The sudden termination of 44 human lives occasioned by the collapse of a 21-storey building under construction on Gerard Road, in the affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos is yet another horrifying tragedy that will forever deface the building sector in Lagos State in particular and Nigeria in general. The catastrophe is more pronounced because it could have been averted if only the responsible state government authorities had done their job with the due diligence and care required; and strictly adhered to laid down rules and regulations for such high rise building. If they had so performed, the developer would have had no choice but to comply. That might have saved the pathetic loss of innocent lives, the huge investments running into billions, as well as the national embarrassment.
The incident clearly signposts that the official attitude towards building regulations is still largely carefree; coupled with compromise and sharp practices on the part of the regulators, which have given room for developers to cut corners with resultant frequent building collapse disasters wrecking the society. The burden of checkmating recurrent collapse of structures is on the Lagos State Government, which should enforce its building regulations. Any compromise is fraught with disaster as the current calamity has shown.
Though, the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has in a swift reaction, suspended the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr. Gbolahan Oki, to register government’s outrage over the disaster, the matter goes beyond that and should not be handled in a typically Nigerian fire brigade manner, which have been employed in previous buildings disaster without any positive outcome to prevent recurrence. Like government’s much publicised outpourings on the incident, the suspension is medicine after death; as the crux of the matter, which is enforcing building regulations, remains untouched.
While the suspension of Mr. Oki might signify that the business of enforcing building regulations will no longer be business as usual, it will be more expedient for government to ensure that ugly incidents of this nature are permanently avoided.
The magnificent-looking Ikoyi luxury structure suddenly collapsed on November 1, 2021, trapping scores of workers and personnel, including the developer, under a mountain of rubble of concrete and iron rod mesh. And as if to drive home a sour point, another two-storey building under construction at Osapa London in the Lekki-Ajah axis of the metropolis collapsed the next day.
At the last count, the death toll in the Ikoyi collapsed building stood at 44 with 15 survivors pulled out and hospitalised. Governor Sanwo-Olu said 49 families had filled the missing persons’ register about a week ago, meaning that some people are still unaccounted for. According to him, the register has helped the state government to reconcile the details of victims rescued alive and also medically account for bodies recovered.
Unfortunately, the developer, Mr. Femi Osibona, perished in the disaster, thereby foreclosing certain questions he would have answered, especially, with regards to the controversy over the number of floors approved for the building. The burden of proof now rests with the state government. Insinuations that approval was given for 15-storey building but that the builder exceeded his limit to 21-storeys need to be clarified.
The poser, and related others constitute the onerous assignment of the panel set up by the state government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the building, which should form the basis for action. The state should weigh its actions and ensure that they are rational, scientific and sustainable. A well-thought out systematic approach is what is needed to stem the tide of building collapses.
Among other knots, the panel is to determine what caused the building collapse. Several factors are being fingered among which is failure of the regulatory role of the state building agency, LASBCA and the Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory saddled with laboratory tests and services on soil, concrete, steel, chemical, calibration, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), and geo-techniques for buildings, among others.
Is it true that the structural engineer pulled out of the project due to inability to guarantee the integrity of the high-rise structure allegedly due to sudden change and deviation from the initial design? Was there an order halting work on the construction site or ordering that the site be sealed off, which was reportedly complied with for about four months before it was jettisoned? Certainly, something went wrong with the construction which was not corrected. Evidently, official negligence is at the root of the disaster and those responsible should be sanctioned appropriately.
The panel should also clarify the role, if any, played in the tragedy by the use of substandard building materials, lack of comprehensive subsoil investigation, illegal conversion or alteration of existing structures, and use of quacks or unskilled builders.
The collapsed 21-storey building was a wing of a three-tower estate, which was designed to be the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was essentially designed to include residential facilities, maisonettes, flats, duplexes and penthouses, open recreation area with outdoor television, gym and swimming pool, and was slated for completion in 2022. The collapse of one of the towers has naturally raised doubts on the integrity of the other two towers. This needs to be re-established, otherwise, they should be pulled down.
The Ikoyi disaster is one too many in the long string of ugly building collapse incidents that now define Nigeria, particularly Lagos. The rampant collapses are a reflection of impunity, greed, arrogance of power and sheer lawlessness manifested and facilitated by the authorities.
For instance, since 2016, a list of 40 buildings identified as distressed and or abandoned in different parts of Lagos was published for demolition. Till date, most of those buildings are still standing precariously as if waiting for disaster to occur. The state government has not been able to muster the needed political will to pull down the buildings in order to prevent unnecessary loss of lives. What is at play is failure of governance.
It is saddening that every now and then, the country is confronted with recurring issue of building collapse. The time has come for the Lagos State Government and indeed all governments nationwide to rise up to the challenge and find a lasting solution to a monster that is wrecking havoc on the people. The authorities cannot run a modern Lagos mega-city in a manner devoid of diligence.