By MAYOR AKINPELU
It would be an understatement to say something catastrophic happened on November 1, 2021 at Ikoyi, Lagos State. That was when one of the three towers of 360 Degrees towers, the 21-storey high-rise building developed by Femi Osibona came down, killing 46 people at the last count.
The developer, Femi Osibona was one of those who died along with his friend who was on his way to America to celebrate his 50th birthday, his two P.As and several workers working on the building.
Already, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has instituted an investigative panel to look into the causes of the collapse and find out those culpable. The panel has since resumed work. While we await for the report of this investigation, it is important to note some vital lessons to be learnt from this tragic mishap.
Lesson One; Government must insist that developers of high-rise buildings use established and known contractors. Based on stories in the public domain after the collapse, it seems that the developer relied mostly on artisans and direct labourers. An engineer who was said to be a pastor at the Redeemed Church of God was said to have brought 22 workers to the site from Mowe, Ogun State.
Another contingent of workers who were to work on the POP were said to have arrived at the site from Togo prior to the day of the collapse. There were aluminum workers on the site along with bricklayers and other workers. This is not right.
Building a 21-storey high-rise structure should not be handled like building flats and duplexes. It is a complex venture. Government must insist that those who want to develop high-rise buildings use only contractors with proven track records in the related field. These contractors would come with the professionalism that was lacking on the site of the collapsed building. There should have been a record of those on site. This was not done.
It is not enough to get consultants to supervise and then result to artisans to do the job. What you get is the kind of disaster that was witnessed on November 1 at Ikoyi. If you want to develop high-rise buildings, you can only do that by using established and known contractors. It should be a prerequisite for approval.
Lesson Two; Supervision by government agencies must be thorough and done at every stage of the construction. Femi Osibona did his first project in the UK. The difference was that there would an effective supervision at every stage of that project. It is not enough to give approvals, government agencies saddled with the responsibilities must supervise at every stage before the developer can move to the next stage. Certification must be compulsory before the developer can proceed to the next stage of the development.
I understand that the government might not have the necessary manpower to go round but the number of high-rise buildings under construction should not be difficult for these agencies of government to do the needful. If that is the case, there wouldn’t be need to seal the premises after some defects in the construction were detected. It could be recalled that this particular building was sealed for some time by the agency of government and it was only opened shortly before the building came down. If there had been effective supervision at every stage, the decision to seal the premises wouldn’t come after the building had reached the 21st floor.
Lesson Three: Developers of high-rise buildings must secure insurance policy at the building stage to protect subscribers. It is not only the developer and those who died in the rubble that were affected by the collapse. A lot of people had their dreams buried in that rubble. As at the time of collapse, the project was 60% subscribed. Many subscribers had paid between 1.2m and 5m U.S dollars. I know a couple of people who had subscribed to the project. There was a particular lady who had deposited 1.5m US dollars for the Penthouse. The lady was putting pressure on late Femi Osibona to do a dedicated lift to the Penthouse for her.
What would happen to such huge investment? Probably gone with the wind. The developer is not around to make refund. The said building has collapsed and the banks might move in to see what they could salvage in terms of their commitment to the project. Who protects the interest of those who paid deposit for these apartments, duplex and Penthouse that went down?. Some people might have borrowed to be able to afford to subscribe. It is a tragedy. The money involved is too huge to bear. I shudder when I think about it. Henceforth, government must insist that there must be adequate insurance that can kick in to compensate subscribers in this kind of tragedy.
Lesson Four: Gates of high-rise buildings must be constructed in a way that makes it easier for emergency workers to access. One thing I noticed about highrise buildings at Ikoyi and Victoria Island is that the developers are more interested in aesthetics and not bothered about safety. When there is an emergency like this, access is very important. Government through approving authorities must make sure that developers do not sacrifice safety for aesthetics. The construction must make access to the building easier for first responders and emergency workers. Entrance to the collapsed building was so narrow that it was very difficult for first responders and emergency workers to access the crashed site.
Lesson Five: Government must put in place a rapid response team with modern equipment to respond to disasters such as this. This is not the first time a building would collapse in Lagos. It is becoming a normal occurrence, yet we always have the same slow response. It took over two hours before emergency workers got to the site. They had to leave the site at night. Many people were trapped in the rubble overnight and it rained heavily which made things worse. It is possible that some souls would have been saved if we responded faster with modern equipment that could do the job.
We should not result to the benevolence of some construction companies for heavy duty equipment. Collapsed buildings are not new in Lagos, therefore we should be better prepared. Protection of lives and property is the primary duty of government.
Government failed some of the people trapped in that rubble. We should learn from this experience. It must not happen again. We must up our game when it comes to responding to disasters such as this.
Lesson Six: Government must prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for collapsed buildings in the past. There is a basic rule about crime, if people know they can get away with a crime, they would do it. So there must be punishment for infractions to serve as deterrent. Those responsible for collapsed buildings in the past were not made to account for their negligence. That is why some developers pay lottery with people’s lives. Government must be firm in making sure that laid down guidelines and approvals are followed.
Those responsible for collapsed buildings must be made to face the full wrath of the law.
There are different suggestions in the public domain on the reasons for the collapse. Someone came up with the argument that it could be controlled demolition through sabotage. I don’t think so. In a controlled demolition, you need a lot of explosives. Putting explosive in a particular place in the building wouldn’t achieve a controlled demolition. Explosives must be all around the building but this was not the case in this instance.
There was also a survivor who said a co-worker came to him hours before the collapse that he heard a sharp cracking noise that he had not heard before while working in the building. This guy was said to be a bricklayer. The survivor said he told the guy that he was imagining things and that he should go back to work. Less than two hours after that discussion he just heard a large bang and he opened his eyes at the hospital. The survivor said he was told that his limbs have to be amputated.
Another survivor told Premium Times that there was a major crack on an important pillar in the first floor. He said two of them were asked by engineer on site to demolish the pillar and that it would be recasted. He said it was while working to break the pillar that the building started shaking and he had to run outside. He said few minutes later, the building came down.
There could also be a spiritual angle to it. Those who know Femi Osibona claimed he was a strong member of Celestial Church of Christ. Perhaps, he got a message that his property was in danger, because he did a serious vigil on the rooftop of the building seeking the face of God. That is why some people felt that Femi cutting corners must have contributed to the tragedy.
Those who knew him vouched for him that he didn’t cut corners, that he planned to stay in the building that went down. He could not have cut corners if he was planning to live in the same building but some people also said Femi was not thorough when it comes to finishing of his property.
A subscriber to one of his Ikoyi projects told me that the apartment he bought from him had a lot of plumbing issues. He said he spent a lot of money to fit the problem but didn’t succeed.
In frustration, he had to sell the apartment. He said he was not the only one. He said a friend who also bought apartment in the same building couldn’t get a tenant for the apartment for sometime because of the same plumbing issue.
Whatever the case, there is need for closure and justice for the victims. The panel instituted by government must be allowed to do a thorough job. All areas of interest must be covered. And when the result is out, all those culpable must be brought to book. This must not be just another collapsed building where government would make nice sound bites and everybody moves on until the next victim. There is need for closure and justice for the victims.