By LEKE ADESERI, South West Regional Editor, EVELYN USMAN & BOSE ADELAJA
A BUILDING located in Low Cost Housing Estate, otherwise called Jakande estate, in Oke-Ake-Afa, Isolo area of Lagos, collapsed, yesterday, killing two graduate sisters.
The mother of the dead girls, identified as Mrs Coker, a widow, who was brought out of the debris alive was, however, in coma yesterday. Affected were flats 2, 4 and 6 of the six flat low-cost houses built over 30 years ago.
The building, Block M20, according to eye witnesses started showing cracks and sinking over a year ago. The tragic incident as gathered, occurred at about midnight causing a deafening sound. Vanguard gathered that while occupants in flats 2 and 4 managed to escape, those in flat 6 – Mrs Coker and her two children: Toyin, a graduate of the University of Lagos and her younger sister, Bukola, did not.
It was learnt that occupants of the collapsed building apparently ignored the warning signs of imminent danger which was evident since the past year. Tenants in flats two and six reportedly moved out some months ago, only for owner of flat two to lease the flat out to new occupants.
After the incident, youths in the area reportedly began a rescue mission. The body of Mrs Coker in her unconscious state was said to be the first to be brought out from the debris at about 3am and was immediately rushed to the estate health centre. Bukola’s body, in her night gown was reportedly brought out at about 5am, while that of Toyin was brought out an hour later, stone dead. When Vanguard arrived the scene at about 8am, officials of NEMA and neighbourhood watch were sighted. Fire fighting vehicles arrived later.
I escaped death by whiskers – occupant
One of the survivors and occupant of flat 2, Amodu Iyetayo Omoniyi, told Vanguard: “I moved into the flat on September 2, 2012, though I occupy one of the rooms. It was after I moved in that I discovered that the building had been marked for demolition. Two of the occupants called me to ask why I decided to pack into a building that had cracks and when I called the caretaker, he refused to refund my money and assured me nothing would happen.
“Last night, (Tuesday), when I came back from church, a spirit said I should touch the wall and immediately I did, part of the wall just fell to the extent that I could see outside from there. I became afraid. As if that was not enough, other parts started falling in bits. I called one of our flat-mates to inform him and we decided to call the agent.
“I went to bed hoping to wake up today to attend an interview. But about 11pm, I woke up and went out, where I discovered that the third occupant of the flat could not even open his door. At that point, I heard a voice which said the building was going to collapse. Immediately I told my flat mates that we should leave the house. I went upstairs to tell the occupants (Mrs Coker and her daughters ) that there were signs of imminent collapse. But she said ‘okay, are you the people downstairs? Thank you.’
“I then went to my room collected my certificate and the cloth I was to put on today for the interview. At that time, the caretaker came in. When he saw the cracks, he decided to take us to a flat to pass the night. Immediately I stepped outside, I heard a deafening sound and our part of the building collapsed. I just thank God that I heeded the voice of reasoning.”
I never knew the collapse will be so soon – Caretaker
The caretaker who simply gave his name as Ali, claimed he never knew the building would collapse this soon, when asked why he collected money from the new occupants in flat two. Vanguard gathered that following the cracks on the wall, the occupants had written several letters to the concerned quarters, only to be told that something would be done.
Mrs. Coker, a retired staff of Shell Oil Company, was one of the agitators for the reconstruction of the block. She was said to have refused to move to her other flats in the estate, until government came to effect repairs on the cracked building.
A community leader, Prince Prince Dimeji Gbadamosi, who expressed disdain over the incident blamed the government for the disaster.
He said: “This is a building that was constructed by government agent, Lagos State Property Development Corporation, LSDPC. You can imagine that the gauge of the iron is 16 m and 1 inch for a decking of two storey building . The builders, engineers and material testers must all be arrested and brought to book for causing the death of these two promising ladies.”
LG not aware of building state – Council boss
Chairman of the Ejigbo Local development Council, Kehinde Bamgbetan, who visited the scene to have a first hand assessment of the damage, said his office was never aware of the state of the building until the tragic incident.
He stated that the government and Lagos State Physical Planning and Urban Development would be inspecting other buildings in the estate that have similar problems and mark them for demolition, adding: “But I can not just take decision now on what to do with those affected because there has to be a meeting between the occupants and government. This building is supposed to be insured. If it is, then we will know the next step to take and if it is not, then we will ask Lagos Building and Investment Corporation, LBIC, what can be done.”
Six other blocks marked for demolition
As at 10am, block numbers M16,12, 23, 24, 15 and 11 were marked for demolition with the occupants given 24-hour notice to vacate the buildings. It was gathered that block M11 was only re-built last year. The 24-hour notice did not go down well with the affected occupants as they urged government to provide them with alternative shelter before they would move out.
One of them who simply gave his name as Funso said, “why would they just come now and ask us to leave in 24 hours. Where do they expect us to go. Why is government fond of this fire brigade attitude? Where were the government officials when letters were sent to them by occupants of the affected building? All we are asking for is to be given time to pack move out, after-all everyone knows how difficult it is to get accommodation in Lagos.”
Building distressed for over a year – Neighbour
A man who lives in the neighbourhood, Mr. Opeyemi Fagun, told Vanguard that they had noticed that the building was sinking gradually for about a year. He said the occupants had been warned to evacuate the building over a year ago when the walls started cracking, adding: “The building was already sinking, shaking with cracked walls and they had been warned to pack out. When we heard a huge bang and a cloud of dust, we ran out and heard screaming from inside the rubbles; so, we went to dig the people out with our bare hands. But our efforts were futile as the girls were already dead.”
Another neighbour, Kidochi Okonye, said that when they came out at about 12. 30 a.m. and saw what happened, they called the National Emergency Management Agency, the fire service and the Red Cross, but none of them came. He said that Red Cross officials eventually came by 6 a.m. when the dead sisters had been pulled out and they carried the corpses away.
One of the occupants of the first floor of the collapsed building, who refused to disclose her name, said that they came in by 9 p.m. on Tuesday and saw that their decking had cracked badly. “My brother went upstairs to warn the Cokers but they did not take heed to the warning and we decided not to sleep in that building. We were seated outside when we heard a bang and started screaming for help. It was so fast that I can’t describe it; I wish I could have helped them, but I just could not.”
Occupants ignored government’s safety warnings— LASEMA
Mr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, said that occupants of a two-storey building had ignored government‘s safety warnings. Oke-Osanyintolu who said the state government had conducted series of structural tests on the building explained that occupants had been repeatedly informed of its distressed state and the dangers in their continued habitation of the building.
He said: “This is the kind of disasters we have always tried to avoid, but unfortunately, some residents are not just co-operating with the state government at the expense of their safety. The results of the series of structural tests we conducted on the collapsed building showed that the structure was weak and not fit for habitation.
We had repeatedly warned the occupants of the dangers and asked them to leave but unfortunately, they ignored these warnings. This disaster is preventable. It would not have happened this way if the occupants had complied.”
1 trapped in another collapsed building
Meanwhile, one person, a worker was trapped in another collapsed building, yesterday, at Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, also in Lagos. The building situated at 174 Corporation Drive, gave way in the afternoon and the worker was said to have been trapped when a part of the building gave way. LASEMA boss, Dr. Femi Osanyintolu, also confirmed the development and said his team moved to the scene after a distress call by neighbours.
There was, however, a conflicting account about the condition of Mrs Coker, yesterday. While eye witnesses said the women gave up the ghost around 2pm. Dr. Osanyintolu said she was still under treatment “and the doctors have not officially informed me of her death.”