Reactions from relevant authorities to the Lekki building collapse that claimed 35 lives and injured about 12 last week was something of a frenzy – characteristically so. The reactions followed a familiar pattern.
No sooner did news of the tragedy break than the Lagos state government quickly put out the announcement that Lekki Worldwide Estates Limited, ozzzzwners of Lekki Gardens, developers of the estate where the building was erected, had been advised not to go above three floors, and that the company ignored the advice and went ahead to erect a five-storey structure. The government also said the building had been marked for demolition because of the obstinacy of Lekki Gardens, but that the company erased the demolition sign and continued with the exercise until tragedy struck. A statement from Alausa said Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had ordered the owners of Lekki Gardens to report to the police or face arrest.
The police, not wanting to be left out of the hysteria, announced it had arrested Richard Nyong, the managing director of Lekki Gardens (competent sources say the young man actually went to the police to make the complaint even before Ambode’s order, and was not arrested as the police claimed). And before anybody could follow the speed with which events were unfolding, the embattled Lekki Gardens boss, with the building contractor in tow, had been arraigned in a Lagos magistrate’s court – in hand cuff, ostensibly for effect.
The current saga, like others before it, will come to an end one way or the other, no matter how long it lasts, and we will continue business as usual, waiting for another building collapse to react in the same way, which is the reason the tragedy has become a familiar phenomenon, with no indication that it will become a thing of the past any time soon.
Without doubt, the reactionary approach of the government and its various agencies to disasters that have become commonplace, rather than being proactive, is the reason we wake up almost on a daily basis to hear about one building collapse after the other. This, unfortunately, is the news we will continue to hear until we decide it’s time to do all that need to be done to avert the disaster.
We should begin by asking what steps the government took to avert building collapse, after the numerous incidents of the past. Nobody can remember the number of incidents of building collapse into which the Lagos state government, like governments in other parts of the country, had ordered investigation. The public never got to know the outcome of those investigations, meaning that the government never acted on the findings of those investigations. In other words, no lessons were learnt from past incidents, which explain why no corrections have been made. For, if there were, building collapse would not be the regular and painfully familiar occurrence that it has become.
It is safe to suppose that the swiftness with which the government reacted to the Lekki Gardens tragedy was informed by the high casualty figure, just as it was with the Synagogue Church building collapse in which more than 100 people lost their lives, with South Africa alone accounting for about 85.
The tragedy of Lekki Gardens, like others before it, occurred because relevant government agencies failed to do what they are statutorily in existence to do. The disclosure that the company ignored advice not to build a structure above three floors suggests that construction of the building was supposed to be done under the supervision of a regulatory agency. If that is the case, at what stage was it discovered that the company had acted outside the specifications it was given? The determination that the structure that came down in the wee hours of Tuesday, March 8, 2016 was a five-storey building, and not three stories, was made as soon as the tragedy occurred. That would suggest that somebody actually knew that the building had risen above the level at which it was expected to stop. Or is it possible to determine correctly, from the rubbles, the height of a building when it was under construction.
A more damning and potentially incriminating information on the tragedy is the disclosure that the building had actually been marked for demolition, but that its owners allegedly cleaned off the demolition sign and continued with the building. The question to ask here is why the relevant agency did not move in to stop work on the building and cause the owners of Lekki Gardens to be arrested and prosecuted, which could have averted the tragedy of last week. There are more questions.
The collapsed building was presumably one of many buildings in an estate Lekki Gardens is developing. That is to say that work was simultaneously going on in the collapsed building as well as on others. Was that the only building on which the owners of Lekki Gardens defied instruction to raise above the required level? If the answer is negative, as that would not be natural with a greedy developer, can others with demolition signs be found still standing close to the collapsed building? It may seem preposterous, but this particular tragedy has raised so many puzzles as to suggest sabotage in one form or the other.
Lekki Gardens has been in existence for just four years. The company has, within this short period, impacted heavily on the housing sector in the country, building and managing 57 estates in different parts of the country, with no single case of building collapse in any of the estates. It is therefore difficult to understand why a company with such impeccable record would decide to cut corners on just one out of the many structures it has handled. It just doesn’t add up.