By Muyiwa Adetiba
We were in traffic along Kingsway Road Ikoyi when my driver who normally keeps to himself while driving, asked a most unusual question.
He pointed to a tall building which was being wrapped around with glass, and asked if it was for office or residence. Surprised, I took a second look at the building and answered honestly that I didn’t know but that it could easily be both.
I would have been more certain if it had been in the quieter, more serene part of Ikoyi – like Gerrard Road. As for my driver, he probably could not fathom why the rich would now choose to live within the limited confinement of concrete, glass and steel when they can afford to buy as much land as they want.
But the emerging high rise buildings in Ikoyi and in the busy cities of the world are a sign of the times. All over the world, the rich are opting for condos and penthouse apartments. What they lose in acreage, they gain in height and superlative luxury. In the case of Lagos, the daily influx of people to the former Federal capital and the exorbitant cost of real estate in that part of the State make a compelling case for sky hugging buildings in Ikoyi and Victoria Island.
When a plot of land costs about a billion Naira upwards, it makes economic sense for developers to maximise every square inch. Besides, these high rise residential buildings make a statement in aesthetics and beauty. Also living in the sky gives you a view that can only be imagined and puts you at a touching distance to the clouds. But they don’t come cheap. They average about a million dollars per apartment.
High rise residential buildings represent the future in the metropolis where the press of people keep increasing. They represent aspiration in a country where appearances are everything. But on Monday, a part of that future, that aspiration, came crashing down. A 21 storey building collapsed like a pack of cards trapping many people and killing some.
There have been talks of lowering of standards in government buildings and among some unscrupulous developers for a while. But one would hardly expect a building that is going twenty one stories into the sky and which would probably sell at over a million dollars per apartment, to compromise on the quality of its materials to the extent that it would collapse even before the final nail had been hammered into the obviously weak structure. My heart goes out to the innocent and hapless victims on the day – those who had no say in the decisions which led to the eventual collapse of the building.
And the unlucky ones who found themselves inside the building on the wrong day and at the wrong time. But I find it difficult to sympathise with those who were technical enough and knowledgeable enough to know they had compromised the integrity of the building and therefore the safety of lives. In this case, we can only thank God this didn’t happen when the building had been completed and there was full occupancy. It would have been more calamitous.
This is a disaster that should not have happened because every major building project is suffused with professionals – architects, soil experts, structural engineers, civil engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers. These people know what is required from training and experience. Then there are controls from the government.
The building materials are supposed to be vetted. Every floor on completion is supposed to be certified okay before the builder proceeds to the next level. On top of this, there is a set time for concrete to ‘cure’ before weight is added. These rules if followed, will make buildings to stand the test of time. What happened on Monday suggested a flagrant disregard of rules and controls. It smirked of complicity at different levels.
The officials of the building control know how to harass small time builders and developers over little technicalities. They think nothing of shutting down a project for years until the ‘right’ thing is done either in under hand payment or technical adjustment. What happened in this case?
Why were the officials who are able to reach the remotest parts of the State unable to get to such an imposing building in such a conspicuous part of town? How can they honestly say they were not aware of the structural deficiencies? And when a firm of structural engineers reportedly withdrew its services, wasn’t that supposed to be a red flag?
I know this will be the season for the usual blame game and I hope the State Government will unravel what really happened. But without prejudice to what must have happened between building and Government officials, I see this as a metaphor for some of the ills of the country. We as a people are not really interested in due process.
We revel in short cuts and will prefer to pay money in lieu of due process or for services rendered – or not rendered – as long as long as they allow us to cut corners. In almost everything we do, we will rather sacrifice the means for the end; the journey for the destination. And in many cases, that destination spells money.
We are a people that worships money almost at the expense of everything else. Yet in many areas of life, the journey is what matters. The destination is merely the icing on the cake; the crowning. Sometimes the destination can be anticlimactic if you have thoroughly enjoyed the journey –much like wooing a beautiful but coquettish lady.
For example, a journalist who doesn’t enjoy writing or doesn’t have concern for humanity, has no business in the newsroom. It is not just about becoming an Editor. A lecturer who doesn’t love teaching has no business in the classroom. It is not about becoming a Professor.
A doctor must believe in saving lives and just the money. Similarly, a building developer must be motivated by the desire to satisfy a need while offering something enduring to the society. He should get his fix from seeing how mortar and bricks come together to beautify the skyline.
He and his accompanying team of professionals should be proud of what they have put together; the strength of it; the beauty of it and the integrity of it. The Lagos State officials should be proud that what they have supervised will stand the test of time.
If we took more pride in the journey and not the destination then we would enjoy the ride more. If we took more notice of the means and not just the end, then we would not focus on money alone. It is when we focus on the destination alone that we sacrifice integrity and professionalism. In the end, we might lose everything -integrity, professionalism, money and lives. Like it happened on Monday with the unfortunate collapse of the 21 storey building. May the souls of the departed rest in peace.