COLLAPSED-BUILDING: Mother of dead sisters recounts experience

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By EVELYN USMAN & BOSE ADELAJA

IF only Madam Coker had heeded her neighbours pleas to vacate her apartment before the midnight of last Wednesday, perhaps she would have saved her two daughters from untimely death.

The family of three occupied Flat 6, Block M20 of Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, Isolo in Ejigbo Local Council Development Area of Lagos State. The  two sisters, in their 20s, were sent to their early grave when the two-storey building caved in around 12 midnight.

The building was part of a block of six flats which residents of the area claimed had shown signs of distress. Moreover, it was marked for demolition in February following a rainstorm that led to the collapse of several buildings in the area, including the biggest public school in the estate. Before that fateful day, Madam Coker was said to have acquired another flat at Oja Bus-stop which was undergoing  repairs.

Neighbours warned the Cokers

Around 11pm of Tuesday November 20, one of the occupants of Flat 1, 24 year-old Niyi Amodu, a native ofKwaraState, had the premonition that the building may soon collapse. He immediately alerted his younger brother Mayowa and some squatters to vacate the apartment and seek refuge outside. Once outside, they noticed that the building had cracked in several parts and they decided to alert other neighbours of impending danger.

 

Mrs. Christiana Coker…denies ever being told to vacate the collapsed building

They immediately raised alarm which attracted occupants of the remaining flats who then ran outside, except the Cokers who were not seen. They, therefore, went to knock on the door of the Cokers’ apartment around 11.30pm to inform them of the situation. By this time, the two sisters Toyin and her younger sister Bukola, who returned home that day after her National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, were fast asleep but their mother was awake and was told of the impending danger.

According to Mayowa, a former head boy ofOke-AfaSeniorComprehensiveHigh School, the woman did not see any reason to vacate her apartment. Rather, she started pleading “the blood of Jesus”, saying she was not ready to disrupt her daughters’ sleep. He said: “We knew her action was dangerous but we could not force her and all of us stayed far from the building leaving our belongings in the house.

Few minutes later, parts of the building collapsed and we still tried to persuade this woman but she refused, saying God would preserve them till the following day and they would make a move. Suddenly around 12 midnight, the entire building collapsed and the Cokers started shouting for help but it was too late as they were already trapped inside.”

We rescued them alive – Eye witness: According to residents of the area, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Olanrewaju, the Cokers were rescued alive by sympathisers around 2.30am but the sisters could not survive the shock and died few hours later, while their mother was in coma and receiving treatment in the hospital. Mayowa told Vanguard that Niyi was half naked until their parents came to clothe him the following day. He said: “My brother was in boxers until our parents brought clothes for him few hours ago.” He lamented that several items were lost to the disaster, adding: “My brother is an Industrial Technology person who lost several laptops to the disaster. The laptops were brought for repairs and I don’t know what becomes of the situation now.”

Help came late, six hours after: One of the sympathisers, a Sudanese, Mohammed Ahmed, who rushed to the scene after hearing the alarm raised by his neighbours said the victims might have escaped death if rescue agencies had arrived early.  He said: “The incident happened at midnight and we called the Police immediately. The Cokers were rescued alive around 2.30am but help did not come until 6am.” What is left of the building has since been demolished by the State government while the occupants have sought refuge elsewhere.

Mass relocation of residents

Sequel to the collapse of a two storey building that claimed two sisters and left their mother injured which left to the 48 hours ultimatum issued to occupants of eight buildings marked for demolition on Church Street, Jakande Estate Oke-Afa, Lagos, occupants of the affected buildings have been moving out their property from the area. Some of the residents were, yesterday, seen bringing in trucks, pick up vans to evacuate their property while others were ruminating on how to relocate. Already, about 48 families were affected as each building comprises of a block of six flats. Some of the occupants of the collapsed building have taken refuge with either relations, religious organisations and neighbours.

I have moved to Ayobo, may go to my village soon – Survivor: A survivor, Mudasiru Adepegba, told Vanguard that he has relocated his family to Ipaja-Ayobo to squat with an old friend. He said: “The incident was sudden and my state of origin is far fromLagos. Already, my wife has lost her job due to proximity but I want to see how we can cope, else, we shall relocate to Ondo State before the Yuletide.”

I am going to my parents at Sango – Survivor: Another survivor who claimed anonymity said he will go back to his parents at Sango, noting “but I shall miss my friends at the Estate.”

We have rented another apartment – Residents of marked building: Some of the affected families at Block M19 who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard they have rented another apartment at Bucknor Estate. They said: “My sister, it is expensive to rent an apartment around here. We had foreseen this occurrence and rented an apartment at Bucknor while waiting for our rent to expire in this place. This quit notice by the government has geared us up.” The affected structures were constructed 30 years ago during the era of one time Lagos State governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande.

We will demolish after ultimatum – Govt

Meantime, Lagos State Emergency Management Authority, LASEMA, boss, Dr. Femi Osanyintolu has said there is no going back on the demolition exercise.  He said: “We have issued them ultimatum since Wednesday and the buildings will be demolished as soon as the ultimatum expires. Since February, the owners of the structures have been asked to take up insurance scheme to avoid being stranded when cases like this occur but they were adamant. The administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola does not want loss of lives and property and we are trying our best to adhere to this.”

Widow discharged, debunks claim of knowledge about building collapsing: Mrs. Christiana Coker, the 68-year-old widow whose two daughters died after a two-storey building  located in Low Cost Housing estate otherwise called Jakande estate, in  Oke-Afa Isolo area of Lagos, collapsed at the early hours of Wednesday morning, was yesterday discharged from the hospital, with bruises at her back, right hand and knees.

The widow who is still in the dark about  the demise of her children, described as a lie claims that she was alerted before the building caved in. She could, however, not give a detailed account of how the incident which has plunged her into a second phase of mourning occurred but simply stated that she only woke up next day to find herself in the hospital

TheOgunStateborn Shell Petroleum retiree in this brief interview with journalists shortly after she was discharged, said: “I can not tell what happened. I just met myself in the hospital. I slept overnight, only to wake up next day to see myself in the hospital with bruises. I was shocked at first. I looked round and thought I was dreaming because I slept on my bed the previous night. In fact it was just like a dream.”

Asked  why she did not vacate the building when she was alerted of imminent collapse as claimed by one of the occupants, she exclaimed, “it is a lie! How can he tell me that and I will still remain in the building with my children? What happened was that I protested against a wire that was always bringing spark of light downstairs. It was disconnected by officials of the Power Holdings Company ofNigeria  from the flat downstairs, only for them to get a local electrician to fix it. I told them to go call PHCN officials to fix it. That was all. Why would they say they told me and I said blood of  Jesus, it is a lie.”

Also asked if she did not notice signs of cracks before the building caved in, she responded, “Yes, there were signs of cracks on the wall but it was on the other wing. When I saw it, I went to the tenants and alerted them. When they did not heed, I went to report at the Lagos Building Investment Company LBIC”.

Residents protest extortion by LSBCA: Residents of the zone whose buildings were marked for demolition protested alleged extortion by officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LSBCA. The officials, as gathered, are demanding a fee of N25,000 from each of the marked buildings before a test to ascertain the condition of their buildings would be conducted.

Conducting of test

One of the residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “When they came they started marking the buildings without first conducting a test to ascertain the state. When we first protested, they said we should pay N25,000 for them to conduct the test. But we argued that since it is a state government exercise why should we pay. The amount was later reduced to N2,000 per flat. Our question is, what are they going to use the money for? Is it going to the state government’s coffers? We were told some of the staff said the money is for them to buy soft drinks in the process of carrying out the exercise”

They also protested the short notice given to them to vacate the marked buildings, accusing the state government of being insensitive to the plight of the common man. One of them, a widow who identified herself as Mrs Nkechi Egwuonwu, lamented: “They just came and started marking our buildings without even carrying  test on them. As if that was not enough, they gave us 48 hours to vacate. I am a widow, I do not know where to go from here with my children. This is happening barely one year after my house was gutted by fire. I lost everything in that fire. Just when I am trying to pick up the pieces of my life, this has happened”.

Expert faults govt’s quit order: Mr. Kunle Awobodu, past chairman of theLagos branch of Nigerian Institute of Building, NIOB, and current national publicity secretary of the institute has noted that the decision of the state government that buildings around the collapsed building should be vacated must have been informed by evidence of structural defects in the buildings. The building expert said the decision was in order as the purpose is to prevent further calamity or tragedy.

According to him, the government must have carried out integrity test on the buildings to ascertain their stability or otherwise before the decision that the affected buildings should be vacated. “Some buildings show signs of dilapidation from outside, which can inform the government to carry out integrity test on them to ascertain their stability to further determine whether they are still habitable or not.

Also, there must be evidence of structural defects in a building before the government can ask the occupants of the building to vacate it for their safety. So, the decision of the government was in order, as its aim is to prevent eventual calamity”, he noted.

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