National Consultative Front

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The title of this article is not original to me. It was the title of a lovely article that has remained dormant in my subconscious for more than four decades. (Good articles do that to me).

The legal scholar, Professor Akin Oyebode, who penned the article that had the title, used to write regularly for the Punch newspapers in the 70s where I was learning my trade. His column was one of the few I looked forward to reading. I will not be surprised if he doesn’t remember this article unless it was one of his favourites. Creative people tend to detach themselves a little from previous works in order to create fresher, and hopefully better ones. In any case, this is a salute to him.

‘Unsafe at any height’ was written after a plane crash. In the article, the writer delved into the history of plane crashes; the fear – and the panic – each plane crash caused. Backed by statistics, he led his readers into realising that humanity with its adroit use of science and technology, benefited from each plane crash because it learnt from every crash. So, rather than being scared off air travel, there are airports where planes take-off every 30 seconds today.

There are planes in their hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of different sizes and technology, flying the skies at any given time today. And because every single plane crash invites an inquest, the result is that plane transportation is the fastest, yet most convenient mode of international travel today. And in terms of percentages, probably the safest. This percentage of flights to crashes and the fact that safety is a constant work in progress, make us all feel safe whenever we board an aircraft.

    The title ‘Unsafe at any height’ came up for air again from my subconscious following the panic that attended the collapse of the 21 storey structure in Ikoyi Lagos recently. As to be expected in this age of the social media, so many conspiracy theories came up regarding the immediate and remote causes of the collapsed building including, but not limited to, deliberate sabotage, contrived bomb detonation and even witchcraft.

On the other hand, many so called experts came up offering technical and not so technical explanations. The religious angle was not left out as some who saw the reported video of the late developer worshiping on the highest deck, opined that he was daring or even mocking God because he had failed to do the needful.

A blogger even posted that God was angry because he denied a Muslim a job. Such self-righteous judgements on a man who was no longer around to defend himself!  For the records, I have since heard of and met, people of different religious persuasions, who had visited the site in the past and could have been there on the ill-fated day but for the grace of God.

In other words, just as Muslims and Christians were reportedly killed in the collapse, people of both religions also escaped death. One writer used the opportunity to write on his perceived marginalisation of Yoruba Muslims. Yet there was a time, not too long ago, that Yorubaland had four of six governors as Muslims and there was no uproar. Lagos State, Nigeria’s richest State, has had Muslim Governors in succession and there was no uproar. It even had a Muslim/Muslim ticket during the beloved Jakande years and there was no uproar. If these are signs of marginalisation, then I’d like to be marginalised.  Some people for reasons best known to them, are uncomfortable with the religious tolerance in the South-West and seem bent on widening the hitherto narrow religious gap.

The collapse of the building has made some people to question the wisdom of living in a high rise apartment. I know of someone who had paid for a luxurious high rise apartment that is nearing completion. He has been given a completion date failing which the developers would accommodate him until completion. Now, he has become so apprehensive that he is thinking of getting his money back. The main deterrent is that the move would make him lose some dollars. I know of another who had been shopping around for a pent floor apartment to purchase.

With children married and living in different parts of the world, their seven bedroom Ikoyi house had become surplus to requirements. And a pent floor apartment fitted the man’s upscale taste smugly. But the Gerrard Road incident has now made him to have second thoughts. These people refer to the Yoruba saying that questions the wisdom of using your own money to buy death (f’owo ra iku). But the reality is that with population growth, and the cost of real estate going through the roof, going up is the way to go in certain cities of Nigeria and of the world.

Are high rise buildings unsafe after a certain height? Is there a relationship between height and safety? I think not. I believe a badly planned, badly constructed building is unsafe irrespective of height. A safe building starts from the design stage through to the soil type, foundation, quality of materials used and professional supervision. High rise buildings tend to have more professionals getting involved at every stage of their development than low buildings.

So the dogma, if there is any such thing in this instance, should actually be ‘safer after a particular height’ because more efforts are traditionally put into ensuring safety after a particular height. Besides, the uproar that followed the collapse of the Gerrard Road building would not have been so if it had been a two or three storey building. Just as the uproar that follows a plane crash cannot be compared to that of a truck accident on an express road. Neither can we compare the level of professional interest and inquest that will follow. So a building like a plane, should be safer the higher it gets.

It is hoped that Lagos State and its monitoring agencies would have learnt their lessons. In the construction industry, especially in high rise buildings, the price of negligence can be death as we have seen. Every plane crash makes the airline industry safer. So should it be with the construction industry. Whatever went wrong that made the 21 storey building to crumble like a pack of cards must not be allowed to go wrong again in any building high or low. The confidence of people in high rise buildings, must be rebuilt – no pun intended – because it is the future. There is no escaping it.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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