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The untold story of Onitsha market building collapse

The tragedy that struck Ochanja Market Onitsha recently leaving 5 persons dead and many injured has thrown up some concerns. Daily Trust Saturday spotlights some…

The tragedy that struck Ochanja Market Onitsha recently leaving 5 persons dead and many injured has thrown up some concerns. Daily Trust Saturday spotlights some of the controversy surrounding the building collapse

The two-storey building that collapsed at Ochanja Market in Onitsha, Anambra State, has elicited reactions from professionals and members of the public, who are wondering why the contractor was in a hurry to complete the project and why the construction took place without  adequate supervision.

The building, which collapsed on Monday, a sit-at-home day as declared by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), claimed the lives of five persons, while more than 26 people sustained various degrees of injury and receiving treatment in various hospitals.

Investigation by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that some government officials approved the construction even when there were no state physical planning and governor’s seal.

It was reliably gathered that the building was being rushed to be completed on or before March 17 because it was designated to be commissioned as part of Governor Charles Soludo’s achievement in two years in office.

“Construction was going on day and night in order to meet up with dateline. The governor may not know what played out in the deal, but many top government officials know,” a source who did not want to be named said.

The source said the building was a public-private partnership project and many top government officials had visited the site many times to encourage the contractor to speed up work so as to meet the dateline.

He said only the governor had not publicly visited the construction site because he did not know what was playing out.

According to him, because of the involvement of the top government officials in the deal, when Governor Soludo visited the site, they told him that the contractor handling the project was not around.

“They went to the contractor and told him that the governor was impressed by his pace of work. Because of the impression created by some of the top government officials, the contractor was forced to work day and night. They used a generator to work at night,” the sources said.

During the governor’s visit to the site after the incident, he ordered the contractor to clear the debris of the collapsed building at his own cost.

Soludo noted that the impunity of building with unapproved plans remained one of the major problems in the state, saying that such act must be stopped.

The governor said he wanted the builder to be present and explain why he would build that kind of structure in the market without government’s approval.  He instructed that such structures should only be erected in any market in Anambra with approval from the state Physical Planning Unit with his signature affixed.

“I must sign all building plans for markets before the contractors would commence construction,” he said. 

He described the collapse as “tragic and an incident not supposed to happen.” 

He also said the state government would come down on the contractor as it did not approve the building. He added that government would redesign the market and build it properly.

He also said that henceforth, all buildings constructed without proper approval would be brought down, including structures currently under construction in other markets.

He further said a comprehensive inventory of buildings in Anambra markets and public places would be conducted.

The governor also said that markets  in the state would undergo integrity test to identify and remove potentially unsafe structures, and people found responsible for illegal construction would face legal consequences.

 A woman in her 60s, Madam Adaku Madumere, who sat in front of her shop at the collapsed building said, amidst tears, that her son would have been a victim if not for God, adding that it was like a nightmare and she was yet to come out of the shock.

“That day was sit-at-home, so the market was almost empty and business was at its lowest. Had it been that it was a normal market day, the number of deaths and casualties would have been ten times what was recorded. 

“I came to take some foodstuff to supply to a customer when we heard a laud sound and the building collapsed. Only dust and broken blocks were left,” she said.

She said her son was supposed to be one of the workers at the building site but he was engaged in another building on that fateful day.

Some professionals in the building industry, made up of architects, builders, surveyors and environmentalists, said the contractor compromised on standard.

Dr Ifeanyi Anyanechi, a member of the Nigerian Institute of Building, said the cause of the collapse was hurried construction, and there was no proper supervision. 

“If you look at the construction work, you would discover that all the concretes, as well as columns, are still fresh. The construction was being done in a hurry without realising that concretes have a maturity period of two or four weeks before you can impose any serious load on already done concretes.

“Secondly, this is bad workmanship. I don’t want to complain about the sizes of the rods because if good workmanship was employed, the collapse would not have occurred. When you look at the links you will also discover that they are supposed to be 8mm and at 2-2-5 centre, but they used 6mm, and at times, 900, 1,200mm centre, which was grossly inadequate, that was why there was sudden collapse, “he said.

Mr Ikenna Okpala, the vice chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Building, complained about the standard of building structures in the country.

“What we have here can be looked at from three angles – standardisation, in terms of process, material and rescue operations.

“With regard to the process, there is nothing else without looking at professionalism,” he said.

 The chairman of Builders in Private Practice, Anambra State, Chijioke Okeke, urged the Anambra State Government to  be alive to its responsibilities in order to avert further building collapses.

“The government of Anambra State should be up and doing as it concerns building construction. There are professionals in the building environment, and every professional has his or her own area of competence. 

“I urge the government to go inward and engage all the professionals in their respective fields to avert such terrible situation in the future. Government should also implement the national building code, which ensures that there must be a resident builder at every site of building construction,” he said.

The secretary of Onitsha South Local Government, Mr Paul Onuachalla, commended the Nigerian Institute of Building for visiting the site, saying government would always work with the body.

“As you can see, I am putting on a mourning cloth because we are mourning. When we heard about what happened, we mobilised excavators to the site, as well as the men of the fire service and medical personnel. That was what helped us to save many lives, even though we recorded five deaths.

“We have also taken proactive measures by setting up a seven-man panel of enquiry to understudy the remote and immediate causes of this incident. The panel is to make recommendations on what to be done.

Another government official who confided in Daily Trust Saturday said there was an agreement between the state government and local government councils that only one storey shall be built in markets in the state with green garden and space.

According to the source, building of two storey in markets was not in the original MoU sent to the state governor.

“Some of the government officials went behind the state government and local government councils to sign an MoU to build two storey building. This is not the original MoU sent to the governor that was approved. The state government and local government councils were edged out in the signing of MoU.  Ordinarily, what was supposed to be, was the State government and local government councils signing the MoU and not government agency signing the MoU in a market” the source said.

According to the source, when it comes to market legally, it is the between State government and local government councils and not agency or any other government official.

Government voice

When contracted the Press Secretary to the governor, Mr Christian Aburime on phone said any allegation that government wanted to commission was false and misleading.

According to him, the government has no business with the construction and the Governor had stated that those responsible shall not go unpunished.

The governor had said that the building had no approval and those responsible for it would be punished. “The Governor has no plan commissioning such as achievement in office in the last two  years,” Onuachalla said. 

Residents who spoke with our correspondent suggested that Governor Charles Soludo should ensure thorough investigation on who approved the building plan and how the contractor was engaged, as well as whoever is involved in the construction in one way or another.

 

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