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Who Will Save Our Children From Us?

By Iretomiwa Akintunde-Johnson

On the morning of Wednesday, 13 March 2019, pain and burning ire spread around the country with the news of the collapse of a three-storey building at No. 63 Massey Street, ItaFaaji area of Lagos Island. That unfortunate incident is now known as the ItaFaaji Building collapse.

The building housed Ohen Nursery and Primary School, with roughly 120 young children. Pictures, videos and stories of the collapse spread around the world at the speed of light. We saw heart-searing images of children being pulled out from rubbles as people tried to fix oxygen masks over their heads. Social media was rife with anger while discussions on the matter ruled the medium. We heard the story of a man whose 3 children died in the building. He was unable to pay their fees for a while and the children had to stay at home. Finally, he paid it on that fateful morning and his children eagerly resumed lessons with their classmates, but did not return to their father alive. Presently, that man’s life and all he has are in shambles. We failed everyone in that building, we failed every parent, family and friend that suffered a loss from the ItaFaaji building collapse.

Foundation failure occurred when the bearing capacity of the soil could not sustain the added structures on the building. According to reports, the Lagos State Government disclosed that the building caved in due to the addition of more structures on the existing building. Apparently, it had already been marked as distressed in 2017; which means that authorised persons unilaterally decided to add more structures to a building that was already ‘faulty’. And so, a building that had been adjudged as unfit collapsed!

“The additional load of penthouse imposed on the distressed structure added to the design capacity and loading being transferred through the structural members made the building heavier than the capacity of the soil which is the ultimate load bearer.” The General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) Olalekan Shodeinde, shared in his report.

Olalekan explained that the occupants of the building had actually been evacuated two years before and he alluded to the fact that the owner unscrupulously renovated the building and let it out to Nigerians.

Sadly, in the space of one week, there were three reported cases of building collapses in Nigeria – ItaFaaji (Wednesday 13 March, 2019); another three-storey building in Ibadan, Oyo State (15 March, 2019) and an incident of Demolition-cum-collapse on Egerton Street, Lagos (18 March 2019). In essence, Lagos alone experienced two cases of building collapse in one week.

Consequently, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, inaugurated a five-man committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the immediate and remote cause(s) of the Ita-Faaji Building collapse. The committee, chaired by Engr. Wasiu Olokunola, was charged with the responsibility of conducting an inquiry into the immediate and remote cause of the Ita-Faaji collapse.

Isn’t it amusing that we are conducting investigations into a building that was already earmarked for demolition and the causes for that demolition were already ascertained and made public?

Prior to the collapse, 149 buildings in Lagos were set out for demolition. The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye, expatiated on this a week after the collapse when he shared that 40 of the 149 structures were demolished in 2018.

“We were about embarking on the second phase in which we have itemized 30 structures to be removed before the building on Massey Street collapsed. Now we have scaled up the structures to fifty-one (51). The number is not restricted to Lagos Island alone. Of the fifty-one (51) buildings, no fewer than forty-eight (48) were on Lagos Island alone. So, the issue of monitoring within the axis and other parts will be stepped up to ensure that the government rid the state of distressed buildings,” he said.

The alarming part about this statement is the fact that Ita-Faaji formed a selection of buildings to be demolished, which means that there is nothing stopping any of the other 140 buildings marked for demolition around Lagos from falling in.

The biggest issue may not be a panel. Why did that building still have residents? Why was a school allowed to operate in a building that was to be demolished? Did the body responsible for regulating building construction in Lagos, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), not perform any follow-ups? Why didn’t anybody on the street who had seen the officials of the agency cordon off the building, say or do anything? Why didn’t anybody speak up?

A former teacher in the school, Bukola Salami, allegedly resigned following her feeling of insecurity as sounds were heard from the walls of the building. “When I was in the school, I used to hear sounds as if someone was throwing stones from the walls. The building cracks and the walls shake at times,” she said. If she heard the sounds, she probably wasn’t the only one.

Pulse.ng spoke to a bricklayer who had participated in the rescue but was too emotional to continue. “I had been on a bike and had passed the road in front of the house just seconds earlier, only to see the house sunk after I heard a thud and saw dust follow. I was going to work, but now, I can’t go anymore. I can barely watch this because the woman with the house beside this (collapsed) building had been complaining to its landlord that the house was ‘throwing stones.’”

The House was ‘throwing stones’ and nobody did anything? On a street that a building had collapsed two years earlier? On a street that had a school with over one hundred (100) students and nobody did anything?

Allegations have been levelled; there have been rumours of back channeling and corruption; quacks blamed and greedy property owners chastised, but no proactive solution in sight. In fact, the Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers, Lagos Chapter, Engr Lola Adetona, has vehemently stated that the engineer in charge of the three-storey building on Ita-Faaji is not a member of the institution.

Prominent Nigerians – Lagos State Governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar; Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and so many others expressed their sympathy and chagrin at the matter. Also, celebrities and private bodies rose to share aid and lend assistance to the victims. A day after the incident, MTN Foundation, the CSR arm of Nigerian telecommunication company, MTN Nigeria, donated medical supplies to the  Lagos Island General Hospital, where some children were admitted. Tiwa Savage, popular Nigerian pop singer felicitated with the survivor-children. These are salves, they will not treat the foundational wound that has begun to fester.

With all these voices, reports swirled that there were protests outside a Hospital where some of the collapse survivors were admitted. Parents were said to have sighted and requested aid from the Director for Search and Rescue, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), AkubeIyameh. Some parents were asked to pay as much as N150,000 before proper treatment would be administered. Allegedly, parents of the deceased were asked for funds to release the bodies of their wards whose lives were cut short by our gross negligence!

For how long will we continue to let our actions affect the ones whose lives haven’t even begun. Earlier in March, social media was filled with laughter when the video of a young girl in Sapele, Delta State, went viral.  The poor girl, Success, was sent home from school for not paying her fees in a school that was set up to educate the children for free. “No be say I no go pay o!”,  the young girl famously said. People laughed and spread the video around. She became a sensation and many offered to pay for her school fees. Well-meaning Nigerians and bodies also rose to help. But that in itself still was not the issue. The girl should not have been in that position in the first place. She should have never attended a school where the structures appear to be hanging off a pillar. She should not have thought that the options for not paying school fees were either flogging or being ‘pursued’ from school. So also, the lives lost in ItaFaaji should not have occurred. Those children should not have been having classes in a building that was ‘throwing stones’.

We need to stop failing our children repeatedly with no regard for their future or their present. We need to hold ourselves responsible for the pain we might cause these ones and ensure that these gross levels of negligence do not go unnoticed.

 

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