IKOYI BUILDING COLLAPSE: WHY LAGOS STATE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NEITHER BE JUDGE NOR JURY
It is no longer news that the collapsed 21-storey building under construction on Gerard Road, in the elite Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos has so far led to the death of more than forty people.
Recall that the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had swiftly suspended the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr. Gbolahan Oki, to apparently register Government’s outrage over the incident.
Apart from suspending Mr. Oki, the Lagos State Government also set up a panel of inquiry to investigate and possibly unravel the immediate and remote circumstances leading to the building collapse.
The six man panel is chaired by Toyin Ayinde, President, National Institie of Town Planners. Other members are: Akintilo Idris, Yinka Ogundairo, Godfrey Godfrey, Bunmi Ibraheem and Ekundayo Onajobi as Secretary.
The committe was set up on November 4th and it has a 30 day mandate. The Governor however said the panel could ask for more days when the 30 days time elapses.
The Deputy Governor, Obafemi Hamzat, who was also present at the inauguration, said the panel of inquiry has the mandate to unravel the circumstances surrounding the collapsed building with a view to bringing all culprits to justice to avert a recurrence.
Are Lagosians excited about this panel? What are stakeholders expectations from this panel? Most importantly, does it look like the recommendations of this particular panel can stem the tide of future building collapses in the supposed center of excellence? I'm afraid the answer is an emphatic NO. Some of us have been around long enough to know the trends. Let us go back memory lane a bit.
On the 13th of March, 2018, a three storey building collapsed at Ita Faaji, Lagos Island, killing four people and injuring scores. On the 23rd of the same month, a building at Salvation bus stop, close to Adebola house, Allen, Ikeja collapsed, killing scores. On the 29th of the same month, a three storey building collapsed at 24, Daddy Aladja street, Oke-Arin, Lagos Island, killing two and injuring many.
On the 30th, March, 2018, a one storey building collapsed at 9, Abeje street, Agege, killing two people and injuring scores. On the 5th of August, 2018, another building collapsed at Ilushi street, Lagos Island. Fortunately, no casualty was recorded. On the 13th of March, 2019, a building collapsed at Ita Faaji, Lagos Island killed twenty and injured more than forty people, to mention but a few.
According to Government records, 59 per cent of the collapsed buildings in Lagos State in 2019 were existing structures while 41 percent were under construction; seven of the cases were full collapse and 10 were partial. This is just as at least 145 buildings have collapsed in the Lagos State between 2007 and 2021. A total of 213 persons are known to have died in Lagos building collapses between 2014 and 2020.
While the State Government usually takes possession of the building sites, sets up panels here and there, there is no known conviction of a single person anywhere. Lagosians, with all sense of honesty do not expect this one to be different. In fact, it is very likely that another building will come crashing before this committe submits its report. Then, we all be on to the next one.
Records from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, indicates that over fifty-four cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in 2017 across the country. Thirty three building collapses were recorded in Lagos State and twenty two in Abuja in 2012. Seventeen buildings collapsed in Lagos and Twenty in Abuja in 2013. Thirteen buildings collapsed in Lagos and two in Abuja in 2014.
The project developer, Mr Femi Osibona, unfortunately died in the incident, thereby foreclosing certain questions he alone would have been in the best place to answer. Questions like: Why there was no insurance for such a gigantic project, how many storeys were approved or real reason why the Engineering company originally handling the project pulled out.
There are concerns over maintenance of standards and structural integrity issues. Stakeholders would have love to know why he was doubling as a developer and a construction company, contrary to what the extent laws says about such massive projects.
The man is no longer here to answer these and some other questions but an interview he granted to a leading TV Station in the not too distant past is an eye opener. In a live studio interview on TVC on the 6th of August, 2021, the late developer said a lot about his personal life, his foray into property business and specifically, the ill-fated Ikoyi high rise building.
When asked what roles the Government is playing in the actualisation of the dream, the late billionaire said these: "Yes, let me say at this point that may God bless, our Governor, Babajide Sanwoolu, if every governor in Nigeria was like him, I will advise businessmen in the diaspora to come and invest in Lagos. This is a man that wants businessmen to move forward and also want the State to move forward.
"You know he knows about properties very well, so he understands how the property market goes. He understands what you need. He’s not there to frustrate you. There was a time we had a problem and we went to meet him and you know, he just sorted it easily for us.
"I was shocked because I have heard some people talk about him that the man is very supportive as long as you don’t do things that are against the law. He has given us good ground play. They don’t frustrate us at all.
"Our Business, 360 is on Gerrard Road. You know Gerrard Road is still the most expensive road in Africa. I’m sure you know in Gerrard Road, they want us to do Highrise, but luckily for us. We are the only one that has a driveway that keeps you away from the noise of cars on the road.
"We are actually building a 7-Star Hotel. They are flats, but we make it feel like you are living in a 7-star hotel. Everything that is in 7-Star Hotel, you will have there. But the only difference is that you own the property.
"We have not advertised and we have sold more than 50%. People who are buying from us are the people who have bought from us in the past. Here in 360, we have security, exceptional view, offices, clubhouse, and open recreation area. Practically everything you have in a 7-Star hotel."
These statements raise many questions in the minds of rational people. How many floors were originally approved? How many was floors were developed before the building crashed like a pack of cards? Who approved an alteration of the original plan? Who should ensure compliance in such matters?
Is it true that the Structural Engineer, Prowess Engineering Company pulled out of the project due to the developer's inability to guarantee the integrity of the high-rise structure allegedly due to a sudden deviation from the initial design? How come no one raised an alarm when Prowess pulled out? But since the matter is currently being investigated, this writer will say less.
These are salient questions begging for answers from the Lagos State Government. While it is at it, it might also tell Lagosians while most of the over forty buildings which failed an integrity test in 2016 are still left dangerously standing across various locations in Lagos.
These are the reasons why the average man on the Lagos street does not expect anything positive from the panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government. These disasters are seen as basic reflections of the low moral levels of our so called elites. They make and break the rules with reckless abandon.
How lawless, greedy, arrogant and rascally can we be as a people, especially when it has to do with the lives of innocent people? These carnages are quite avoidable. It has become so rampant it is now grossly embarrassing.
Then again, how does any sane person expect justice in a case like this? The Lagos State Government obviously has questions to answer too. Last time I checked, she collects and appropriates the land use charges, tenement rates and all the development levies on these buildings. It is her responsibility to ensure that an avoidable disaster of this magnitude is prevented in the first place.
Apart from the fact that the State Government has not demonstrated enough responsibility ab initio, there are questions it needs to provide answers to as well. This case directly indicts the Lagos State Government, whether she is charged or not. Therefore, she should not be the judge, the jury and the executioner in a case where she should be a defendant.
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