But for providence, Tunde Busari, a construction worker, would have joined the body count of 34 casualties in the recent collapse of a five-storey building, owned by Lekki Gardens. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports

“I was buried under the collapsed building. I almost gave up hope but I kept hearing the sound of the machine and I knew they have not forgotten me. I don’t know what else to say. It’s God that saved my life because I was on the ground floor,” those were the words of 27-year-old Tunde Busari, a construction worker.

Busari was one of the 13 survivors of the collapsed five-storey building belonging to Lekki Gardens, at Chisco Bus stop, opposite Oando Filling Station, at the Ikate Elegushi area of Lekki, Lagos. He was not only a survivor, he was the last survivor to be brought out from the rubble.
His rescue was nothing short of the miraculous because he was rescued at a point when rescue operations were winding up for the day.

It was around 5.56pm on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, when he was rescued by rescue workers at the site, who had at that time undertaken 14 hours of laborious work trying to excavate and rescue construction workers and their families who were buried under the rubble of the collapsed structure. As at 5pm, they had already rescued 12 people and recovered 18 bodies.

Suddenly, the excavating machines stopped and in the silence that ensued, a voice was heard calling for help. It was the voice of 27-year-old Tunde Busari crying for help. It was a miracle. He was buried under the rubble for over 14 hours and as fate would have it, the last person to be brought out alive.

He was quickly rushed to the standby ambulance belonging to the Lagos State Government where he was given initial first aid treatment whilst they ran a quick check on him. After he was sedated, the 27-year-old welder from Ibadan, was diagnosed with spinal cord injuries. Still lucid albeit weak, he gave THISDAY an insight of what happened.

According to him, they were all sleeping when the building collapsed and fell on them. He said they ordinarily would sleep outside because of the heat but that fateful Monday night, they were all forced to go indoors because it rained heavily. That decision proved fatal.

But Busari said the building would not have collapsed if the proper thing was done. According to him, when they noticed that the building was faulty three months ago, they had drawn the attention of the engineer simply identified as Taiwo to try bent beams. He said the engineer had fixed the bent beams by double piling it and they had gone back to work without further hassles until the building collapsed.

Like Busari, like scores of other survivors of the collapse, were brought out from the rubble, some with minor bruises and others with major ones necessitating movement to the hospital. One of the rescued was Hassan, an indigene of Kaduna State, was heard shouting ‘God is Great’ when he was finally dug out.

One of the survivors, Frank Ogoli, an iron bender,
said, “We usually sleep outside but that day, we all went inside because it rained heavily. We sleep in the building because they hardly pay us.”
One of the survivors who was simply identified as Femi said, “They are still owing me for the job I did for them.

When I came to the site on Monday, it was with the hope of getting my money. Initially when we started the work, we were paid N3,000 daily but later it was changed to N3,500 weekly. Now I didn’t just get my money, I also have a wound on the head to show for it.”

The construction of the five-storey building, which is one of the two buildings undergoing construction in the same compound, started about four months and had 30 flats each. THISDAY gathered that the building collapsed at about 4.30am following a heavy thunderstorm, accompanied by a heavy downpour that brought down the building, burying scores underneath.

A Devastating Collapse
Like a pile of baldly stacked cards, the five-storey building belonging to Lekki Gardens fell on Tuesday, and that day, no fewer than 18 persons including a mother, her baby and 16 adults were killed.

While 12 persons were rescued alive, they had sustained varying degree of injuries, even as scores were still feared trapped under the debris of the Horizon 1 Estate, Lekki Gardens. That same Tuesday afternoon, the casualty rate was 15, which was the total figure of deceased persons brought out from the debris of the collapsed building as at 4.41pm.

Immediately news of the incident filtered out, emergency responders drawn from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Federal and State Fire Service, the Police stormed the area. The emergency workers with the help of local rescue team, were at first able to reduced one body and rescued four survivors from the debris as at 7.30am.

By 7.49am, two more bodies were brought out dead, even as the figure for survivors remained at four. As at 8.08am, another dead body was brought out and another rescued, increasing the casualty and survivors rate to four and five respectively. Another survivor was rescued at about 8.48am and at about 1.11am, the total figure of casualties and survivors remained at seven each.

The figure later stood at eight survivors and seven dead as at 1.20pm and later rose to nine survivors and seven dead at 2.27am before it again rose to 10 casualties at 3.11pm. At about 3.40pm, the death toll had risen to 11 persons and as at 4pm, the body of a middle aged woman clutching her infant son was brought out amidst tears by onlookers. At exactly 4.30pm, two other persons were brought out alive but before they could be taken to the standby ambulance, they breathed their last.

In an interview with THISDAY, NEMA South-west spokesperson, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, had said rescue operations would continue the next day until they get to the ground floor.

He said, “Those rescued alive were first treated by medical personnel attached to the Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) before they were moved to Lagos General Hospital. The bodies of the dead ones have since been deposited at the mortuary.”

Speaking on those still trapped underneath the building, the leader of the Hausa community in the area, Babangida Bello, said they have been able to identify those that are still trapped. He said, “I was informed that the building my brother works in collapsed and so I rushed to the scene. We have been able to identify the names and number of those that were trapped under the rubble. They are Umar, Ado, Alu, Muhammed, Jemilu, Sabiu and Saminu.”

While the injured persons were taken to the Lagos State General Hospital, where they are currently being treated, policemen from Ajah were deployed to ensure security of lives and property at the site. Also at the scene was the Commander, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Tunde Disu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who alongside his men provided security. They were assisted by other security personnel drawn from the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC), Lagos State Traffic Management Authority( LASTMA) and the neighbourhood watch.

Also, LASEMA General Manager, Michael Akindele, said the deceased persons were taken away by the State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit (SEHMU) to the mortuary. He said rescue operation will continue with the three excavators still being deployed as well as other search and rescue equipment. This is just as health workers from the Lagos State Ministry of Health carried away the bodies of the deceased to the morgue, where they will be kept until they are identified by relations.

That same Wednesday, rescue operations ended at 7:20pm with a joint press conference from LASEMA, NEMA, Police and NSCDC. LASEMA’s boss, Michael Akindele said that 95 per cent of the victims are foreigners, adding that their greatest challenge was in calming their relatives down on Tuesday.

He said, “As we speak now, the time is 7:20pm. Search and rescue exercise on the collapsed five-storey building of 12 blocks of flats is hereby concluded and the physical record we have is 13 lives rescued and 34 dead bodies. We had full complement of all responders on board to ensure smooth response and recovery. It is a sad story, but notwithstanding, our job as responders is to ensure that we mitigate such that all necessary actions and sanctions shall be taking by the state government.

“The greatest challenge we had was on Tuesday and it was because the families of the deceased and those rescued, 95 per cent of them are aliens. We have people from the North and East, but majorly, those that we saw in this complex were not Nigerians. Some are Togolese and others Beninnois.

Hence, the understanding and the emotions carried over, as if they can do better, which they will not do. The state government will address the public on the situation of the foreign victims. Today (Wednesday), we had a very smooth operation. I must commend the Nigeria Police, RRS, Civil Defence, Red Cross, NEMA, LASAMBUS and all others for a diligent job.”

In his remark, NEMA South West Director, Yakubu Sulaimon said rescuers were initially denied access on Tuesday morning but security operatives brought the situation under control, adding that while they do not have a list of occupants in the building, the state government will take appropriate action on the other buildings marked.
As at now, some of the relatives of the victims are still making efforts to identify their dead bodies, because autopsy is yet to be conducted.

Lagos State Government Reacts
In a preliminary report, the Lagos State Government said it had duly served the owners of the building a contravention notice for exceeding the approved floors. Thus, the state government 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.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, who disclosed this in a statement said, “It has been discovered that in a brazen act of defiance and impunity the owner of the building criminally unsealed the property and continued building beyond the approved floors until the unfortunate incident of Tuesday which has led to loss of lives.”

He said 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, adding 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.

“The state government directed 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.

Meanwhile, the Eti-Osa Local Government Area Executive Secretary, Hon. Alaba Ajayi and the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Government on Transportation, Prince Olarenwaju Elegushi, said all machineries of government were deployed to fast track the rescue work.

Police Finally Arrest Contractor, MD
Also, the Lagos State Police had on Wednesday arrested the major contractor in charge of the said structure. The contractor who was identified as Taiwo Odofin was arrested based on the confessions and statement of the construction workers, who testified that they alerted him about the structural defects but he chose to simply double pile the beams.

When contacted, the Lagos State Public Relations Officer, Dolapo Badmus, a Superintendent of Police, had confirmed the arrest. She said, “Yes we have arrested the major contractor. He was arrested and taken into custody. The owner of the building ran away but we are also on his trail.”

Their manhunt for the MD yielded result the next day as he was arrested following the directive by the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. He was identified as Mr. Richard Nyong. Although details of his arrest was still sketchy, THISDAY gathered that he was arrested on Thursday evening. Before the MD’s arrest, the police had earlier declared the 34-year-old wanted as he was said to have fled to evade arrest.

Confirming the arrest, SP Badmus said, “Yes, I confirm that Mr. Richard Nyong, the 34-year-old Managing Director of Lekki Gardens of 167 kushenla Road, Ikate Elegushi, has been arrested. He is in custody and will soon be charged to court.”

A Day in Court
True to their word, the police arraigned the duo at the Ebute-Metta Chief Magistrate Court on Friday and they were kept in custody pending the conclusion of on-going investigation. The court also ordered that they be kept in police custody at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Panti, Yaba, for the next 30 days.

Magistrate Folashade Botoku, who granted the remand order, held that same was in the interest of justice and public safety, after police prosecutor, Godwin Osuji informed Magistrate Botoku of an ex-parte application seeking to remand the defendants beyond the constitutionally prescribed period, saying the application was brought in the interest of justice, public safety, public order and morality.

He said, “In view of the circumstances of this matter, it will be impracticable for us to conclude investigation in two days as there are so many agencies involved and so we have come to court in order not to run foul of the law.”

Responding, counsel to the defendants, Bode Olanipekun orally applied for the bail of his clients, urging the court to order that the police should release his clients but that they should make themselves available to police when needed.

But Osuji, who argued otherwise said an application for bail could only be filed after the defendants must have been arraigned on a criminal charge, adding that at the moment, the police was yet to file any charge against the defendants and as such the application for bail was not yet ripe.

In her ruling, Magistrate Botoku ruled that under Section 264 (1) of the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2011, she was empowered to order the remand of a defendant as in the instant case, but that the major consideration is the justification of such application, before she consequently adjourned to April 12.

SON, LASBCA, Safety Commission’s Intervention
Meanwhile, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) stormed the site to collect material samples of the collapsed building, which as gathered would be subjected to tests. THISDAY gathered that the Director, Inspector and Compliance, Mr. Bebe Obayi, who led a team from the organisation ordered that some of the building materials be collected for inspection. He said, “They will be subjected to material testing. This is to ascertain if the engineers adhered to the proper building standards.”

Also speaking on the cause of the collapse, the General Manager Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr.Shola Adeigbe blamed it on structural defect. He said, “I learned that there was an approval for the building from the district officer.

The materials used for the construction was poor materials. It was a foundation failure because it sank before collapsing. We will subject the entire building to structural stability test. The only thing for us is to ensure that they construct with quality materials.”

After LASBCA’s Adeigbe left, the agency and the Lagos State Safety Commission marked all other uncompleted buildings round the collapsed structure.

The agency not just marked the building, they pasted a ‘stop work’ notice, as well as demolition notice on two other five-storey uncompleted buildings. The notice by the safety commission read, “Sealed. This premises has been sealed following the breach of safety law. This seal must not be broken.”