Erinoluwa Akinmoladun is a lucky young man. He said, but for providence and voices that urged him to hurry out of his father’s apartment, he would have been among those buried alive on Wednesday on Lagos Island.
He said he heard some voices telling him to leave the building immediately, and that it would collapse in minutes. He related the news to his father, but the old man was not interested.
His father, who doubted and mocked him as being a harbinger of evil thoughts, narrowly escaped death, as he was among the first set of survivors rescued from the collapsed site.
For Arike, who wailed uncontrollably and refused to be consoled at the scene of the crash, nothing can soothe the pain of the family. Buried alive with other children were her younger sister’s three children; Amina, Yussuf and Mubarak Oloyode. They were aged 11, 9 and 7, respectively. Ganiyat, the mother of the children, it was learnt, fainted when she heard the sad news and was yet to be revived in the hospital.
Jide Adebayo stood motionless with bloodshot eyes staring at the crumbled heap of the collapsed building. His eyes followed the movements of the rescue workers as they combed the site for trapped victims. His only child, Kalid, was still among those trapped underneath crumpled iron rods and moulds of sand and concrete.
With each passing moment, and as a child was pulled out that did not resemble his son, he became more depressed.
For a long time, the incident of Wednesday, March 13, 2019, would remain an unsavoury footnote that would hang like a thick cloud over Lagos and the nation as a whole. These are images of young, innocent, promising children cut short in their prime by falling block and reinforced concrete while in the quest for knowledge.
And as the dust settled and confused residents scrambled blindly to rescue victims at the scene, their hearts broke at the anguished cry for help underneath the rubble.
Hours later, as emergency rescue teams scurried to the scene, hearts broke as lifeless, mangled remains of victims, mostly pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School, were pulled from the rubble of what was once 44, Massey Street, off Ita-Faji Market, Lagos Island.
The pupils were reportedly in their classrooms when the building caved in on them.
Expectedly, immediately the news spread, parents stormed the school in search of their children. While many were lucky to reunite with their wards, several others were apprehensive and hopeful that their children would be brought out alive.
Among those rescued were a teacher, the landlord of the building and eight tenants.
Reports indicated that the building, which had shown signs of defect for years, had been marked for demolition three times, by the Lagos State government.
Residents disclosed that there were visible cracks running down the back of the building.
The school, it was noted, occupied the penthouse as well as the second and third floors. The first floor was occupied by tenants, while the ground floor consisted of a warehouse and some shops.
The casualty rate was high because the building had over 20 rooms, with about eight people living in a room.
It was speculated that the casualty figures for the pupils might not be as high as speculated because the pupils were out of the classrooms for their physical education exercise, and were taken out by some teachers in batches.
Eyewitnesses said the school was about four years old. It used to occupy a building in front of the collapsed one before it recently moved to its present site.
However, amid tension and claims by residents that more victims still lay buried under the rubble of the three-storey building, the general manager, Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA), Tiamyu Adesina, announced the agency’s decision to call off rescue operations.
According to him, efforts would still be intensified to clear the debris so as to get to the ground of the ill-fated building. He also dispelled speculations that more victims could still be trapped under the rubble of the building, noting that efforts were made by all the emergency responders to ensure that all angles were covered.
Despite calling off rescue operations, the actual number of survivors and casualties from the collapsed building still remained unclear, at press time. Also, the actual number of pupils in the school and tenants was yet to be ascertained.
Adesina said LASEMA would be working in conjunction with the Lagos State Ministry of Health on the figures of those involved in the tragedy as most victims were taken to various hospitals in the area.
Till this moment, the families of victims are still milling around the scene, hoping to get the remains of their loved ones.
Like similar incidents in the state, this particular tragedy has come and gone. Many are convinced that the authorities would once again go back to sleep.
And while the dust might soon settle over the recent building collapse, fears are high that another building collapse would soon occur again, and lives would be lost.
Though the hustle and bustle for which the Ita-Faji area is known is at its lowest ebb, one cannot but notice the several derelict ‘barracks’ that provide affordable accommodation to average families on Lagos Island. They stand dangerously upright, waiting to unleash more death and woes.
In some of the structures, which are now being hurriedly renovated, iron rods, planks and heavy slabs could be seen protruding and dangling dangerously from different angles.
Among the several Lagos residents who milled around the scene trying hard to catch a glimpse of the recent collapsed building, many were those mouthing their anxieties over the continued danger such buildings portend.
The latest disaster seemed to have reminded Lagosians that the dangers of building collapse and its attendant consequence still stare them in the face. The only penalty that the state government has been able to effect with ease is taking possession of affected land or structures, without putting such acquisitions into proper use for the memories of lives lost.
According to a building expert at the scene of the Massey collapse, Mr. Ganiyu Sulaiman, the state government has not come out with any stringent penalty for owners and developers of buildings that collapse. Government has also not put other plots acquired from such incidents to good use.
“The actions of the state government are predictable. The only thing that comes out of building collapse in the state is acquisition and policy statement. Nobody has actually been punished to serve as deterrent to others. What happens to the family of those affected is not an issue,” he said.
The recent incident, many observed, could have been avoided if the relevant authorities attended to their job with fervour. For each collapsed building, professionals blame the incident on the disregard of building laws by quacks, and the use of sub-standard building materials.
But the malpractices, many have maintained, would not have thrived if proper monitoring was carried out on approvals for construction. Failure on the part of regulatory authorities emboldens builders to deviate from approved plans earlier submitted to the government.
For now, nobody knows when and where the monster would strike next. Based on accounts from survivors, houses that collapse hardly show signs of defect. For those that visibly show signs of danger, nothing remarkable is done.
Critics, however, posit that, to avoid further unwholesome incidents, attention should be shifted from blame-trading to taking pragmatic steps to stem the tide. The dearth of skilled artisans in the country has, without doubt, contributed in no small way to the rise in the number of collapsed buildings. According to residents, handing out stiff penalties to those found culpable and beaming a searchlight on professional bodies and the authorities concerned with building construction and monitoring would go a long way to safeguard life and property.
Meanwhile, many residents and traders in some of the other buildings in the area have said they would remain in the derelict structures, as there was nowhere else for them to go.
“Most of us have been living and trading here for a long time and have nowhere else to go. Inasmuch as we know that most of the houses here are not safe, we don’t have anywhere else to move to. That is the problem we have now,” one of them said.
Obinna Dibua, a trader in one of the structures, said a real African man should not be afraid of death, which is an unchangeable reality of life. In his words, death is a necessary end that could come anytime and anywhere. He, however, noted that, as a Christian, his firm belief was that his death would not be caused by a collapsed building.