By  Tayo Ogunbiyi

WE were together the day before the tragic event. No one had the slightest premonition that calamity was lurking. As he sauntered into the meeting room, he made straight for a chair at the extreme end.

I teasingly offered him a chair near mine. Without any hassle, he made his way back to where I was and sat close to me. Intermittently, we chatted in between the meeting, speaking in low tones. Soon, the meeting ended.

I recalled asking him which particular part of Ikoyi he was working at. He described it and I promised to visit him whenever I visited the Island. After exchanging pleasantries, we went our different ways, hoping to speak, as usual, on the phone in the course of the week.

That was on Sunday, October 31, 2021. The following day, Monday, November 1, 2021, I went to work, feeling quite enthusiastic and optimistic. You know the way it is with us in this clime.

We approach every new week, month and year with the eyes of hope. We believe they come with fresh opportunities and possibilities. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, on that particular November 1, it didn’t.

The television set in my office is usually stationed on one of the local news channels. This is logical, considering my kind of job. Once in a while, I stay glued to the set, nosing for breaking news. Having completed an assignment I was working on, I gazed at the TV, which is always on mute mode to avoid distraction. Behold, there was breaking news. It read thus: “Many trapped, as building collapsed in Ikoyi”.

Instantly, a wave of uneasiness crept into my head. For a minute, I couldn’t think straight. Did the news say Ikoyi? My brother and friend, Oladunni Ogunfuwa, an engineer with whom we were at a meeting the previous day, works in a construction site at Ikoyi. Though I did not know which particular part in Ikoyi, he had told me it was a massive construction site, which he once boasted would redefine building in the country.

Could it be the one that just fell like a pack of cards? No, it couldn’t be! I consoled myself. Swiftly, I put a call through to his number and behold it was switched off. My head ached! As I sat miserably on the chair, I thought of what to do next.

Yes, I got it! I called his wife, who is like a sister to me. “Have you spoken to your hubby today?” “No,” she said. I told her to help keep tabs on him and reach out to me as soon as she was able to speak with him.

About 30 minutes later, the wife called. This time, her voice was quite exasperated. “Buoda mi (my brother; that’s what she calls me), what is this I am hearing? I heard that the building where my husband works has collapsed”. All of a sudden, I had a bang on my head. I was dazed. I saw stars! That, indeed, marked the beginning of a painful experience that I never wish anyone go through in life.

As I put this piece together in the early hours of Tuesday, November 30, 2021, we are yet to see or hear any news about Ogunfuwa’s whereabouts.

He has not been confirmed among the dead. Neither has he been confirmed among the survivors. But what is certain is that he was in that building on that fateful date. Oh! How fate plays cruel jokes on people!

According to the gist gathered from a few workers at the site, who were fortunate to be spared by divine interventions, he was outside the building before the sad event took place. He was alleged to be paying for the meal of some of the personnel working for him at the site.

As he was about getting set to have his meal, he reportedly got a call that the proprietor of the fallen property, the now late Mr. Femi Osibona, had arrived at the site and was about to have a meeting with all the engineers.

On hearing this, our informant said, Ogunfuwa quickly abandoned his meal and dashed into the building. Minutes later, according to the informant, there was a loud bang and the towering building crashed.   

Oh! What about if he had insisted on finishing his meal? The Ogunfuwa that I know wouldn’t have even thought of that. He is (note my choice of tense, and it is deliberate) such a diligent chap; always going the extra-mile to add value. He is very reliable, honest, dutiful and creative.

We were actually told about another engineer who was allegedly with him around the same time he was informed about the meeting with the proprietor. According to the informant, the other engineer insisted he would not join the meeting until he was done with the cigarette he was smoking.

That, indeed, was his saving grace. Could it be that it was the cigarette that saved him? Or was it providence? Why exactly do bad things happen to good people? What exactly is the real meaning of life?

If a man so diligent in his work could fall victim of such tragedy, what then is the real essence of industry? Does all life’s struggles really matter? The rumour mills have it that the relations of the fallen proprietor of the collapsed building, Femi Osibona, are already fighting over his properties. Really? If it is true, is that all that life means to them? Shouldn’t they have learnt better lessons about life from the ugly episode?

Meanwhile, when last I saw the 11-year-old last child of my brother, she asked: “Daddy (that’s what she calls me), when is my Dad coming back? I looked at her and my heart ached!

Ever since, I have murdered sleep.

Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Lagos.

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