…A father cries: I have buried one dead child, the second missing, fate of the third uncertain in hospital
… Former school teacher speaks of warning signs of tragedy six months ago
…Being at work saved me and my family – Occupant of house
…Why we didn’t demolish the building before the tragic incident – State Govt
By Bose Adelaja and Esther Onyegbula
Around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Adedayo Adedoyin waved her 6-year-old twin son and daughter off as they took the short walk to their school, a few meters away from their home in Lagos Island.
An hour later, she heard anguished screams outside. A nearby building had collapsed, and her children were inside it.
Adedoyin raced to the scene, where a small crowd had gathered and a search had begun for survivors among the rubble of the ageing three-story building that had given way without warning, trapping residents, pupils and small goods traders inside.
The building had been marked for demolition at least three times, a buildings expert said.
The expert added that there were many similar buildings in the Lagos Island area that were also at risk.
“There are over 1,000 distressed other buildings of this nature in Lagos, which, if nothing is done to demolish them, they will also collapse, resulting in more calamities in the state,” said Kunle Awobodu of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild.
“The collapsed building had been marked for demolition about three times, but the building regulatory agency has not demolished it,” Awobudu said.
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The authorities began the demolition of such houses on Friday
Members of the Lagos Island community joined forces with rescuers from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) to pull mostly children out of the rubble.
Adedoyin hoped desperately for a glimpse of her children among those rescued.
Finally, her daughter Kehinde was pulled out. But she appeared unconscious and covered in dust as paramedics battled to revive her at the scene.
“She looked lifeless, and I was not even sure she was breathing,” Adedoyin said in her native Yoruba language.
At the Lagos Island hospital, Adedoyin was relieved that her daughter was out of the building, but her thoughts turned to her son, Taiwo, whose whereabouts she still did not know. It would be hours later that she would learn his fate.
“I was at the hospital when I heard he died,” she said.
She prayed fervently that her daughter recovered from her injuries.
Adedoyin said she was full of regrets about her decision to send her children to Ohen Nursery and Primary School, which they had attended since they were three years old.
Eyewitnesses said Taiwo was among the first corpses brought out from the rubbles while his twin sister, Kehinde, was later rescued and rushed to the hospital about 2.19 pm alongside a pregnant woman.
Others who were rescued alive were identified as Abdullahi Akinshina, Adedoyin Rukayat, Sanusi Rukayat, Suleiman Baraka, Rasheed Shukurat, Komolafe Saidat , Hassan Omotolani , Abimbola Faruq and Alabi Quayum.
Also on the list are Afolabi Rodiat, Olawusi Rokibat, Alawu Fayibat, Adedoyin Kehinde, Rasheed Labat ,Naimot Tise, Alabi Kabiru, Shashore Kabiru, Ogunsanwo Daniel , Owolabi Ayomide and Ayeni Faruo.
The exact figure of casualty had not been ascertained as of press time but some of the deceased identified were Taiwo Adedoyin, Aaliyah Akinshina and Fawad Abdulfatah.
Unfortunately, the building, which doubled as a school and residential building, also had shops occupied by artisans and traders and was said to have been, several years back, a toilet before it was constructed.
Lagos State Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, who visited the scene on Wednesday, said the school was not authorized to operate in the building, which was designed solely for residential purposes. “The building is not technically a school; it is a residential building that was actually accommodating an illegal school, so to speak, on the second floor,” he said.
“If I had known that the school was not supposed to be there, I wouldn’t have sent them there. We all thought we were doing the best for them. I am only hoping that my daughter survives,” Adedoyin said.
During the governor’s visit to the area, Ambode added that many houses in the area had structural problems and would be demolished.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday said he was saddened by the incident, which mostly affected children.
“It touches one to lose precious lives in any kind of mishap, particularly those so young and tender. May God grant everyone affected by this sad incident fortitude and succour,” Buhari said.
The President urged the state government to put in place measures to prevent such “tragic” occurrences.
Hundreds of families have been keeping vigil at the three leading hospitals in Lagos, where victims of the building collapse are receiving treatment.
Around 41 people have been rescued from the building, authorities said.
At the Lagos Island Hospital on Thursday, family members huddled around a list of survivors posted at the emergency unit.
Some breathed a sigh of relief as they saw the names of their loved ones on the list while others continued to hope and pray they would soon have news.
The total number of deaths from the incident remains as yet unknown, but it is sure to be more than eight people currently reported by emergency agency officials. The building was situated in a densely populated part of the city, which is home to around 20 million people.
Rescue operations ended at the site on Thursday afternoon as no more survivors were found, said Ibrahim Farinloye of the National Emergency Management Agency.
“We have searched all the debris and gotten to the last floor of the building; there are no more survivors,” he said.
Despite the claim by Farinloye and echoed by the General Manager of LASEMA, Mr Tiamiyu Adesina, that all occupants of the failed building had been rescued and operations concluded, controversy continued to trail the decision to call off rescue as some parents were still searching for their children as of the weekend.
Among those said to be missing was a girl, Mujidat Akinshina.
Mr. Muyideen Akinshina, whose three children attended the school, said Mujidat remained missing 48 hours after the incident.
Akinshina explained that he had buried one of the three children, Aaliyah, who did not survive after the collapse.
“I am now left with my last child, Abdullahi, who is two-year-old and still being attended to at the hospital ward”.
Lamenting the pace of the rescue operation, a resident, Bukola Bashira, queried why the government brought just one excavator to rescue people who had been trapped for over five hours.
“Now they have called off the rescue when it is obvious that some victims haven’t been found”, she said.
Also, the founder, Give back Nigeria, Jenifer Soba Pearse, frowned at the fact that the reach and rescue team had been called off while some parents were yet to see their children, whether dead or alive.
“The government has called off the rescue team, it now lies in the hands of residents to use shovels to dig and the more time spent the fewer chances of recovering victims”, she said.
A survivor tells her story
One of the survivors, who lived in the penthouse but escaped, said she and her husband had gone to work while their children had gone to school when the incident happened. According to her, the building was built over 20 years ago.
“It has been long since this building has been having issues. In 2014, the government of Fashola marked it for demolition which never happened. The building had been making a sound. We lived in a room and parlour in the building and we have clothes and other valuables like my school certificate and NCE which are buried under the debris. I have not been able to recover anything from the building except this plastic in my hand (waving the plastic)”.
The Itafaji building collapse, according to neighbours and a former teacher who knew the state of the building, was an avoidable incident if those who were in charge, especially the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, had deemed it fit to do the right thing since 2014 when the building was marked for demolition.
A former teacher at Ohen Nursery and Primary School, Salami Bukola, said, “I was a teacher in that school for six months. When I was working there, the building was always shaking and stones were falling off. At a point, I spoke with the proprietress, Madam Esther, about how unsafe the building was and how she urgently needed to relocate the school. “But she said she didn’t have money to relocate the school. I resigned from the school in December.
“There were signs that the building would collapse anytime as stones kept falling off the building. When I was a teacher at the school, we had about 30 pupils. The school had been here for years. As of the time I was teaching there, we had five teachers”.
Mrs Abiola Basiua, a neighbour, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard at the scene of the incident, said the collapsed building was not the only building in the area that had been marked by the state government for demolition.
“Government should demolish the buildings that have been marked or chase the occupants out. Government officials should stop collecting bribe and giving developers permit to renovate such buildings at the expense of innocent lives”, she said.
“I didn’t live in the collapsed building but everyone in this neighbourhood knew about the state of this building. Almost every year it developed one issue or the other. For over five years, this house had been having a problem. The pillars of the building were too tiny and the rims were small. Once in a while you see the demolition sign on the building, later you won’t find it again obviously because the owner had settled government officials. Lagos State government needs to check the activities of developers. They are the ones behind building collapse in Lagos; many of them don’t even have the professional requirement or relevant certification for building construction.
“Look at the little children, the leaders of tomorrow who lost their lives here. We are pleading with the government to help us. This is not supposed to have happened. If you want accommodation in this part of Lagos Island, agreement fees and commission are about N200, 000 before you pay the actual rent. “Look at the houses government is constructing at (nearby) Ilubirin; if they build something like that for the poor, it will do a lot of things in our lives”.
20 families homeless
The incident has rendered about 20 families homeless. Among them are the Ilegbes and Salawes who occupied adjoining buildings.
Last Friday, members of affected families insisted they will rather remain in the partially collapsed buildings that live in rented apartments.
One of them, Mojeedat Alapanla, said her forefathers acquired the building in which she had lived over 70 years ago.
“I was born in this house as a grandchild and my mother and I lived with my grandmother. Don’t ask me to quit because no place can be like home. This building was built over 70 years ago, so, how can we start living in a rented apartment?”
Another resident of Massey Street, Mrs Afolasade Moseere, said about 15 people were affected by her family, saying, however, that elders were meeting to fix the structures.
Another homeless victim, Sakirat Aweni whose aged grandmother escaped death by whiskers, said the 95 years old grandmother was observing rest when the building collapsed and she was trapped although sympathisers were quick to rescue her and took her to a public hospital where she was treated.
In the cause of this story, Sunday Vanguard noticed that many buildings in the area were distressed but only a few had been marked for demolition although some of the occupants said they had taken the state government to court over the matter.
Also, it was observed that some of the buildings were handled by developers and this has been attracting knocks from building experts.
A lawmaker representing Epe Constituency, Honourable Wale Raji, sympathized with victims of the tragedy as well as the state government.
He frowned at the incessant occurrence of such on Lagos Island, calling on the government to conduct a proper investigation on the incident.
The lawmaker, who has since visited the scene of the tragedy, said approval of schools should be seriously handled by the state government to avoid calamities of this nature.
He condoled with the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, asking officials of LASBCA to take their official assignment seriously.
‘Why we didn’t demolish the ill-fated building before tragedy’
The state government, on Friday, commenced manual demolition of marked buildings at nearby Freeman Street while the Acting General Manager of LASBCA, Engineer Omotayo Fakolujo, disclosed that several buildings will be demolished at Adeniji-Adele and other parts of Lagos Island.
He said demolition of such buildings was delayed due to pending court cases but stated that the state government had ordered the agency to commence the exercise and this is going to affect several buildings on the Island.
As at Friday, some residents whose buildings were yet to be marked were seen entertaining fear while others rushed to LASBCA’s offices for information.
NGOs providing relief
In a bid to assist victims of the tragedy, a faith-based organisation, House of Prayer, in collaboration with other non-profit organisations, provided relief materials, food and temporary shelter for victims.
At the scene of the incident, the organisation provided over three hundred plates of food and water for rescue agents on the ground, including the personnel of security agencies.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Project manager of the program, Olumide David, said they will be on the ground for two weeks catering for victims. “Right now we are putting on a temporary accommodation of tents for victims who survived. As humans, we need to assist the survivors as much as we can. We have collected the data of the victims including the ones in within neighbourhood to enable us to reach out to the real victims. We will be here for two weeks catering for the welfare of all affected victims”, he said
“We are expecting donations from churches and other organisation. We have created an online tag, #Nigeria Arise for Itafaji#.
Building collapse is frequent in Nigeria.
At least 100 worshipers were killed in a church in Akwa Ibom after the roof caved in during a Sunday service in 2016.
In 2014, more than 70 people died after a two-story guest house in a church collapsed in Lagos.