Another Look at Lekki Gardens Building Collapse

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Raheem Akingbolu
The last one month has been One of the most challenging for Nigerians in recent time. At a time the government at the center is struggling to find solution to the activities of the Boko Haram group that has almost paralyzed the business and social activities in the Eastern part of Northern Nigeria, avoidable motor accidents and building collapses have begun to give Nigerians nightmares.

Before the Tuesday March 8 building collapse in Lekki, a ghastly motor accident, along Kaduna-Abuja road had killed a serving Minister of State for Labour, Mr. James Ocholi, his wife and one of his sons. Shortly after, the head of Training and Operations of the Nigerian Army, Yusha’u Abubakar, died in an auto crash along Maiduguri-Damaturu road. He was a Major General in the Nigerian Army. Then on Saturday 12th of March, the Senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in last year’s election in Ekiti Central Senatorial District also died in a motor accident along Benin Port Harcourt road. After the Lekki Garden incident, about two or more other buildings have collapsed in Lagos recording some casualties.

That all these are happening at a time the country is just having relief from frequent plane crashes that characterized the last 10 years, make the situation worrisome.
As a result of the number of lives lost in the Lekki building collapse, the unfortunate incident attracted more attention from individuals and government than other calamities that befell the country in recent time. In recent time, it was the abduction, forced marriage and subsequent conversion to Islam of Ese Oruru, the Bayelsa State teenager, that attracted more media report than Lekki Garden incident. As Expected, the management of Lekki Worldwide Estates Limited, promoters of the popular Lekki Gardens and the contractor that handled the building were castigated for their carelessness and shoddy job.

Before the tragedy, what came to mind at the mention of Lekki Gardens was a foremost player in the growing real sector of the Nigerian economy and arguably one of the country’s fastest growing residential property developers. The fact that the company had thousands of units of houses nationwide notwithstanding, the building collapse of that black Tuesday dwarfed its growing profile. It is on record that in just four years of coming into existence, the company has redefined the concept of housing in a country with a huge housing deficit of more than 17 million. By the beginning of 2015, the company was reported to have delivered 2,500 housing units at affordable prices to owners who are not known to have issues with the houses.

Meanwhile, the company reacted instantly by regretting the accident without unnecessarily trying to shift blames. Aside issuing a press statement to formally announce the collapse, it has since followed up with advertorials in various newspapers to identify with those that lost their lives as well as those injured. In one of the commiseration messages, Lekki Gardens’ management pointedly stated their resolve to provide adequate medical care to the injured as well as paying attention to the next of kin of those that died. Though some people commended the company for the prompt reaction, many considered it a mere medicine after death.

As the Chief Security Officer of Lagos State, Governor Akinwumi Ambode and his team must be commended for their intervention. In the interim, the governor on his visit to the scene had directed residents of the estate to relocate, pending when various test being carried on their apartments will be concluded. Before this, the governor was reported to have asked the Chief Executive Officer of the company to make himself available to the authority. An order Mr. Nyong Richard was said to have complied with immediately.

Also, the governor had on Monday announced punitive measures against officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, including the sack of the General Manager, Engr. Adeigbe Olushola, for obvious negligence and compromises they may have encouraged. Beyond this, concerned Nigerians have urged the government to go further by ensuring that any government official found guilty of any malpractice which may have contributed to this and any other such inccident in the past is made to face the law. Despite the loss, not a few members of the public have advised government to tread with caution to avoid double standard and creation of unemployment for many Nigerians who are earning their daily bread from the company.

The question should therefore arise as to why the tragedy of March 8, 2016 occurred. What happened to a structure that was only one of the many in the area, some of which have been occupied for more than one year without complaint? How did a company that places premium on quality and standard find itself in a situation in which it has to provide answers to the whys and wherefores of an occurrence it could not possibly have envisaged? Could the incidence that has tainted an otherwise unblemished record have been averted?

These and several other questions become pertinent when it is considered that there hasn’t been any report of untoward developments in any of the estates developed by the same company in Ogun and Rivers states, as well as the federal capital territory. The answers to these and other questions will only be provided after a thorough investigation of the Lekki tragedy by relevant agencies of government.

Nigerians are used to stories of building collapse in areas like Idumota, Isale Eko and other thickly populated areas where old and dilapidated structures can no longer bear the weight increasingly exerted on them by the number of occupants that rise by the day. The country is by now familiar with reports of buildings that collapsed under construction in areas where unqualified contractors use sub-standard materials to minimize cost. But Lekki? And within an estate being developed by an organization that is not a new entrant?

But while observers wait for investigations to reveal what went wrong, perhaps it is worthwhile to attempt to answer an important question that may arise from the unfortunate incidence. There is, immediately, the question as to whether there was greed on the part of the owners of Lekki Gardens. This would seem farfetched, if information on the company’s operations is anything to go by.
Despite the increased attention that is being paid to provision of houses in the country today, especially by the federal and state governments, in response to demand that has been difficult to satisfy, real estate is still a sector that is waiting to be tapped. With a population that is growing out of control, provision of houses will not be adequate in the foreseeable future. There is, therefore, no reason for greed on the part of a housing provider, certainly, not one that has built a reputation for meticulousness, as well as safety of customers and clients, within the short period of its existence.

Allegation of greed has come as fallout of the story in the public domain to the effect that the collapsed building was marked for demolition, not having met required standards, yet the company still went ahead with its construction, ostensibly looking more at profit making than safety. A comment on this aspect of the incidence is hampered by the fact of the matter being in court, which would make it sub judicial. But it bears mentioning that at times like this, public comments are mostly coloured by emotion than reason, perhaps understandably so, especially as there has been loss of lives.

Nigerians regularly see this type of reaction when there is a crash involving an aircraft, with attendant loss of life. The government toes the familiar path and responds impulsively by suspending the operating license of the beleaguered airline, while the court of public opinion finds the airline guilty of operating flights with obsolete aircraft. It doesn’t matter that at the end of the day, the airline’s operating license will be restored and the company will resume operations with the same obsolete aircraft. And the same public will fly on the obsolete aircraft.

The high casualty figure in the Lekki building collapse makes dispassionate conversation on the incidence extremely difficult. But suffice it to say that a company that is clearly ahead of its peers in terms of housing delivery does not need to cut corners to achieve success.

While the country grieves with the families that lost loved ones and sympathise with the injured, it makes sense for stakeholders to await result of investigations into the incidence, as it may not go the way opinions are going already. Again, government must try and be fair to all to avoid playing to the gallery.