By Caleb Adebayo
AS is commonplace in Nigeria, we have again witnessed another avoidable tragedy that has claimed lives – including children – and left many heavy hearted. ItaFaaji was not the first of its kind, whether in Lagos or in Nigeria, or the first where children are losing their lives. In fact, one could easily read a news item from one of the earlier collapses and it will fit right into the story of ItaFaaji. Lagos, particularly, has become a hub for collapsed buildings.
Between February and August alone last year, the State witnessed more than five building collapses, each with lives lost. Only less than a year ago, in Oke-Arin area of Lagos Island and Olushi Street, Lagos Island, a three storey building and two storey building respectively, collapsed. Word has not been heard on the resulting consequence or clamp down by the law on the perpetrators.
The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has it that over 54 cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in 2017 across the country. There is a long list of collapsed buildings in which the perpetrators have not been brought to book.
The 2014 building collapse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations building at Ikotun has quickly become a forgotten issue, a tragedy that had claimed over 100 lives. With a long-drawn case ongoing in court against the culprits, no one knows how soon -or if ever at all- justice will be in sight. The Lekki Gardens building collapse of 2016 also claimed at least 30 lives, including a woman, her husband and their six-month old baby.
Ebute Metta happened in 2006: block of 36 flats housing about 180 people, after one had happened in the same vicinity in July 2013, killing a pregnant woman, a nursing mother, a one-year old baby, among others. In each case, the message from the State Government has remained the same. The building was marked for demolition, yet it was still standing with inhabitants living and working there.
That sounds something like a teenager crying to his mother that his three-year- old sibling threw him a blow. A classic case of absolving responsibility; proof that the government has failed and continues to fail at its duty.
If repeatedly, people can re-enter buildings that have been marked or sealed for demolition and continue to brazenly live there and do business there even when the result of such lifestyle has resulted in building collapses in the not-too distant past, then it is a statement to the whole world that we have a culture of ‘no consequence’, where nothing happens because of the singular fact that ‘this is Nigeria’.
We have little by little bred a culture where the culprit eventually walks free; where the only thing the government, clueless as it is, gives is what it knows how best to – condolences. If we did not have a culture of ‘no consequence’, ItaFaaji could have been avoided.
For a building that showed clear marks of sag and structural default and had been marked for demolition to be repainted and still standing, someone’s hand was greased, someone had done the greasing, and someone had turned a blind eye, caring less about the hundreds of lives the building housed, people who are supposed to believe in the power of the state to keep them safe. I say categorically that the Nigerian State is an expert at killing its own; adult and children alike.
This impunity must stop, this lawlessness must give way, this culture of no consequence must come to an end. We need to stop hearing about long-drawn court cases, or the government looking into it, or worthless political statements and begin to see people being prosecuted for the loss of even a single life.
Perhaps the very little value placed on the Nigerian life again affects the disposition of our governments at various levels to incidents like this. ItaFaaji was a completely avoidable tragedy, but now it is what it is. A tragedy that has claimed the lives of our own.
Another election has come and gone, people who care nothing about the people they lead sit at the helm of affairs, ready for another four years of stuffing their pockets and foreign bank accounts, yet low cost housing is a myth in Nigeria. Rather than build low cost housing for a population that is the poorest in the world, the government sets up places like Eko Atlantic, building again and again for the rich, throwing out the poor, forcing them into shanties and poorly structured buildings.
We celebrate in Lagos one of the world’s top five slums and not too far away sits the most expensive bourgeoise plots this side of the world- a ridiculous irony. Yet a large percent of the population is stranded because they do not have where to stay. Is it too much for the Nigerian citizen to ask for a place to lay their head that they can afford?
This too, points to a culture of ‘no consequence’. Since no one in government is touched by the arms of the law in any indictment on such building collapses (if there any indictment at all), they have no reason to tremble while collecting that bribe or looking the other way or embezzling the housing fundor offering half-hearted condolences.
Rather than think of a way to accommodate residents and partner with the private sector to build affordable housing, the government sits by and watches while the poor, lower and middle income class struggle to stay afloat, willing to live in a death trap while praying every day for God to keep it standing one more day, because they really cannot afford anything else.
This culture of ‘no consequence’ must stop in Nigeria, and for ItaFaaji, we must see people brought to book. ItaFaaji is an open indictment on the Lagos State government and the Nigerian government.