The Metaphor of Building collapse and the fate of Nigeria

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The collapse of that feeble twenty-one storey building in Ikoyi Lagos last week left the nation in palpable shock more because of the circumstances of the tragedy than the fact itself. For, in the last ten odd years, there have been too many buildings that went down and took lives with them. On March 8, 2016, a five -storey building collapsed while under construction in Lekki, killing at least thirty-four people. In 2019, a three-storey building in the Ita Faaji area of Lagos suffered a structural collapse and killed over twenty people. Often, we would wail and call on the authorities to investigate and bring culprits to book. A panel would be set up. We would go to sleep and the report would be buried like the lives of the persons lost in the implosion. How many persons have been found culpable and punished in the past? Nobody, according to the research which I conducted. Business has always been the same.   

The Gerrard Road Ikoyi high rise building collapse and the story that came in the aftermath of the buckling in are metaphors for the Nigerian state. The first allusion is the feeble foundation. The country has a weak foundation, based on injustice, inequity, wickedness, oppression, exploitation of the people, greed, power for the sake of power, rape of the financial resources of the state by a few privileged persons. There are reports that approval was given for fifteen floors to be built; but the developer went beyond that ambit to the twenty-first floor. Ominously, a contracting engineering firm withdrew from the project and wrote a damning letter which in saner climes would have put a halt to the project. Indeed, that letter was crafted by an expert who foresaw what could happen to the collapsed building.

Femi Osibona, developer of the Ikoyi collapsed building

Did that letter not get into the hands of the supervising authorities of land development in Lagos State? Why did Lagos State Building Control Agency not stand firm on its earlier decision on the property? Was there an order from the top? What spirit of impunity propelled the developer to disregard all extant rules of building by placing a twenty-one structure on a foundation of fifteen floors? How and why did the building collapse while he was visiting, not before, not after? Nemesis? Deliberate sabotage by aggrieved persons? Why and how did a friend who was on his way to the US, who could have had a video chat with the builder, decide to visit physically? What is the role of the motivational speaker in that video in circulation in which Pastor Ashimolowo claimed that his prayers had worked wonders for the developer? Was there  something of divine retribution? How many buildings are standing on one foot in Lagos and around the country? Where is the next collapse going to take place? There are questions. Too many questions! Questions to which we may never have answers.

Of course, we sympathise with the dead. Unfortunate persons who went to the site to seek for their daily bread. They did not understand the hazard that the building posed to humanity. If they did, they would have left the site after the engineers pulled out in 2020. Stories have followed. Someone said he was denied a job opportunity on account of his religion. Yet, there were many mallams working on the site. A member of NYSC, deployed to Lagos state also died. Too many deaths. Untimely deaths. Sad. Tragic. Avoidable. Yet, it is the story of Nigeria. We reflect on what could have happened if the building had been completed and tenants had moved in with their families and then boom, over one hundred families would have perished one night after the day’s hard work.

We must observe that buildings collapse all over the world. There have been reports of collapsed buildings in America and United Kingdom. There was the Grenfell Tower fire that consumed the twenty-four-storey building in London on June 24, 2017.  In July this year, a condo went down in Florida that cost over one hundred lives. Yet, the response from the State reassures the people that the proper action will be taken to deal with persons who may compromised standards. Not so in Nigeria.

I won’t be surprised if plans are already afoot to mitigate any form of punishment that ought to be meted to the supervising agency. His traditional ruler, the pastor or Imam would be called upon to press buttons and ensure that his career is not sacrificed for dereliction of duty. He may have a senator godfather whom the governor needs to win a district, whom the president needs to win the state, and for political reasons, the matter would be buried. His wife may be daughter to a party bigwig who has been a constant donor to the party in the state. Or he is a pastor in one of the mega churches who General Overseer is all powerful. It is the story of Nigeria!

The story of the storey building is the story of Nigeria. Quick fixes for quick gains. The current political structure in Nigeria is not working. Governance is weak and problematic. There is great disenchantment with the political system. The federal government is overbearing and inefficient. The level of insecurity is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. Yet, Abuja is fiddling away and awarding itself a pass mark in governance while getting ready for the general elections in 2023. We are told that the developer had succeeded in selling 70% of the property in foreign currency even before completion. All those monies are gone. Even while the developer’s body was still warm, Sahara Reporters reported that his wife and the man’s siblings were already fighting over cars and property. Vanity of vanities all is vanity, so says the preacher.   

The collapse could have been avoided, just the way the tottering fate of Nigeria could have been avoided. Steps must be taken to unearth where there was a breach of the law. This would prevent future acts of negligence. If other developers have compromised building standards, this is the time for government to act in the overall interest of the Nigerian people. Heads should roll. The other buildings in the area should be subjected to rigorous integrity tests immediately. All victims of the disaster deserve some compensation from the estate of the developer if he was as wealthy as reports have claimed. May the bereaved families find comfort and solace in the Almighty!     

*Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha, University of Lagos