Lekan Fatodu

The recent Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London, UK which claimed dozens of lives, left many critically injured and a significant number of people still missing has revealed some of the shortcomings of the modern life and provoked calls for aggressive reforms and improved oversight function across board in the UK.

In swift response to this popular call, Mr. Nicholas Holgate, chief executive of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is responsible for managing the Grenfell residential tower, tendered his resignation.

Holgate’s resignation became a matter of urgent necessity because the people had complained severely that the council’s response in the aftermath of the blaze that killed at least 79 people was appalling. Therefore the leadership of the council must take the blame and responsibility.

In the same vein, British Prime Minister, Ms. Theresa May, also concerned with the growing public criticism against the government at all levels, hurriedly tendered an apology over the disaster.

“So let me be absolutely clear. The support on the ground for families in the initial hours was not good enough.
“That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it the most.

“As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure, and as Prime Minister I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right,” Ms. May said.

That’s evidently a model of a good democracy. A democracy that exists amongst people who are alive to the primary responsibility of the government over its citizens, and who will not shy away from demanding better service from their government when such is seen to be porous or inadequate.

Similarly, it is a system of government, operating at all levels of governance, whose priority is to be responsive to the needs of the people at any given time and which is also open to accountability whenever the need arises.

It is obviously in this circumstance that ones thought is refreshed about the poor state of governance in a country like Nigeria.
Just imagine that Grenfell was sited within a locality in Nigeria.

Following the unfortunate fate that befell the tower and its occupiers, the whole world would have been treated to some shocking inadequacy and embarrassing buck-passing from both the emergency services and government at various levels.

Then the firefighters would have informed the world that they had no fuel and water in their fire-fighting trucks, which was responsible for their late response. Of course those excuses would be coming after the inferno had consumed a good size of the locality and its residents.

Showing similar act of irresponsibility, the council will be quick to blame the state, the state will target the federal government and that keeps going round until the dignity of the dead is completely lost and those who managed to escape with some varied degrees of injury are left to languish in the hospitals which are mostly poorly equipped.

And as usual, the citizens will moan for just a while, the government will react with some hackneyed platitudes. At the end of it all, nothing happens and life continues.

But never will such be allowed in a sane clime like the UK. Just take a look, apart from the governments that hurriedly assumed their roles after the Grenfell disaster, corporate sector players and building contractors were equally called to account for their actions or inactions which may have contributed to the tragedy.

So far reports have revealed that the use of cladding, a flammable material used to wrap around the outside of most modern buildings to beautify it and prevent infiltration of weather elements, aided the spread of the blaze that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower.
Subsequently, the government mandated that combustibility tests should be conducted in 25 areas of England and results showed that 60 high-rise blocks which are wrapped with claddings are unsafe as they failed the government’s fire safety tests.

Presently, cladding on tower blocks is being ripped down across Britain amid fears they could contribute towards another terrible fire disaster.

Again, the situation of Nigeria plays out so glaringly in the mind; and followed by a few salient posers particularly on the integrity of the many gigantic and beautiful edifices that are springing up in major cities of the country.

Taking Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial centre, into consideration, a lot of foreigners will be held in awe with the growth of aesthetically captivating commercial and residential buildings many of which are adorned with cladding of different designs and shapes.
But the big question, just like the British government just put to the landlords and building contractors across England, is how safe are these beautiful buildings that are springing up in Nigeria and especially in Lagos?

Within the last two months alone there have been reports of over three incidents of building collapse based on very poor structural integrity, cheap building materials and appalling development plan amongst other avoidable construction defects.

Now that Nigerians, similar to the manner we usually run haywire with any new trends, are religiously going with the fad of cladding, efforts should be made at different levels of government to organise fire safety tests on many of these properties.

Certainly, this will go a long way in preventing impending multiple and devastating fire disasters in the city and other parts of the country.