Jabutu: Bread of sorrow at Christmas (2)


In the concluding part of this two-piece report by LADESOPE LADELOKUN, stakeholders in the construction industry identify the causes of the rising wave of building collapse and offer suggestions on how to curb the menace

 

• How my father’s death in Cotonou saved me

• We’ve not seen the body of Engr Ogunfuwa

• No revelation that my son’ll die-Pastor-father of 34-year-old

• Experts: Tragedy was avoidable

 

 

Trapped in the prison of hope, Ola Ogunfuwa’s loved ones still wait anxiously to see his corpse. That is two months after unrelenting attempts to retrieve his body at the Mainland Hospital, Yaba, Lagos without luck.

 

Like dozens of other victims of the infamous Ikoyi building collapse that left Jabutu, a small community in the Papa area of Ibafo in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State in tears, but disappeared under the rubble of the 21-storey building when it crumbled on November 1,2021, the pastor and engineer had no idea he had embarked on a journey of no return on that day.

 

“His children are demanding to know the whereabouts of their father. But we don’t have the evidence to tell them their father is dead. They got samples for DNA test from the brother and over two months, they tell us they are still working on it. We did not see him in the mortuary.

 

We did not see him at home. We cannot find him anywhere,” his colleague and bosom friend, Pastor Emmanuel Omotosho, told Sunday Telegraph. Narrating how Ogunfuwa’s death marred his Christmas and how, according to him, many bodies are still not found ,Omotosho said: “He was my friend.

 

We were always together. My wife celebrates her birthday on Christmas day. Engineer (Ogunfuwa) would come with his wife from wherever they were to celebrate with her and my family. He did that every year. In fact, I would be the one to tell them to go home whenever it was getting dark. His wife came alone this year.”

“Many bodies are still not found. I went to Mainland Hospital, Yaba on several occasions. Someone I suspect should be the director said there were unidentified bodies but the DNA test will provide a report on every individual. And up till now, we’ve not seen the result.

Except a few people that were called to come for their corpses and were given N250,000, there are still many victims that are yet to be identified.”

“Even if a DNA test confirms he is not part of the said unidentified bodies but we can see the hands or legs or any other part of his body, then that will give us the assurance that the person we are looking for is now dead.

 

And that will make us quit the search for his body. We have to see something to show that he’s truly dead. I called the service line two days ago and I was told to be patient because they are still working on it. Working on it since November 1,2021? After over two months?”

 

For Pastor Ilesanmi Idowu, there was no spiritual revelation that suggested that his son, Ayo, 34,would terminate his sojourn on earth under the Ikoyi rubble when he left Jabutu junction on November 1,2021.

 

According to the pastor: “Christians regularly pray to ward off evil and that is what I do as a messenger of God. But God has the final say on every prayer request. He only reveals what He wants you to know; He cannot be queried”, he said. He described his son as a very hardworking young man, who had built his house before he was 34, noting that his wife and four children now depend on assistance from friends and family for their daily needs.

 

“Ayo was a hardworking young man. He was always struggling to make ends meet. If he was not getting jobs regularly as a bricklayer, he could, for example, decide to get paid N2,000 for a job that is worth N4,000 or decide to work with his Okada(motorcycle). The wife is in my son’s house now, crying. She cannot go out.

She currently depends on assistance from friends and family,” he said Ilesanmi, however, dismissed the claim that FourScore Homes, the firm that constructed the 21-storey building that crumbled, paid each artisan N10,000 per day.

The pastor said some artisans that were dismissed before his son and others were contracted alleged that it was the regular practice of the company that engaged them to change workers, who protest non-payment of their allowances. “I don’t think there is a company in Nigeria that can pay casual workers N10,000 a day.

 

When I went to Ikoyi to witness what happened to my son, some people said they were once workers at the site and they left when they felt used. They said it was the style of the owners of the building to make people, for instance, work for four weeks and pay them for only two weeks.

And when they protest, they are substituted with another set of workers. May God touch the hearts of the powerful.” He added that the Ikoyi tragedy could have been averted if agencies of the Lagos State Government were alive to their responsibilities.

The bereaved pastor said there was need for governments to show love to the governed by paying attention to issues bordering on their safety to halt the scale of havoc caused by frequent cases of building collapse in Nigeria. “News reports say substandard materials were used. We shouldn’t be discussing that now.

 

The relevant government agencies ought to have discovered that and prevented such incident. If the government loves its people, it should monitor these things. There are many houses without approval. How can you do that in a sane country? I hear 15 floors were approved. What were the regulators doing when it was raised to 21?

How my father’s death saved me from death

 

But for the death of Abiodun Towanu’s father in the Republic of Benin on Friday, October 29, 2021, he would have found a space in one of the 14-seater buses that left Jabutu Junction on Monday, November 1,2021 for Gerrard Road, Ikoyi,Lagos.

His partner, Mr Idowu Fakile, popularly known as ID, had informed him of a job opportunity in Ikoyi. Abiodun told Sunday Telegraph that he was indeed set for the Ikoyi journey on Monday until he got a call that his father had passed on on Friday. He said that automatically cancelled his Monday journey. Abiodun said Mr Idowu Fakile, who also got consumed by the tragedy, must have tried to call him but there was no way he could reach him because he was far away in the Republic of Benin.

 

His words: “ID told me there was work at Ikoyi. He asked if I was interested and I answered in the affirmative. But on Friday,

 

i got a call that my father died. So, I left that same Friday for Cotonou, Benin Republic. Meanwhile before I left, I had informed my wife that I would be back on Monday.

So, understandably, she got agitated when she couldn’t reach me days after the day I told her I would return, thinking I must have found my way to Ikoyi. So, when I returned to Jabutu on Friday, a week after I left and four days after the incident at Ikoyi, my wife fell and wept profusely. But I understood.” Continuing, he said: “My father’s death saved my life. ID would have called me to join them on the bus to Ikoyi if my father had not died. I couldn’t have ignored the call from ID.”

 

Meanwhile, a reliable source, who pleaded anonymity told Sunday Telegraph that ID’s first child had told him to stop work since October because she wanted him to “look fresh” for her wedding that was scheduled to hold on November 27,2021. But the November 1 incident cancelled it. “She was always saying she wanted daddy to look fresh for her wedding.

 

She told her father not to worry about money and food, promising to provide his needs. So, when she heard what happened, she wept uncontrollably.”

 

My husband got buried two days to Christmas – and the tears have not dried

 

Ordinarily, Christmas, in the eyes of many is celebrated with pomp and gaiety.

 

Christmas lights and trees adorn homes and streets. Children, in their innocence, yearn for sumptuous meals and new wears. But dozens of the families of the victims of  the Ikoyi building collapse, who are Jabutu residents, had a joyless Christmas because death stalked the community and harvested their loved ones, leaving them distraught. Sunday Telegraph had reported how residents of Jabutu community died under the debris of the collapsed 21-storey building.

 

A resident, Adenike Ajayi, had told how her husband, Temitope Ajayi, otherwise known as TMoney, borrowed N20,000 from her to transport 33 people to Ikoyi to work on site but 31 ended under the rubble. When Sunday Telegraph visited Jabutu after Christmas and New Year celebrations, she poured out her out on how sorrow had become her permanent companion.

 

“It was exactly a year on January 1,2022 that we relocated to our house from a rented apartment. I remember we invited friends and neighbours to celebrate with us on January 1 last year. That moment replayed in my head again on January 1st and I couldn’t help but shed tears.

 

Christmas was also not different. We buried TMoney on Thursday, December 23. So,it was not possible to have a joyous Christmas when I buried my husband two days earlier. At a point, I had to leave home and go to my shop because I needed to be around people. I was crying alone in my room.”

 

Not the first

 

Before the Ikoyi building collapse, Lagos had recorded major cases of building collapse. But stakeholders have bemoaned government’s tardiness in prosecuting culprits. In September 2014, a guesthouse within the Synagogue Church of All Nations(SCOAN) collapsed. At least,115 people were killed. Also in July 2016, a four-storey residential block of flats collapsed, leaving 25 people dead. In 2019, a three-storey building in the Ita Faaji area of Lagos Island crumbled, killing 20 people.

 

According to a recent analysis by the immediate past President of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Mr Kunle Awobodu,at least, 461 cases of building collapse occurred in Nigeria in the last 47 years. Lagos alone, he said, accounts for 295 cases, which represents 65 per cent of the cases of building collapse in Nigeria in 47 years.

 

In a speech he delivered at the Builders’ Conference and 51st Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Institute of Building(NIOB) in August 2021, Awobodu said substandard building construction was a juicy, lucrative business for ‘astute’ selfish developers in the informal sector, noting that lack of accountability and lack of prosecution were the bane of building collapse prevention. “Quackery thrives where justice is not sought in the law court.

 

Sentiment begets negligence. Collapse of building is a rare occurrence in advanced countries such as the United States of America. “A condominium, The Champlain Towers South that collapsed in Miami, USA on June 12, 2021 has attracted serious legal suits on premises liability, negligence among other issues. But in Nigeria, how many building collapse cases (incidents) have been taken to court and seen through the judicial process,” he said.

 

On the need to save building practice from charlatans, Awobodu added: “The need to protect building practice from quackery had been actioned since 1754 BC by Hammurabi, the 6th King of Babylon. Building codes 228 to 233 in the Babylonian law apportioned and stipulated various punishments for inappropriate building construction. The most severe of the Babylonian laws on building failure attracted death penalty.

 

“Recently, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, expressed concerns over the prolonged case of the collapsed building of the Synagogue Church of All Nations where 115 occupants, including South Africans perished. The 7-storey building collapsed on September 12, 2014 and the Coroner’s Inquest commenced on October 13, 2014. “Justice delayed is justice denied.

 

Recently, I was informed that the main person that constructed the collapsed SCOAN building, a petroleum engineer (name withheld) and one of the defendants in the case passed on in 2019.”

 

Enough blame to go round

 

Commenting, the Chairman of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Mr Ayo Adejumo, argued that everyone is culpable. In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, he said: “We are all culpable. The professionals are culpable. The government is culpable. Members of the public are culpable. When I say professionals, of course, professionals also compromise when it comes to everything relating to building construction.

 

Right from title documentation to granting development permit and, of course, the government, the agencies in charge of quality control, appropriate planning authorities, materials testing agencies and building control agencies.

 

“When I say members of the public, what is happening around them? How many times have they informed the government of an illicit development they see in their area? They should serve as the eye of the government. They can do whistleblowing when they see illicit construction in their area.”

 

On what stakeholders should do, the Head of Communications, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Oladapo Soneye, said: “If have money and I want to build, I have to do due diligence to engage professionals and not quacks. I also need to stand my ground and let the professionals know that due process must be followed. “And then, I will also ensure that when I get the quotation from the professional, I will give adequate money for materials.

 

One of the problems we are having is that project owners are not giving adequate money for purchase of enough materials. In addition to that, there should be proper monitoring. If you give a project to a professional, do you go back to monitor?

 

Do you go back to ask questions?

 

“We cannot sow the wind and not expect to reap the whirlwind” – Panel on Ikoyi building collapse

 

After almost six weeks of investigating the cause of the Ikoyi building collapse, the panel set up by the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos handed in its report on to the governor on Wednesday, January 5,2021.

 

According to a statement by the Chairman of the panel, Toyin Ayinde, the incident was “rooted in the collapse of values, morals and ethics which we need to work on as a nation.” It read: “Having spent approximately six weeks on this assignment, we now wish to make our submission to the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who constituted the Tribunal.

 

“We need to note, however, that building collapse is rooted in the collapse of values, morals and ethics which we need to work on as a nation. “We cannot sow the wind and not expect to reap the whirlwind. Therefore, ethics and due diligence need to be restored.

To execute this assignment successfully, the tribunal visited the project site for a general assessment; coordinated activities of the consultants, who conducted tests on the site; received and reviewed documents from relevant MDAs; conducted 35 interview sessions; interrogated 91 persons; requested and received a total of 21 memoranda; and accessed the home of the late C.E.O. of Fourscore Heights Limited, Mr. Olufemi Osibona, with a view to gathering any other useful/relevant information to support the tribunal’s fact-finding mission.

“The tribunal further received submissions from professional associations, groups and individuals that helped in formulating the recommendations proposed.

 

“The tribunal had the opportunity to access the home of the late CEO of Fourscore Heights Limited, in the presence of members of his family, where some documents that were scanned helped in gaining further insights into the case, particularly the processes that led to the construction and eventual collapse.

 

“The tribunal also hosted a representation of the developer’s company comprising two legal firms. It is on record that in their first and second appearances, the lawyers had expressed the fact that they were external lawyers to the company and had little knowledge about the case in hand.

 

“We were, however, later to receive a request from the same lawyers (five weeks after the collapse) to make an independent investigation in view of a suggestion, to them only, of possible sabotage. “The tribunal was of the opinion that pursuing such a course was equal to mocking all of those who lost their lives in the collapsed building, and for which there had been no closure yet.

 

The lawyers were advised to seek permission from the state authorities. “We are, therefore, pleased to present to Mr. Governor the report of the inquiry carried out, containing the various findings, and the recommendations, which we hope the government would be able to implement in order to bring a lasting solution to building collapse, not only in Lagos State, but nationally.

 

“We, therefore, seek protection as members of this tribunal to be seen as having discharged this assignment to the best of our ability, without sentiments, and that we have acted based on the documents that were made available to us, as well as the information gathered from all the witnesses who appeared before the tribunal.”

Way forward

Until quacks, be they individual or corporate entities, involved in collapsed building cases are brought to book to serve as deterrents, according to Awobodu, building construction work will remain an attractive business for charlatans, but a dangerous phenomenon for the Nigerian nation.

 

However, the norm in every organised and law abiding society or nation, he said, is provision by the government, of building codes, enforceable through legislative backing, which codes establish minimum standards for building project delivery processes inclusive of construction.

 

Awobodu explained that, “this is the reason why procrastination in making the National Building Code operational throughout Nigeria encourages lawlessness. “Risk is deeply embedded in construction.

 

Hence, those who are engaged in construction work must be well trained and should keep to the approved standards. Builders themselves must upgrade their knowledge to be able to perform ultimately on site. “Professionals in the construction industry are also advised to keep to their roles and know their limitations.

 

For instance, while architects and engineers focus on building designs, builders should concentrate on building production management. Town Planners, Land Surveyors, Quantity Surveyors and Estate Surveyors and Valuers also play important distinct roles in the building industry.

 

The building delivery process flourishes on team work. However, each professional should be made accountable in his or her area of competence and practice. This is because construction is not a tea party,”he said.

 

Also, baring his mind on the importance of an insurance cover for workers on project sites, Soneye said there was need for the government to mandate that every worker be insured before big projects get approval.

 

“The problem we have is that the development of budget for the project may not have factored in the issue of insurance. If the government mandates that before an approval is given for big projects, every worker must be insured, people will do it. Just like you cannot drive on Nigerian roads without insurance cover.

 

The least you have is a third party insurance. If that is also a condition for property development, it will be considered. Then, insurance companies must be ready to pay claims promptly. The complaint we have is a great number of them don’t pay promptly. “








 

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