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Unending Pains of Ailing Victims of Lagos Building Collapses (II)
In the second part of this report, Omolabake Fasogbon, who tracked survivors of different building collapse in Lagos, reports that the survivors have tasked government to fulfill their promise and take care of their respective medical expenses
Findings Hold Government Liable in ‘Tort’
A real estate lawyer, Aderemi Fagbemi, like Ohioze, argued that government is liable in tort for negligence to victims where it fails to diligently perform its responsibilities under requite building regulations.
Investigation into recent occurrences point to negligence and flaws by the government.
Director-General of the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC), Mr Lanre Mojola once admitted to the role of government in protecting and securing everyone using public place, and also ensuring victims are covered by insurance or compensated where death occurred.
Fagbemi said that government should be held complicit where constructions are permitted with no evidence of insurance by the owner.
Ilori affirmed that taking insurance for buildings under construction would ensure that right things were done in the building industry.
But beyond the insurance gap are other discovered regulatory deficits.
A study by Nigerian real estate data analytics platform, Estate Intel recognised man-made factors as the primary cause of the collapse in Lagos.
The study asserted that tragedy could have been averted if enforcement agencies were alive to their duty.
In the case of Ikoyi collapse, an investigation by Lagos state coroner, Oyetade Komolafe spotted human errors that point to gross violation of the State Building Regulations.
Komolafe alleged that regulatory agencies compromised when they failed to sanction owners on identified errors.
There had also been backlash as to how the building permitted for 15 floors extended to 21 floors.
Further findings by this reporter showed that only a few houses in Lagos have mandatory building permit, which according to Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Chapter of NIOB, Godfrey O Godfrey, are not more than 20 percent.
A former President of NIOB, Mr Kunle Awobodu said a permit ensures that construction project follows all relevant regulations, including building standards, land use, and environmental protection.
In the same vein, Past President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, Engr. Babagana Mohammed stated that building without a permit is a free license to building collapse.
This reporter found that house 11, Oba Idowu Oniru Road in Victoria Island, was one of the buildings that suffered collapse because it did not have a permit. No fewer than eight persons died in the collapse.
Our findings yet revealed that oftentimes, property owners or developers bribe state officials to skip permit certification. Fagbemi said this happen because of the tedious process and huge cost of obtaining it.
Spelling out the consequences of building without a permit, Awobodu said such house cannot be certified fit for habitation because it was built without regulatory monitoring.
Lagos State re-launched the Certificate for Completion and Fitness for Habitation in 2021 as part of measures to prevent building collapse. This certificate guarantees that a house is safe and complies with the state conditions for habitation.
But, only about 100 houses in Lagos have this certificate, according to Awobodu. He alleged that the process is being sabotaged by its managers.
Our investigation further revealed that many of the collapsed buildings were initially marked distressed, which by law should be removed in 21days but were not.
This included the historic Itafaaji building collapse and house 34, Ibadan Street, Ebutte-meta Lagos which caved in on May, 5, 2022.
A tribunal, headed by Abimbola Ajayi blamed collapse on weak enforcement of the 2010 Planning Regulations and Building Control Law, as well as “crass indiscipline and gross corruption”.
Despite Glaring Flaws, Lagos Insists No Compensation for Victims
Despite tort law and agitations by civil society organisations, Lagos State government has maintained that there was no compensation for victims of collapsed buildings.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso once declared this on 99.3FM radio programme during Ikoyi collapse, stressing that the law has no room for compensation.
He added that government can only compensate victims on compassionate ground.
Findings showed that government on compassionate ground, indeed, gave out cash amount between N 250, 000 to N750, 000, but not all victims got the money, including Ogunsanwo.
Hassan said she expended the N500, 000 collected to offset medical loans.
Many hapless survivors who spoke with this reporter are very expectant, but certainly ignorant of their right in tort.
With First Degree Injury, Anyanwu Denied Treatment on Financial Ground
In spite of their present predicament, Ogunsanwo and Hassan can be said to be fortunate when compared with Columbus Anyanwu who never received any support, not even medical, from government.
Although, Commissioner for Physical Planning& Urban Development, Tayo Bamigbose-Martins, told our reporter that government would always make itself available for medical care of victims in the event of tragedy like building collapse.
Our findings showed that other than Itaafaaji and Ikoyi collapse, victims of other 42 building collapse that happened in Lagos between 2021 and 2022 are mostly on their own.
One of them is 50 years old Anyanwu, a victim of the fatal collapse in house 34, Ibadan street, Ebute-metta. Among the dead was his only son, Nicholas, 5, while he and his wife sustained varying degree of injury in different parts of their body.
Anyanwu sustained serious injuries on the head, neck and left hand. But he could not complete his treatment, especially the surgery recommended for his hands.
When this reporter met with Anyanwu at Costain bus stop in Ojuelegba, the impairment on his left hand was obvious.
He apologised for fixing the meeting at the bustop as he said he had no place he could call home.
“I squat with a friend who manages just a room with his wife and children. My wife and two children live with my in-law.” he said
Anyanwu expressed disappointment that the government abandoned him while in LASUTH, adding that only friends rallied round him. He said he later called for his discharge, when no help came further despite that he was yet to recover.
Anyanwu, who sells fairly used dress, already lost his market space to the newly constructed Yaba pedestrian bridge, and he is now jobless. The building collapse worsened his condition.
Amid tears, he said: “It was that bad that my treatment was usually suspended till we gather money for the next injection or diagnosis. Even nurses rallied support for me when they realised I was a disaster victim. They lamented that my case was not taken up as that of Endsars victims whom they said got first-class treatment at no cost”.
He said upon discharge, a doctor asked him to keep a record of all his payments as evidence for a refund.
“He asked me to do a letter of assistance to the FMOH, Alausa through LASUTH Quality Assurance department. Nothing has shown forth ever since I did it. I wept more when I was also billed N73,000 discharge fee.”
“Help me please, I lost everything”, he pleaded. Moved, this reporter supported Ifeanyi with a token which he collected with appreciation.
He showed a stack of receipts most of which have already become faded with time. He said he kept it in case the government calls in the future.
He however released a handwritten receipt compiled by his wife, detailing the hospital payment code as well as a letter addressed to FMOH, soliciting for payment of medical bills and accommodation, but was never regarded.
Anyanwu blamed the government for his problem, saying that both government officials and his landlord gambled with their lives by not demolishing the house quickly enough after it was discovered to be unsafe. Findings showed that the building remained for almost 180 days, instead of 21 days, before it eventually caved in.
Wallowing in Debt
The trio of Micheal Ogboji, Francis Egbuonu and Ifeanyi Nelson may not have lost their lives in the Ebutte-meta calamity, they said they were more of living corpses after the incident. They are still wallowing in debt after losing goods worth millions in the shop they rented in the building.
Egbuonu, a generator dealer said, “I saw my goods razed down in my presence. The saddest part of it was that I had just newly stocked goods worth of N7millon just a day before the incident. Most of us here buy goods on credit and pay suppliers after sales.
” As it is, I’ve been sent back to square one, I can’t tell how many years I will be able to pay back the supplier. If I had known this was what you want to discuss, I wouldn’t have received you. It’s not an experience worth revisiting.
“Don’t even come here and ask any question. Leave here if you don’t want me to change it for you,” obviously aggrieved Ogboji retorted.
Like Anyanwu, they alleged officials and landlords were complicit in the collapse, adding that government was insensitive to their plight.
Fagbemi urged government to take a cue from advanced economies to handle emergencies of this nature.
Awobodu also tasked government to provide temporary accommodation for occupants of distressed building so as to expedite their exit where collapse is likely.
Questioned on medical lapses and failure to take full medical responsibility of victims, the State Commissioner for Health,Prof. Akin Abayomi ignored reporter’s calls and never responded to Whatsapp messages after reading them. So also was the Public Affairs Officer of the Ministry, Segun Ogunyinka who promised to call back and never picked reporter’s calls afterwards.
On his part, Bamgbose -Martins avowed that government has always responded to emergencies.
He said: “Lagos State has always responded to emergency incidents with utmost dispatch. This isn’t limited to just building collapse. The LASEMA is always activated to respond to emergency situations and ensures that medical support is provided where and when necessary.”
He asked this reporter to furnish him with details of victims denied full treatment and refund, where needed. He promised that such will be investigated and resolved appropriately.
To prevent recurrence, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr Mukaila Sanusi advised house seekers to ensure that a building possess a government-signed ‘Certificate of Habitation’ before consummating tenancy deal.
Sanusi added, “House seekers should observe a property for defects such as cracks, tilting and dampness.It is important that they also check if such house had been earlier marked by government agency for contraventions. All of these are important for their safety.”
*This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusion and Accountability (CMEDIA) project.
Lagos State has always responded to emergency incidents with utmost dispatch. This isn’t limited to just building collapse. The LASEMA is always activated to respond to emergency situations and ensures that medical support is provided where and when necessary