In the shadows of a cityscape forever scarred, where concrete giants once stood tall, the echoing cries of heartbroken families persist, demanding a reckoning long overdue. Months have passed, but the wounds remain fresh, as the haunting memory of a building collapse continues to cast a pall of sorrow over the lives of those who lost their loved ones. In the midst of the bustling metropolis, a silent plea for justice resounds, a plea that refuses to be silenced by the relentless march of time, JOSEPHINE OGUNDEJI writes
Omotolani Atolagbe’s voice quivered with distress as she settled into the chair reserved for her at the other end of the table, despite the physical distance that separated her from our correspondent.
Over the phone, in the quiet of the evening in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, her words painted a haunting picture of a building collapse that killed two of her children. Her wry smile, though not visible, could be sensed in her voice as she began to recount the tragic tale.
As the tears welled in her eyes, she paused, audibly wiping her face on the back of her hand. Her voice trembled with emotion as she vividly described the heart-wrenching events that had unfolded, the loss of two of her beloved children. The telephone line seemed to resonate with the weight of her grief, her words carrying the anguish of a mother’s pain.
“Since the collapse that cost the lives of my 10-year-old and 7-year-old sons, I have just been squatting with my older sister and remaining four children in the garage, while my husband is sleeping from one mosque to another that he comes across, we do not have a home or anything, we do not have any help, the case has since then been in court, “she explained our correspondent.
The middle-aged old woman remained polite, even in the face of such overwhelming sorrow. However, her words and tone betrayed her as someone who was profoundly dazed by the tragedy that had befallen her family.
She spoke not only of her loss but also of the justice she sought, demanding compensation for the devastating and irreparable harm that had been done.
“The government should please come to our aid, I and my family are homeless, and my remaining 4 children have been unable to go to school because we do not have anything, nor do we have shelter,” She pleaded.
They went from living together as a family in a comfortable three-bedroom apartment in Ikorodu to suddenly finding themselves without a place to rest their heads. This tragic turn of events occurred when a neighboring hotel, which had been leaning against its property’s fence, collapsed due to an overflow of water.
Following the collapse of a distressed three-storey building at Agboye Estate on Oduntan Street, Ketu, in the Ketu area of Lagos State, one of the injured victims, Onawole Adebayo, recounted his ordeal during the incident.
Adebayo, who is an artisan, said that he had gone to the premises to work for a customer on the second day the building collapsed.
He said, “My customer who was an occupant in the building called me on Saturday that I should help him remove some of his appliances after the state government had ordered the people living there to evacuate the building.
“So, I went there on Sunday morning and helped him to remove his fan from the ceiling. His apartment is on the ground floor. So, I had stepped out of the room and was about to head to the gate when the building caved in on me. That was the last thing I remembered before I woke up here in the hospital. I was unconscious.”
During a conversation with Adebayo’s child, she informed our correspondent that her family had not received any compensation for the physical injuries her father suffered due to the actions of the construction expert.
Also, a generator seller and parts dealer, Francis Egbuonu, operated his business in a building that tragically collapsed on Ibadan Street in Ebute-Metta, Lagos State during the second quarter of 2022, killing 10 tenants.
He said, “I offloaded generators there on Saturday night, the night of the next day when I was at home, I was told that the house collapsed. The house collapsed on all the generators, so all the investment went down the drain. I was not compensated, I had to go take loans to start my life again.”
553 buildings collapsed in 49 years – BCPG
Nigeria witnessed a total of 553 building collapses between 1974 and ending on April 13, 2023, according to the latest report by the Building Collapse Prevention Guild.
The report indicated that Lagos State had recorded a high collapse with over 326 buildings caving in the last 49 years.
It showed that 326 collapsed buildings in Lagos represented 59.05 per cent of a total of 553 recorded cases in the country during this period.
The report stated, “Lagos State accounts for 59.05 per cent of the recorded incidents in Nigeria. Taraba, Bayelsa, Gombe, and Yobe states had their first recorded collapse in 2022, and Zamfara has only one recorded building collapse, which happened in 2018. Also, 1971, 1975, and 1981 were years that had no recorded collapses.
“The year 2022 has had the most collapses with 62 nationwide with Lagos accounting for 20. In addition, 2023 has recorded 12 collapses so far.”
Findings by the guild revealed that professional ineptitude ranging from excessive loading, use of substandard materials, faulty design, poor workmanship, and weak foundation accounted for a significant fraction of the collapses recorded during the period under review.
One of the most tragic of the cases was the 21-storey building collapse along Gerrard Road in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State on November 1, 2021.
The Pioneer President of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Kunle Awobodu, said it was an aberration when new buildings collapse frequently, while some old buildings were still intact after several years.
Awobodu said, “This brings us to the expiry date of a building. Theoretically, a building is assumed to have a lifespan of about 60 years. However, looking at the age of the Wiston Castle in London for instance, the castle has been there since 1070. Coming home to Nigeria, in some of the building surveys conducted by the Nigerian Institute of Building in 2020, it would be discovered that buildings like the Water House owned by Candido Da Rocha on Lagos Island were constructed in 1874 and were still stable when we conducted a structural integrity test on it.
“This means that the construction technology is questionable, and the durability of materials and professionalism is essential when buildings are being constructed. In addition, the problem of quackery in the building construction industry in Nigeria has been a major cause of frequent collapses.”
In the same vein, the Honorary Secretary, Nigerian Institute of Building, Abiodun Ogundare, noted that the failure to carry out stage certification implied the government’s vote of no confidence on that building.
He said, “The kind of culture the built industry has imbibed will make stage certification difficult to deploy. The normal thing to do when you want to start construction is to write out your intentions to the Lagos State Building Control Agency. After sending all your drawings, the Lagos State Planning Permit Authority issues a permit stipulating that you can build and where your building should be, while the Lagos State Building Control Agency tells you the quality of materials to use. However, a typical developer would not wait and the issue of stage certification would be the last thing on his or her mind.
“The only thing the government can do to avoid the delays in building approval is to still allow for stage certification to be done even if approval has not been granted yet, this aids a supervisory role over buildings.
However, the culture of building construction which is dependent on who-know-who does not let the process of stage certification thrive.”
While proffering a solution, Ogundare said subscribers should be asking for these relevant documents such as the stage certification receipt, among others.
He said, “What can put every builder on their toes is to submit their licenses once they are about to commence a building project and once the building comes down, such builders and those involved in the building process would be held liable. Hence, a filing system is germane to tracking the records of builders in charge of any building construction.”
Without insurance, no compensation
In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers, Tope Adaramola, claimed whatever was worth having, was worth insuring.
He said, “The recurrence of these building incidences is underscoring the need for a better embrace of insurance in Nigeria, as there is no economy that grows without insurance. Inherent in every human endeavour has an element of risk in them. These uninsured risks are drawbacks for both the citizens and the government because the government does not have the capacity to return everybody who suffers a loss back to the place they were before the loss.
“Whatever the government gives the victims of these losses by way of palliative is just scratching the back of the matter, and this should be a wakeup call. No matter how much we sympathise, some of this sympathy could amount to mere shedding of tears unless insurance is taken very seriously.”
According to him, sections 64 & 65 of the Insurance Act of 2003 take care of risks associated with buildings and also provide for contractor liability.
In the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Carefirst Consult Limited, Gus Wiggle, said the victims could not be compensated if the collapsed building was not insured.
He said, “Enforcement is a problem in the country, it is expected that when approval is being sought, part of the requirement during the documentation process of the building is the attachment of an insurance policy, also renewal of this insurance policy while the construction is ongoing because this insurance policy is renewed annually until the building is completed. If the authorities in charge of approving building approvals do not enforce these laws, insurance companies would not know if a building has insurance or not, even when we go to them in the course of construction asking if they have insurance they usually say God is their insurance.
“The fundamental thing to do is to have a strong enforcement policy, and regular checks being conducted. Hence, if there is no insurance, there is no compensation. “
Similarly, the Managing Partner at Samson Agbato Consulting, Emmanuel Ebede, said there was a law that provided that every building should be insured.
He said, “This law on building insurance has not been insured enough, once these buildings are insured, it is the headache of insurance companies to pay compensation to victims of such collapse. Some people do this insurance to protect their investments, not whoever is affected, the government should endeavor to the investors for themselves and also for whoever would be affected by a collapse.
“Without the insurance, the victims should be compensated by the investors; however they might not get adequate compensation as they should and the investors might cut corners in avoiding compensating the victim of the collapse.”
Implied responsibility of builders
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Oladipo Okpeseyi, at the 32nd Lagos Builders Conference and Annual General Meeting, said builders must know that to every work they embark upon, there was a legal terminology “implied term, “ whether or not it is written into their contract.
He said, “There is therefore an obligation of implied terms on every builder’s engagement on a project. This presupposes that every builder taking on any building work warranties fitness, quality, and workmanship.”
Citing the case of Dutton v. Bognor Regis Urban District Council (1972) 1 QB at 394 B-C- Lord Denning M.R held, “I hold therefore, that a builder is liable for negligence in constructing a house- whereby a visitor is injured.”
Okpeseyi further said a builder of a house or a building had an enormous duty or responsibility to the owner, and even the tenant of the property may have a claim of negligence for damage to remedy their loss as victims of the collapse or defective building.
He added, “The builder on site has the duty to ensure good materials and proper mixture or blend of materials is achieved before being used on the construction. In addition, it must be noted that Dutton v. Bognor is also an authority evidencing that officials alone cannot be liable for defects in construction. They might be negligent in passing poor work but for the actual construction, the builder is liable due to negligence.”