News Sunday Magazine

Collapsed Tower: Anger, anguish, tears, sorrow in Ikoyi

• My only surviving brother is dead –Woman


• ‘My husband went to submit quotation for plumbing; I’m a widow now’


• Developers, LASBCA boss should be tried for homicide –Lawyers


• This’ a clear case of corruption, cost cutting, sharp practices –NIA boss

 

Barely 21 months after the contractor withdrew its services, the 21-storey building collapsed in Lagos, killing the owner and scores of others that fateful day. Such colossal loss witnessed prayers, wailing, crying, sniveling and wishing away of bad omen to no avail as over 34 bodies were recovered from the rubble while few others were rescued alive. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

On November 1, 2021, many breadwinners of their families set out in search of daily bread, as they have always done to fend for their family members and other dependents but didn’t return home. Many of them embarked on a journey of no return, while others were rescued alive in the rubble of the 21 storey luxury building, which collapsed at the Gerard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

 

Sadly, while a few of them returned to their respective homes a day or days after, thanking God for cheating death, others who weren’t lucky enough had their lives cut short by preventable deaths caused by insensitivity and corruption on the parts of the government and developer.

 

They left their loved ones grieving and awaiting the return of their corpses. It was, indeed, a moment of sorrow, great trepidation and hope against hope for Mrs. Bola Ajayi, who didn’t have the opportunity of reuniting with her brother, Tayo, alive again.

 

She is among the people who will receive their relatives’ corpses. She spoke to Sunday Telegraph with much consternation on Tuesday evening, when her brother’s cell phone number, which she used to communicate with him under the rubble, stopped connecting.

 

Mrs. Ajayi thought and wished it was a dream; and at most, a nightmare that she could wake from but in reality, a ball of great darkness had covered her atmosphere, especially with the low pace of rescue operations amid intense heat which didn’t allow those with half life to live.  She was weak and insipid with sunken red eyes, an indication that she had been crying to no avail since Monday when the news of her brother’s hard luck was broken to her. She only found her strength to cry aloud when recovered bodies were being evacuated to the morgues for identification and perhaps, mummification.

 

She could not sleep as the thoughts of her only surviving brother, continued to afflict and torture her all through the night, and for this trauma-induced insomnia, she didn’t have to wait for the day break as she rushed out, perhaps, to be freshened up with the news of Tayo’s rescue and recuperation in the hospital but all to no avail.

 

“I called his phone. It was ringing but he wasn’t picking his calls. At one point, his phone stopped connecting, saying ‘switched off.’ I am dead. I’m finished. My brother is dead. Will I not see him again?” She shrieked and threw herself to the pay-loader positioned at the entrance of the site.

 

Tayo, a bricklayer, was one of the breadwinners of their families, who embarked on a journey of no return while searching for his family’s daily bread.

Apart from Mrs. Ajayi, another woman, identified as Moji was seen crying helplessly while her daughter was calming her. She was looking for her husband, who had gone to supply quotations for plumbing work but never returned. “Why would this house collapse on the day my husband went in there?

Why didn’t God stop this from happening, at least, to spare the life of my husband? So, have I become a widow? No, no, I don’t want to be a widow,” were the heart-rending cries and lamentation from her heart.

Again, the saying that it’s difficult to pull a man out of what will kill him, is a reflection of a real estate dealer and Executive Director of African Bureau for Legislative Empowerment, Wale Bob-Oseni, who was on his way to US that Monday before he stopped over at ill-fated building to honour his friend, Osibona’s invitation, not knowing it was a call of agonising death.

Bob-Oseni went in into the wretched building but ended up under rubble with his friend. In a video that went viral some minutes after the collapse, a man believed to be Bob-Oseni’s driver was seen crying, saying he was to take his boss to the Lagos airport.

“He was heading to America. I want to go and drop him in the airport,” the driver said in tears.

Also caught in the web of sudden death, is a 26-year-old Onyinye Enekwe, a graduate of the Nnamdi Azikwe University, a second personal assistant to Osibona, whose wedding is said to be in a month’s time.

According to her cousin brother, Chinedu Enekwe, she left her elder sister’s house around 6am for work on that day, took pictures of herself and forwarded to her sister while in the collapsed building, but never returned alive.

Onyinye, who lived at Ago Palace Way, Okota, was given an accommodation at Ikoyi by her new employer, Fourscore Homes, and placed on N150, 000 salary; the good thing she never tasted before her demise a week after the employment. More so, like death stalking her, Zaynab Sanni Oyindamola, a fresh graduate, fled insecurity in the north and submitted to death in rubble.

A fresh graduate, who was originally posted to Borno for her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), she later redeployed to Lagos just to pay the price of corruption and system failure.

It was, undeniably, an atmosphere of fear, tears, agony, torture, despair and misery; an ambiance any emotional mortal wouldn’t like to play a part in. It hurts when a loved  one is hurting but his relatives, seeing his pain but couldn’t do anything to help.

Full of tension, grief and confusion, especially for the friends and relatives of the victims, angry youths, who couldn’t stand the slow pace of the rescue operations tried to force themselves into the site to assist the rescuers and first respondents but were prevented by soldiers, though few others were allowed.

Sequel to this, stakeholders in the real estate said the 100 per cent preventable deaths and losses were facilitated by corruption and corner-cutting, saying that the suspended General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr. Gbolahan Oki, an architect, and the building owners, should be tried for homicide.

Their augment was premised on the fact that as an architect and an officer saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that no building collapsed in the state, who, has been demolishing distress houses in Lagos, Oki should have arrested the situation before it became a disaster, if financial inducement has not taken place.

They held that the ill-fated building with its approval number: DCB/DO/2442, was meant to be a 15-storey building but the owners and perhaps, with their accomplices in the government went beyond their limit and added extra six floors to the approved 15 storey, making it 21 storey building, which resulted into loss of innocent lives.

Sunday Telegraph learnt that the Managing Director, Fourscore Homes, Mr. Femi Osibona, whose body was successfully recovered and identified, got an initial design for eight floors and the foundation was designed for only eight floors but he exceeded that.

He allegedly built till 10th floor, before he was arrested with his workers and taken to Alausa, Government House, in a Black Maria in 2020.

 

 

Surprisingly, he later obtained an approval for 15 storeys for which he paid the official amount and secured his release that same day and had the site reopened. But it’s not clear with whose approval, the Governor’s or LASBCA’s boss,’ the site was reopened for works.

 

Meanwhile, against the immediate and indefinite suspension of the LASBCA’s boss, Mr. Oki, Sunday Telegraph learnt that LASBCA’s boss allegedly does not have the powers to give such approval for a stop or reopen order on multistory developments, rather, the governor. “Governor suspended the GM of the LASBCA for effect.

 

 

But he has no power to close or reopen any multistory development without obtaining the consent of the Governor. Construction is our business. The real culprits will be exposed eventually,” a source claimed.

 

A person believed to be Mr. Osibona, was seen in a viral video, being arrested for resisting the sealing of his project by the Lagos State Government in July 2020, four months after the engineering company handling the job, Prowess Engineering Limited, withdrew its services from the project.

 

Sunday Telegraph learnt that the company, which started the collapsed building, after constructing two others withdrew from the project in February 2020, on the justification that it no longer shared the same vision with its client, Fourscore Heights Limited, on the project and couldn’t guarantee the integrity of the third building (collapsed building) from anything above the fourth floor.

 

Titled: ‘Re: Proposed Gerard Terraces For Fourscore Limited,’ the company’s withdrawal letter, signed by the Managing Director of the company, Muritala Olawale, reads: “This letter is to formally inform you of the withdrawal of our structural consultancy service from the above named project.

 

“We arrived at this decision due to the fact that we no longer share the same vision with you as our client in terms of how the project is being executed.

 

We can guarantee the integrity of the first two buildings and also work done up to the fourth floor of the third building supervised by us provided specifications have been met in terms of the required concrete strength.

 

“This, we do not have control over, as we do not have the concrete cube test results of each stage of the building till date. Also, note that we are not taking responsibility for any other construction errors that may have occurred overtime on the project.

 

“Furthermore, we request that our company’s name and logo be removed from the project board and also kindly notify all necessary approving authorities of our withdrawal from the project.”

 

Thus, barely 21 months after the contractor’s warning of impending danger and withdrawing of its services, the 21-storey building caved in, killing over 36 unlucky male (33) and female (3) as of Friday morning, who were at the site before the catastrophe struck.

 

The Coordinator, Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Ikoyi-Obalende Cell, Bola Arilesere, said something went wrong with the building technically, adding that no building of such scale under construction should collapse unless it was pulled down or some explosives were planted to destroy it.

 

Corroborating him, the President of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Prof. Yohana Izam, who was saddened by the incident and loss of lives and material resources said, “We need to dig deep; we only had the structure in place; it suggests a sub-structural failure.” “There should be a thorough investigation to test the implementation of physical planning and development laws in Lagos and ensure that culprits are heavily sanctioned,” he added.

 

Confirming the earlier allegation on sharp practices and cutting corners, the suspended General Manager of LASBCA, said: “He (Mr Osibona) got an approval for a 15-storey building and he exceeded his limit. I’m on ground here and the materials he used are so inferior and terrible. The materials he used, the reinforcement, are so terrible.”

These raised a pivotal issue of possible litigation against the regulatory body and the building owners. A senior lawyer and Principal Partner, Benonchambers, Barr Ben Onuora, said the regulatory body should be able to monitor an approval it has given to be sure of compliance to required specifications for such building to save lives and property of Lagosians.

“When I built my house, I know how often they visited. This is only possible when dealing with highly placed individuals. If it’s established, and the culprits exposed, they will be heavily sanctioned and it’s by doing this that we can move forward as a country.

“Yes, the company and the regulatory body (ies) can be sued and made to pay heavy penalties and compensations to the victims’ families to assuage their loss. I don’t know if they have the monitoring mechanism for this but if they do, they have to be heavily sanctioned.

This whole episode has made a big mockery of our country. “Buildings have different specifications. 10 storey building does not have the same foundation with 15 storeys or even 21 storeys. Each of them has its own specification. Else, the weight of the building will force it down.

They can be successfully sued.” The Chairman, Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), David Majekodunmi, described the action of Osibona ‘as penny wise, pound foolish,’ saying that the tragedy is a direct consequence of cutting corners. “When you look at the way the structure collapsed, it looks like an implosion not an explosion.

There is a lot to be said about this incident. It is a case of cutting costs at the expense of people’s lives. But the regulatory bodies allowed it. What are the regulatory bodies doing?

“We are busy fighting amongst ourselves over frivolities instead of focusing on making sure that buildings are of the appropriate quality. We are putting the lives of Nigerians in danger. If you check the victims, it’s mostly poor people, who come here to make paltry sums of three thousand naira daily.” Conversely, the scene was like a Mecca of sorts as Lagosians trooped in to see things for themselves.

 

Though armed soldiers wouldn’t allow non-first responders access to the site, people were undeterred and patiently waiting for the evacuation of the victims, sitting on the road embankment. Those with business sagacity started cooking and bringing to the site for hungry sympathisers, who thronged the site on a regular basis, adding to others who have petty businesses around the site. For this set of people, it was a business boom.

 

However, angry youths and relatives of people trapped in the ruins almost had it rough with the soldiers, who barred them from joining the evacuation team to make it faster. They argued that before the first responders’ arrival, they had entered the site and were able to rescue some victims alive.

 

“When the incident happened around 2pm, we started rescuing people but the security men locked us out. We protested and forced our way in. We recovered four dead bodies on the last floor and rescued four injured persons,” argued a man popularly referred to as landlord, who was mounting pressure on soldiers to let them in.

 

However, the Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, who was at the site to encourage rescuers and comfort relatives of those trapped in the rubble, said the government will embark on further foundation and borehole acidic level tests to ascertain its impact on the collapsed building, particularly the borehole acidic level for the entire Gerard Road and environs.

 

“We wish to state that there will be no coverup in the search for the truth in this incident. If anybody is found to have been indicted, he or she will face the law. It is important to restate that all developers and property owners are required to adhere strictly to all Building Codes and Planning Regulations to ensure the safety of lives and property,” he assured

Probing

He noted that the state government is setting up an independent panel to probe the collapse of the 21-storey building.

 

The members of the panel are drawn from the NIA, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) and other professional bodies. He noted that it will independently investigate the remote and immediate causes of the incident and make recommendations on how to prevent future occurrence, adding that the investigation is not part of the internal probe already being conducted by the government.

 

On the other hand, the South-West Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, who spoke during the early stage of rescue operations, said they rescued some people alive while others were brought out dead.

 

Speaking further, the Branch Chairman, Nigerian Red Cross Society, Lagos Chapter, Mrs. Victoria Adebola Kolawale, said: “We did our best. We had our ambulances here and nurses as well.

 

The moment they are brought alive, they are taken to an ambulance for revitalization before being taken to the hospital.”

 

Also, a nurse on the ground, who would rather speak on the position of anonymity, told Sunday Telegraph, “The major thing that killed those, whose bodies were not battered by fallen concrete or any other heavy material, was chronic dehydration and also suffocation due to intense heat.

 

“You see that water is being sprinkled on the rubble for two major reasons: To reduce the intensity of heat and the dust so that they could be seen. So, we issued first aid to stabilise them before transporting them to hospital.”

 

Lessons

“Mr. Osibona paid the price of penny wise pounds foolish. He paid with his life for being mean. It’s a lesson that builders will learn, else they learn in a hard way like Osibona,” said Joe Ovie.

“This life is vanity upon vanity. He left behind his multimillion dollar properties in the UK and United States and died in rubble. We should never cut corners to achieve a goal in Nigeria.

 

This is just one of the consequences,” Chukwujekwu Jimbes said. “I wish Osibona had survived to see the havoc he had wreaked, the lives that had been lost because he used substandard materials and violated building protocol to save money. I wish he was alive and prosecuted,” Tunde O. said.

 

“Last year, the LASG sealed up this same building due to suspicion that it didn’t meet structural integrity. He was arrested for physically preventing inspection but was released by ‘orders from above’ the same day. He didn’t know that barely a year later, his greed and Nigeria’s ‘any-how-ness’ would claim his life,” said Rita Ben.

 

“Femi couldn’t build according to the required standard and this is where we find ourselves today- over 30 deaths and counting. Imagine if the building had been fully constructed and people had moved in, the disaster could have been unimaginable.

“Our quest to make this money quickly, at any cost, will continue to cause us more pain. I can’t even begin to think about what the family of those affected would be going through. God help us,” James F.

 

Way forward

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has declared three days of mourning over the Ikoyi building collapse, which occurred on Monday, the commissioner for information and strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said in a statement.

Barrister Emeka Ndukwe said in a case of building collapse, the government will try the culpable parties whether regulatory agencies or the owners, when it’s established that there is structural defect or corruption involving the owners and the agency.

 

“This will serve as a deterrent to other corner cutters. And when there is serious connivance, they can be arrested and tried with murder, if the disaster leads to death or corruption. Abetting and aiding criminality is a serious crime.”

Architect David Majekodunmi, said: “Our developers want to build but do not want to pay the consultants and government has to do something to checkmate the developers and preserve the lives of Nigerians and their property.

“The National Building Code has been drafted by professionals in the construction industry since 1986. It was not signed until 2006. In 2021, the code has not been passed by the National Assembly.

This collapse is a result of the failure to pass this bill. “We have been trying to domesticate it but the problem is that we can’t domesticate it when it has not been passed by NASS. Let the NASS do the needful and get the government to investigate and punish anybody found guilty.”

 

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