The panel of ‘six wise men’ set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to probe the immediate and remote causes of the collapse of a 21-storey building in Lagos State swung into action Friday by visiting the site on Gerrard Road in the upscale area of Ikoyi.
For the panel, comprising professionals, including architects, builders, engineers and lawyers, who understand the intricacies of the construction industry, there are many posers to address, mysteries to unravel and speculations to clear in the next 30 days.
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But irrespective of the conclusion it arrives at, what cannot change is the lives that have been cut short, generations wiped off and the dreams and aspirations truncated.
From Monday when the building collapsed, families and friends of victims had thronged the site as emergency officials frantically combed the rubbles in search of survivors.
There was hope on the first day when six survivors were rescued, with four initial fatalities, but as days went by, hopes of more survivors dimmed.
The agitated families of victims looked downcast and desolate, expecting the worst. Could their sons or daughters still be alive? What state could they be in at that moment?
Although the rescue operations were jointly conducted by all stakeholders at the state and federal levels, with all resources mobilised, the families were still exasperated and decried what they called the slow pace of rescue operations.
But two days after nine people were rescued alive, the fear of the families of those trapped in the rubbles materialised as more victims were brought out dead.
While nobody can still ascertain how many people were in the building as at the time the incident occurred, about 38 dead bodies have been recovered, according to the state Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho.
They included the owner of the building, Mr Femi Osibona; his friend, Wale Bob-Oseni, who was to travel to the US the same day and only branched at the project site on Osibona’s invitation; Osibona’s personal assistant, identified as Onyinye; a corps member, Zaynab Sanni, who was originally deployed to Borno State, but she redeployed for fear of insurgency, only to meet her untimely death in the collapsed building.
Oluwasegun Olaniyi, a 24-year-old bricklayer and commercial motorcyclist did not have a premonition of his death when, on the fateful day, he followed an engineer, identified to be a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) to the site.
He was among the 30 artisans the engineer reportedly invited to work on the site.
They all came from Ibafo, a budding mega slum in the outskirts of Lagos, to work on the site, with the hope of returning to their families. They never returned.
Olaniyi’s wife, who had just been delivered of a baby three weeks ago, was uncertain about the condition of her husband and father of her new baby boy, but his sister and a friend were there to provide details.
“My friend was a bricklayer and also had a bike, which he used for commercial purposes at Ibafo. I saw him on Sunday but didn’t know he was coming to this site the following day.
“He didn’t tell anybody. I later got to know from other people who went with the engineer from Ibafo to work at the site. Now we have not informed his wife.
“His son is not up to one month. We are in pain,” his friend who identified himself as Azeez said.
Olaniyi’s sister, Sijuade Idowu, rushed from Onikekere, Ikorodu to get information on her brother.
Her eyes were already swollen as she wept uncontrollably while giving the details of her brother. “He has gone,” she said as she displayed his picture.
He met his untimely death alongside the pastor cum engineer, Ola Ogunfuwa, who mobilised them to the site. At least 22 artisans with the pastor are still unaccounted for as at the time of filing this report.
The head of media and public relations of the RCCG, Pastor Olaitan Olubiyi, told one of our correspondents that one of the pastors was at the site in search of his daily bread alongside some other workers.
He confirmed that the pastor was an engineer and was on the site to work.
With the actual number of people on the site unknown, the atmosphere at the scene of the collapsed building on Friday was that of anger, as families of victims who are suspected to have been trapped and are yet to be recovered from the rubbles, complained that the rescue mission was slow.
They were so angry that they declined to speak to the press. They even threatened to destroy journalists’ gadgets.
Mr Yusuf Ahmed, a father of a 19-year-old Toyeeb Yusuf, who also followed the engineer from Ibafo, narrated his ordeal.
“My son was brought to the site by a bricklayer. He brought about 22 of them from Ibafo to the site to work but we have seen only two. They are currently in a hospital,” he said.
Also, Mr Idowu Adeyiga, whose brother, Ahmed worked as an aide of the owner of the building, was furious when asked to be interviewed.
“What else do you want from me? I have lost two people from this disaster. Ahmed is my immediate brother and Femi Osibona is also a member of our family. We have lost the two of them,” he said.
As at Thursday, nine people (one woman and eight men) were rescued from the rubbles of the building.
Saved by grace
Nurudeen Solagbade, one of the construction workers at the site and some others were on duty when the building collapsed on Monday.
Solagbade, who was on the 15th floor, recounted, “We suddenly heard the building coming down. It was too fast. I started running but didn’t know where I was running to since dust had covered everywhere.
“I stopped at a point and the lift hanger was about to collapse on me, but God saved me and it fell beside me. I thought it would crash on me. It brushed my hand though.”
Families rush to hospitals to claim corpses
Relatives of victims who rushed to hospitals complained that they were denied access to identify the corpses of their loved ones. Some of them are not sure whether their relatives are dead or still buried in the rubbles.
The head of the Public Affairs Department of the General Hospital, Gbagada, Mr Adeoba Adeniji Adele, told our correspondent that the morgue within the hospital was privately run.
“Members of the management of Gbagada General Hospital are not the ones denying relatives access to identify the corpses of those brought into the morgue.
“The morgue is located within the premises, but it is not run by the hospital management; it is privately run. The management of the morgue will determine when they want the corpses identified,” he said.
Meanwhile, the governor, who returned to the site on Thursday, disclosed that only 19 families had declared missing persons.
Governor Sanwo-Olu said the actual number of persons trapped in the collapsed building remained unclear as at Thursday afternoon. But 32 fatalities have been recorded, the governor confirmed.
However, the state government yesterday asked affected families to visit Mainland Hospital, Yaba (formerly known as Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), for the identification of the bodies of their deceased relatives.
The spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ibrahim Farinloye, commended community members for being responsive, and for their courage to begin rescue missions, even before the arrival of the statutory emergency agencies.
He, however, said the rescue mission would continue until no one is left in the rubble. On the identification process, he said DNA would be carried out on bodies and relatives who come to the hospital for claims.
Apartment sold for over N2bn
The structure was said to be 80 per cent completed and was billed to be concluded in 2022.
The price range for the apartment is said to be between $1.2million and $5million (approximately N2.6billion, using the exchange rate of N410/$1)
According to Highbrow Living magazine, the property, consisting of four-bedroom maisonettes, flats, duplexes and penthouses, was 65 per cent sold out.
“The 20-floor strictly residential facility is the brainwork of Fourscore Homes, evolving from a desire to build an original masterpiece.
“The concept is to have service flats in the three towers for residents to experience a stress-free lifestyle, complete with a hotel flair with a 360-degree view of Lagos State,” the magazine reads.
Other planned features of the “luxury in the sky” building include an open recreation area with outdoor television, gym and swimming pool.
Daily Trust had reported that the project consultants and civil engineering company, Prowess Engineering Limited, withdrew its services from the building in 2020 over poor execution of the project.
The managing director of the engineering company, Muritala Olawale, in a letter dated February 20, 2020 and addressed to Osibona, stated that the firm could no longer guarantee the integrity of the ill-fated building because it did not have the concrete cube test results for each stage of the building.
“We can guarantee the integrity of the first two buildings and also works done up to the fourth floor of the third building supervised by us, provided specifications have been met in terms of the required concrete strength,” he had stated.
What went wrong?
Stakeholders and experts in the building industry said the probe by the panel should be all-encompassing.
The president of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Dipo Ajayi, in a chat with Daily Trust Saturday, said there were many things that could have gone wrong with the building.
The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) expressed shock over the poor quality of work done and the lack of professional handling of the project, which led to the sudden loss of lives.
Otunba Saheed Makinde, the national publicity secretary of the institution, who spoke on behalf of the president, Sir Emmanuel Okas Wike, asked the Lagos State Government to stand firm in its investigation and evaluation of the building collapse to bring those guilty to book and avoid further occurrence.
The developer of the ill-fated building, Olufemi Adegoke Osibona, otherwise called Femi Fourscore, is a native of Ikenne in Ogun State. Born in 1966, he had his primary education in Lagos before moving to Mayflower School in Ikenne.
From Mayflower, he proceeded to Croydon University in the United Kingdom (UK), where he studied Business and Finance.
Osibona started shoes and suits business in 1991 before venturing into real estate development in 1997.
Osibona’s real estate development firm, Fourscore Homes, is a member of the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) in South Africa and Zurich Building Guarantee in Europe.
The company exhibited its expertise in property development in the UK, South Africa, the United States (US) and Nigeria.
Osibona is said to be the first African developer to construct a seven-storey building at the highbrow Albion Drive, London Fields in East London.
After that, he moved to South Africa in 2009, where he built six luxury units of houses called Fourscore Mansions in Waterkloof, Pretoria.
Osibona, a member of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), also sought divine consultation on where to invest from popular tele-evangelist, Matthew Ashimolowo of the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC).
Speaking at an event organised by the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) on July 4, 2021, Ashimolowo narrated his encounter with Osibona and how he encouraged him to invest in Nigeria.
“They call him Femi Fourscore. Femi comes to Lagos, boom, he buys land in Ikoyi and builds 40 apartments and sold each one for like a million dollars.
“As I am talking to you right now, in fact, this morning, Femi sent me a video. He’s building, I think three towers together. We know Ikoyi. One is 14 floors, one is 16 floors and one is 21 floors.
“This guy used to sell shirts and ties in Abuja. He didn’t even have the shirt and tie I wanted from him, so he went to others to get them for me during that crisis journey. Now, he has three towers,” he had said.
However, the ill-fated Ikoyi building is not the first time Osibona’s structures suffered damage.
In a chat with Celestial Ovation Talk Show, Osibona narrated how four of his 24 flats in Atlanta, Georgia in the US were razed.
He revealed that the US inferno turned out to be a blessing for him because the money paid him by an insurance firm was more than what he expended on the purchase of the entire flats.
Kinsmen mourn Osibona
The developer of the property, who also died in the incident, was described as an accomplished real estate professional.
He was said to have successfully executed such gigantic properties in South Africa, UK and US and planned to replicate the same in his country. But he could not achieve his dream as he was brought out dead from the rubbles on Thursday.
He was identified as one of the illustrious sons of the ancient town of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Adeyemi Adefulu, MFR, one of his kinsmen said, “Ikenne is in the throes of big mourning and an unaccustomed retreat and seclusion.
“The voices of women in the marketplace are muted. There are no sirens, no jokes in the bars and city square and no celebrations and no confidence in the air.
“Ikenne is in deep mourning because the town, which has been known for every good thing, is suddenly at the centre of a national calamity of monumental proportions over the Gerard Road national disaster in which a towering building of 21 floors came crashing down, taking with it over 30 lives, including that of an emergent 53-year-old son of Ikenne, who is the developer of property supposed to be a game-changer.
“Femi did not die alone. So many, we may never know, died with him. Instead of being a source of inspiration for many young people, his death will dampen the hopes and aspirations of many.”
Abiodun Alade, Abdullateef Aliyu, Christiana T. Alabi, Eugene Agha & Risikat Ramoni, Lagos