By OPEYEMI BAMIDELE
IT will be exactly a year ago tomorrow, when the proactive administration of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola scored another first, this time, a technological feat – the pulling down of the 22-storey Bank of Industry (BOI) building without any casualty, not even the slightest damage to surrounding structures.
The demolition exercise was unique as no bulldozer or crane was used. Rather, some 5,900 explosives were planted all over the structure and then simultaneously detonated using remote devices. The result was the crumbling of the building within 10 seconds. It was the first of such controlled demolition to be done in the history of West Africa. The task of bringing down the building, the tallest on Broad Street was given to Wreckers Dismantling Limited of South Africa, a sub-contractor of Hi-tech Engineering Company Nigeria Limited.
The skyscraper, which was located on 67/71 Broad Street, a high profile street that habours the business nerve of the country on Lagos Island, had a chequered history of five earlier fire incidents in the past since 1972 when it was constructed. The fire incidents must have dealt a serious blow on the structure which culminated in its partial collapse on March 22, 2006. Lagos State was indeed lucky that hardly any soul was lost when the incident occurred in the normaly densely populated area as residents of the state had been requested by the state government to stay at home to ensure they were counted during the then on-going national census exercise.
The epoch-making controlled demolition of the BOI building was witnessed by eminent citizens of Lagos State, among whom were the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN; the deputy governor, Princess Sarah Sosan; the Oba of Lagos, Oba Riliwanu Osuolale Aremu Akiolu I; the Whenu Aholu Menu Toyi, Oba Babatunde Akran of Badagry; former governor of Lagos State and one-time minister of housing, Alhaji Lateef Jakande; former minister of works, Alhaji Lateef Femi Okunnu and a host of commissioners and other top government officials. Equally on hand to watch the historic event were hundreds of ordinary citizens seated at a prepared venue a safe distance from the actual demolition.
Seconds after the state commissioner for physical planning and urban development, Tpl. Francisco Bolaji Abosede announced the zero hour for detonation on the public address system, a cacophony of bombs exploded inside the BOI building, and everyone watching beheld with awe as the building came down – together with the heavy masts erected on it. The structure crumbled eastwards as was predicted by the experts.
All those who witnessed the event responded with thunderous cheers and clapping as they saw a cloud of dust, which enveloped the area, erupt from the spot on which the building had stood. They were amazed that none of the neighbouring buildings, including the high-rise Afribank Plc, Mr. Biggs eatery and the African Church Cathedral Bethel, was affected by the impact of the implosion.
Hitechâ€™s technical manager, Barney Ames, an engineer, told journalists before the demolition that the exercise was expected to have minimal impact on the immediate environment.
This was because the explosives were positioned to take off the beams of the BOI structure, thereby making the building to collapse on its weight. Engr. Ames confirmed that the controlled demolition would be the first in West Africa, and the second he would be participating in for a long while. He said the only ripple effect to be felt by the surrounding buildings would be the dust that would envelope the environment after the building had come down.
In his comments immediately after the exercise, an elated Governor Fashola, said the government adopted guided demolition as the path of least risk to the people living in the area. He added that the epoch-making event marked the culmination of a journey that began a year before. He commended President Yarâ€™Adua for assenting to the request that the building be demolished, noting that the presidentâ€™s nod marked a departure from the past, describing the presidentâ€™s approval as a vote for preservation of the lives of residents of the State.
While revealing that his administration had to make the courageous, responsible but certainly more difficult choice of bringing down the building in a controlled manner, the state chief executive remarked that his administration was careful in appointing the team of experts with local and international reputation in controlled demolition. According to him, the state government searched for a demolition expert until it settled in the last six months for Hitech, which had shown high level of competence in its previous assignments.
Giving insight into measures preceding the demolition, the governor said the experts undertook a pre-weakening and insulation of the structure – a process he said included the pre-demolition drilling, installation of wire mesh and sealing of the entire structure from the inside to prevent any dislodged elements from shooting out without control upon the explosion impact. According to him, a combination of plywood panels, scaffolding and geo-textile covers had been used to protect the surrounding structures from any impact. He said he was happy that such precautions were taken, as the demolition actually happened without any object flying out from the structure to cause injury to anyone witnessing the exercise.
He recalled that though the building had partially collapsed on March 22, 2006, the state government had to wait, while beseeching both the Federal Government and the BOI management to take remedial action, adding that all the entreaties proved abortive.
He said the State Government then had no other option than to exercise the powers conferred on the Governor under Section 28 of the Land Use Act by acquiring the property along 63/67 Broad Street, within which the BOI building was located.Â He added that the demolition climaxed more than six months of preparations which involved wide consultations with all stakeholders as well as taking measures to safeguard lives and property in the vicinity of the building.
Three days before the demolition, the Governor had gone on air, informing the people and preparing their mind for the impending exercise. He forewarned that a series of choreographed explosions were in the offing that would implode the Bank of Industry building and bring down the structure, adding that evacuation drills had already been carried out with local residents, fire and safety service, ambulance service and security agencies in the preceding weeks to simulate the rallying points where shelter and other logistic support would be provided until it became safe for residents to return to their respective properties.
He reiterated that the state government had undertaken painstaking planning for the controlled demolition operation driven by the need to ensure maximum safety, security and protection of lives and property. He added that preparatory to the controlled demolition exercise, all properties within a radius of 15,500 sq. metres from the target area (BOI building) had been acquired in the public interest.
Governor Fashola also revealed that adequate insurance cover had been taken by the firm handling the work, with the principal contractor taking out a US$150 million public liability insurance, in addition to all- all risk insurance, as a risk contingent on behalf of the team. Furthermore, he disclosed that there was also a Workmen’s Compensation Scheme for all operational staff during the exercise.
To further strengthen the information management efforts, the State Government published and distributed notices of information on the preparations for the demolition works in five Nigerian languages, including information on the eight roads on Lagos Island that were closed to the public during the exercise.
The governor revealed that while being mindful of the Property Rights in the immediate vicinity of the BOI building, a status assessment of properties was reduced into a â€œDilapidation Reportâ€ capturing the structural condition of the 25 buildings in the immediate vicinity.Â Earlier, state commissioner for physical planning and urban development, Abosede, had explained that, a pre-event drilling had taken place on several occasions, even with the affected neighbours, such that everybody knew exactly what to do.
Another positive fall out of the historic controllled demolition exercise was the opportunity afforded relevant Nigerian professionals, including students of engineering from tertiary institutions in the state, to understudy the exercise and acquire indigenous capacity in such complex operations.
The successful outcome of the exercise was also a testimony to the Fashola Administrationâ€™s now widely acknowleged attribute of careful and systematic planning, proactive long term-thinking and courage to chart new frontiers in its quest to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of residents within its jurisdiction.
If the Administration had demonstrated lack of boldness, initiative, imagination and decisiveness in handling the BOI danger, there was every possibility that the structurally deficient building would have finally collapsed on its own in an uncontrolled manner putting thousands of lives, property and businesses at great risk.
Since the controlled demolition of the BOI building, work had since resumed on the road project that had earlier on been stalled due to issues of safety.Â Furthermore, other regeneration programmes of the entire Lagos Central Business District are now being vigorously pursued while investment in real estate and real estate development within the area has intensified. As we mark the first anniverasy of this unprecedented feat, the Fashola administration remains determined to ensure that governance in the centre of excellence continues to focus principaly on finding enduring solutions to common problems to improve the quality of life of the citizenry.
Bamidele is the Lagos State commissioner for information and strategy