey Street, Ita-Faji, Lagos Island, organised by the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre on Tuesday.

The seven institutes in the industry and the relevant government agencies duly represented at the hearing agreed that most of the cases of collapsed building were because quacks and not professionals handled the constructions. They alleged that those quacks usually use substandard materials and without involvement of the relevant government building agencies.

The Building Collapse Prevention Build (BCPG) in its presentation identified among others: Lack of comprehensive sub-soil investigation before designs are done; non-adherence to designs, professional advice during construction; lack of effectiveness of government agencies charged with the monitoring of the building procurement and production process; quackery at both pre and post-contract stages; use of substandard materials; poor workmanship; professional incompetence; lack of maintenance; greed by developers and contractors.” Other observations were unrealistic construction timelines; unrealistic desires of clients; nocturnal concrete work; improper, illegal or unprocessed and unapproved change in use; lack of proper supervision during construction by relevant qualified professionals; lack of coordinated phased inspection by relevant government development control agency; inefficient handling of approval of building plans by relevant government development control authority; non-compliance to building codes and corruption by government monitoring officials. While proffering solution, they called for the involvement of architects, civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, quantity surveyors, builders and land surveyors in all building construction work in the state.

Tiammiyu promised that the government would from now on begin to take in displaced persons’ from collapsed and marked buildings at its resettlement centres. He however called for a law to empower LABSCA to demolish marked buildings within five months instead of leaving it for the owners who might not be willing to bring down the structures until they collapse and kill people. However, President Muhammadu Buhari, who expressed concern over persistent building collapse across the country, has warned that those responsible for professional negligence, leading to the collapse of the buildings would face the wrath of the law.

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