The metaphor of the collapse of the building and the fate of Nigeria

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The collapse of that frail twenty-one story building in Ikoyi Lagos last week left the nation in tangible shock more because of the circumstances of the tragedy than the fact itself. Because in the last ten odd years there have been too many buildings that collapsed and cost lives. On March 8, 2016, a five-story building in Lekki collapsed during construction, killing at least 34 people. In 2019, a three-story building in the Ita Faaji district of Lagos suffered a structural collapse, killing over twenty people. We often moaned and urged the authorities to investigate and hold the guilty parties accountable. A panel would be set up. We would go to sleep and the report would be buried like the lives of the people lost in the implosion. How many people have been found guilty and punished in the past? Nobody, according to the research I’ve done. The business was always the same.

The collapse of the Gerrard Road Ikoyi skyscraper and the story that came after it collapsed are metaphors for the Nigerian state. The first allusion is the weak foundation. The country has a weak foundation based on injustice, injustice, malice, oppression, exploitation of the people, greed, power for the sake of power, rape of the financial resources of the state by the privileged few. According to reports, the construction of fifteen floors has been approved; but the developer went beyond that framework to the twenty-first floor. Ominously, a commissioned engineering company withdrew from the project and wrote a damning letter that would have stopped the project in more sensible areas. In fact, this letter was written by an expert who foresaw what might happen to the collapsed building.

Femi Osibona, developer of the collapsed Ikoyi building

Hasn’t this letter got into the hands of the Land Development Regulators in Lagos State? Why didn’t the Lagos State Building Control Agency stick to their earlier land decision? Was there an order from above? What spirit of impunity drove the builder to disregard all existing building rules by erecting twenty-one buildings on fifteen-story foundations? How and why did the building collapse during his visit, not before, not after? Nemesis? Deliberate sabotage by injured parties? Why and how did a friend who was on his way to the US, who could have had a video chat with the client, decided to make a physical visit? What role does the motivational speaker play in the circulating video of Pastor Ashimolowo claiming his prayers did wonders for the developer? Was there any divine retribution? How many buildings stand on one leg in Lagos and across the country? Where will the next collapse take place? There are questions. To many questions! Questions we may never have answers to.

Of course we feel sorry for the dead. Unhappy people who went to the place to look for their daily bread. They did not understand the danger the building posed to humanity. If they did, they would have left the site after the engineers withdrew in 2020. Stories followed. Someone said he was denied a job because of his religion. Still, many Mallams worked on the site. A member of the NYSC stationed in Lagos state also died. Too many deaths. Untimely deaths. Sad. Tragic. Avoidable. Still, it is the story of Nigeria. We think about what could have happened if the building had been completed and the tenants had moved in with their families and then over a hundred families would have died in one night after the hard work of the day.

We have to watch buildings collapse all over the world. There have been reports of collapsed buildings in America and Britain. There was the fire in Grenfell Tower, which destroyed the twenty-four-story building in London on June 24, 2017. In July of this year, a condominium in Florida went under, killing over a hundred people. However, the state’s response is reassuring people that the right steps are being taken to deal with those who may have compromised the standards. Not so in Nigeria.

I would not be surprised if plans are already underway to mitigate any kind of punishment that should be inflicted on the regulator. His traditional ruler, the pastor or imam, would be called upon to push buttons and ensure that his career is not sacrificed for negligence. Maybe he has a senator godfather who the governor needs to win a district, the president needs to win the state, and for political reasons the matter would be buried. His wife could be the daughter of a party bonus that was a constant party’s donor in the state. Or he is a pastor in one of the mega-churches whose general overseer is omnipotent. It is the history of Nigeria!

The story of the story building is the story of Nigeria. Quick solutions for quick profits. The current political structure in Nigeria is not working. Governance is weak and problematic. The disappointment with the political system is great. The federal government is arrogant and inefficient. The level of uncertainty is unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. Abuja tinkered with it, however, and in preparation for the parliamentary elections in 2023, issued himself a passport token in governance. We are told that the developer managed to sell 70% of the property in foreign currency before completion. All of that money is gone. While the developer’s body was still warm, Sahara reporters told reporters that his wife and the man’s siblings were already fighting over cars and property. Vanity of Vanity Everything is vanity, says the preacher.

The collapse could have been avoided, just as the wavering fate of Nigeria could have been avoided. Steps need to be taken to uncover where there has been a violation of the law. This would prevent future negligence. When other builders have compromised building standards, it is time for the 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 compensation from the developer’s estate if they were as wealthy as are reportedly claimed. May the bereaved find comfort and consolation in the Almighty!

* Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha, University of Lagos

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