- Death toll rises to 35
Lekki Gardens consoles families of victims
Gboyega Akinsanmi and Chiemelie Ezeobi
The Lagos State Government wednesday disclosed that it had served the owner of a five-storey building that collapsed in Lekki on Tuesday a contravention notice for exceeding the approved number of floors.
Accordingly, the state government has asked the owner of the building, Messrs Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited, to suspend the construction of Lekki Gardens and report to the state police command within 24 hours.
By yesterday evening, however, the police had arrested the contractor, Mr. Odofin Taiwo, in charge of the construction of the semi-completed building and had started a search for its owner, who they said was on the run.
Meanwhile, rescue efforts at the site of the collapsed building continued wednesday with the extraction of 17 more bodies from the rubble, raising the death toll to 35, most of them construction workers who were squatting at the site.
The building came crashing down in the wee hours of Tuesday morning during a heavy downpour accompanied by strong winds.
Speaking on the contravention notice, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said yesterday that it was discovered that the collapsed building had exceeded the approved floors and was subsequently sealed by the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA).
He said: “It has been discovered that in a brazen act of defiance and impunity the owners of the building criminally unsealed the property and continued building beyond the approved floors until the unfortunate incident of Tuesday which has led to a loss of lives.”
He warned that the state government would no longer tolerate the action of unscrupulous owners and builders who challenge its supervisory control, thereby endangering the lives of Lagosians.
The commissioner added that the state government “has consequently directed the suspension of work at the site and ordered the Lagos State Police Command to cordon it off as it is now a crime scene”.
He disclosed that the state government had also ordered for integrity tests “to be carried out on every other construction project which has or is currently being handled by Messrs Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited in the interest of public safety”.
Also, the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, strongly advised all directors of Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited to submit themselves “to the Lagos State Police Command within the next 24 hours in their own interest or face immediate arrest”.
He warned that it would no longer be business as usual, stating that any developer either on existing or new building projects that fails to comply with building and construction regulations or attempts to subvert the law would henceforth face criminal prosecution.
He commended the operatives of Lagos State Emergency Authority (LASEMA), the Lagos State Fire Service, Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS), Red Cross, National Emergency Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Building Control Agency and the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) for their prompt response and remarkable intervention after the building collapsed.
However, rescue workers continued to evacuate more bodies from the site of the collapsed building yesterday. THISDAY learnt that by the time they rounded off their search, 17 more bodies had been dug up from under the rubble, bringing the death toll to 31.
As of Tuesday night, the official number of casualties and survivors stood at 18 and 13 respectively but rose steadily yesterday.
Speaking to THISDAY, the South-west zonal spokesperson of NEMA, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said the additional 17 corpses were recovered between 7 am and 6 pm.
“It has been a team effort down there. We have all been working since Tuesday morning to get all those trapped out. It was a feeling of elation when some of them were brought out alive from under the debris yesterday (Tuesday).
“We did not give up hope and we kept searching for more survivors until we reached ground zero to make sure everyone under the rubble was brought out,” he said.
Also, LASEMA General Manager, Michael Akindele, said the deceased persons were taken away by the State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit (SEHMU) to the mortuary.
On the survivors who were taken to the hospital on Tuesday, THISDAY gathered that they are fairly lucid and still undergoing treatment.
One of the doctors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said some had been stabilised, while the fate of others still hung in the balance.
One of the survivors, who spoke to THISDAY, Tunde Busari, said he was sleeping when the building fell on him.
According to him, when they noticed that the building was faulty three months ago, they had drawn the attention of the contractor.
He said he had fixed the bent beams by double piling them and they had gone back to work without further hassle until the building collapsed on Tuesday.
Also, the body of Abba Ali, a Borno indigene, was released to Igagi Mohammed, a representative of the family, after proper documentation.
The LASEMA general manager who confirmed it said Ali was released to his family by his agency for proper burial according to Islamic rites. He will be buried at Marcas cemetery, Agege.
Following the state government’s directive on the site, the police arrested the contractor yesterday.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Dolapo Badmus, a Superintendent of Police, confirmed the arrest.
She said: “Yes we have arrested the main contractor. He was arrested and taken into custody. The owner of the building ran away but we are also on his trail.”
In its first statement since the building collapsed, the management of Lekki Gardens said yesterday that the minute the incident occurred, it mobilised people to the site to assist the rescue workers of the emergency agencies.
“The exact cause of the incident is not known at this time. All of our incident response procedures have been initiated, our support services have been mobilised and relevant authorities have been advised.
“As regards the said building, investigations are being carried out to ascertain the cause of the collapse. In line with our usual safety standards, all sites are closed off by 6 pm daily and it is mandatory that every worker leaves at that time.
“The company is cooperating with the National Emergency Management Agency, Lagos State Government, Fire Service and Lagos State Police to speed up rescue efforts.
“Investigation is already underway to ascertain the identities of those affected as it is not company policy for site workers to take shelter in uncompleted buildings.
“Lekki Gardens is a reputable residential property development company and has successfully completed and delivered over 6,000 units of houses across Lagos, Ogun, Rivers States and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the past four years and most of them already occupied.
“The management and staff of Lekki Gardens sincerely sympathise with the families of those who lost their lives. The company will do all in its power to ensure that those injured are fully supported,” it said in the statement.