Ayo Oyoze Baje
“We promised to be open and thorough in investigating the cause of the collapse. In this regard, I have established a high-level professional investigative body made up of experts outside of the government. ‘
-Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State
“As a rule, engineering geologists are not involved in building foundation studies and property developments beyond simple soil investigations. Many of the buildings, however, are on poor, faulty ground; those with expansive soils, sulphate soils, collapsing soils and weak rocks ”
-Prof. Siyan Malomo, former director general of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency.
The poignant and thought-provoking statement, as posted in the opening quote above, was made when the distinguished civil engineer Prof Technology, Ota, May 2, 2012. It is, therefore, painful to note that the warnings of the impending building collapse are still years after the warning from Policy makers and even some professionals need to be considered.
Beyond the blame game, the bottom line has more to do with the value we place on human life and its complete protection. And all because life is precious, priceless and irreplaceable. We must therefore do everything possible, taking proactive and pragmatic measures to reduce its wanton waste by the agents of greed.
The recurring ugly decimal place of the building collapse was on Black Monday the 1. Since then, there have been stories of grief, tears and blood.
In fact, at the time this piece was put together, no less than 38 lives were wasted. Some of the victims lucky enough to be alive, including a youth corps member, Zainab Oridamola, shouted at family members for the rescue. And it took some of these family members to protest before 10 young men were selected to join the rescue team. That was after the Southwest Zone Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, asked the agitators to quiet down.
Perhaps they would all have been alive if construction company Prowess Engineering Limited hadn’t listened so deaf to the voice of reason. It had reportedly warned the facility’s owner, Fourscore Heights Limited, of the dangers.
That was in February 2020 when it withdrew its services on the grounds that it no longer shared the same vision with its client as described in the letter entitled “Subject: Gerrard Terraces For Fourscore Limited” signed by the company’s CEO , Muritala Olawale. Specifically, Prowess stated: “We could not guarantee the integrity of the third (broken-in building) from something above the fourth floor”.
Simply put, you hate preventable deaths of any kind. Unfortunately, they happen with an alarming frequency every day, especially here in Nigeria. When the building under construction collapsed, media reports feared that around 50 workers were trapped under the rubble. Rescue workers had to work under floodlights all night and use the eight available cranes for the rescue operation, according to the general manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu.
Critically important here are the lasting lessons that we should all learn from the clearly avoidable tragedy, the best strategies to reduce the recurrence of such incidents because such incidents have occurred before. According to Malomo, the scourge of the collapse of buildings and bridges in the country could have long been prevented if geologists at the universities who are actively involved in soil research were called in before such projects were tackled.
He referred in particular to the important roles and contributions of geologists at the then University of Ile-Ife, now called Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for the preparatory work before the start of the federal capital territory. This commitment formed the basis for the location of the solid infrastructure with buildings, roads and airport in Abuja.
According to NGSA reports for more than a decade – between June 16, 1990 and January 29, 2012 – approximately 500 preventable deaths were recorded during the reporting period, while over 1,000 victims of varying degrees of severity were injured. Between then and now, a number of similar incidents claimed more lives and sustained many more serious injuries in various locations across the country. This simply means that we have said more than done to contain the tide of impending building collapse.
Some other factors responsible for this are poor building practices and choice of building materials, including the quality of cement, iron bars, and laterite. But it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that ground texture plays a significant role in all of this. For example, Lagos, as an aquatic environment with a sandy bottom, would definitely require more solid building materials than for similar structures in the rocky hinterland. We have to learn from history.
Recall that on March 20, 2019, it was reported that then state governor Akinwunmi Ambode set up a committee of five to conduct a thorough investigation into the immediate and distant cause (s) of the collapsed three-story building in Massey. 63 road in the Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island, which claimed the lives of 20 people, including school children. The LASG also directed the owner, the developer of the ill-fated property, to appear before the panel or face a sanction.
According to former Commissioner for Spatial Planning and Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye, residents should help the government by exposing every building showing signs of need across the state.
Indeed, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu deserves credit for breaking off his official trip to Rome to return and show his condolences to the families of the victims of the collapsed building. That shows the humanistic quality in him.
In addition, he has set up a six-person independent investigation team with the President of the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners, the President of the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners, Mr. Toyin Ayinde, as chairmen, while Ekundayo Onajobi, a lawyer in the private law firm, is the secretary. His mission is to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the 21-story building’s collapse. The panel had 30 days to submit its report. It’s also worth noting that the list includes a professional builder, city planner, structural engineer, and lawyer – all from the private sector.
The tasks of the committee also include determining whether the building regulations have been compromised by the builder, his contractor and the regulatory authorities. The director general of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Gbolahan Oki, has already been suspended indefinitely by the governor.
According to Deputy Governor Dr. Kadri Hamzat, who visited the site of the collapsed building, will henceforth subject the buildings under construction in Lagos to the structural integrity test in order to take appropriate action.
The proposal of the state police commissioner to deploy and train more rescue workers and equip them with the appropriate equipment for faster intervention should also be taken into account.
It is of the utmost importance to Sanwo-Olu to ensure that, as he promised the victims’ families, the full wrath of the law is inflicted on anyone who has been compromised. This will surely deter others who have a similar tendency to change the rules of material gain.
Oyoze Baje is a writer and public affairs analyst based in Lagos
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