© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Building collapse incidents government failed to investigate
IT was a familiar narrative on Wednesday when a three-storey building housing a nursery/primary school collapsed in the Ita Faji area of Lagos Island. Witnesses say 16 persons so far have been confirmed dead in the incident while 41 others are receiving treatment in hospitals across the state.
Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode, has promised that an investigation would be carried out to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the incident. However, if past events are anything to go by, the governor’s remark may just be empty rhetoric that is common with public office holders in Nigeria.
Over the years, Lagos State has gained notoriety as the state of several building collapses, but never have the owners of these buildings been held responsible by the relevant government agencies.
For instance, the building that collapsed in Lagos recent had reportedly been marked for demolition three times, but the agency involved did not demolish it. Will there be sanctions for the officers that refused to take proactive action, and thus responsible for the collapse of the building? Your guess is as good as mine.
Meanwhile, here are a number of recent incidents of building collapses in Nigeria that claimed the lives of several citizens but are yet to be investigated and the culpable parties yet to be sanctioned.
Port-Harcourt building collapse
In late November 2018, a seven-storey building under construction collapsed in the Woji area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The building, according to Governor Nyesom Wike, was being constructed illegally. Wike said that according to the Port Harcourt City Masterplan, a seven-storey building was not supposed to be constructed in that area of the city.
The State’s Commissioner for Urban Development, Reason Onya, accepted responsibility for the avoidable disaster and subsequently tendered his resignation.
Onya admitted that he gave the approval on 18/7/2014, for the building to commence, and when the file got missing from the ministry’s custody, he issued another approval on 14/9/2018.
“To those that lost their loved ones, I am pained, so pained that each time I visit the site, my heart bleeds; each time I hear news of it, I am perturbed. I am sincerely sorry for all the pains you all have gone through in the cause of this that my official assignment is involved,” he pleaded.
Wike had vowed that all the parties that had a hand in the collapsed building would be investigated and prosecuted, including the owner of the property, the contractor handling it, and the official that approved it.
It’s been four months now, and nothing has been heard.
Abuja building collpase
In August 2018, a three-storey building under construction collapsed at the Utako District of Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory, initially killing one person and injuring several others. The death toll would later rise to five, comprising five construction workers and two others, a mother and child who were selling their wares at the site of the construction.
The collapsed building had been abandoned for 15 years before work resumed on it shortly before it came down.
As usual, the Minister of the FCT, Muhammed Bello, promised to get to the root of the matter as well as ensure that anybody found culpable in the incident would be punished.
Two years earlier, in 2016, Bello had made a similar comment in 2016 after a building collapse incident at the Gwarinpa district of Abuja. He stripped the Federal Housing Authority, FHA, of the powers to approve building construction in the FCT and vested it on the Development Control Department of the FCT Administration.
Till date, nothing has been heard about the investigations into the Gwarinpa and Utako incidents.
Available records on building collapse in Abuja show that at least 49 deaths have been recorded in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory between 2008 and 2018.
Uyo church building collapse
On December 10, 2016, the roof of Reigners Bible Church International collapsed in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, during a service in which the owner of the church, Akan Weeks, was to be ordained a bishop.
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State was present at the church service when the building collapsed but he escaped unhurt, but hundreds of others were not as lucky.
Official casualty figure was put at 27, but Etete Peters, the Chief Medical Director of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, where many of the victims were rushed to shortly after the incident, said the dead were more than 200.
“Many victims are in private hospitals and mortuaries scattered all over Uyo metropolis; we can’t really tell how many people have died so far. We have over 200 persons in the mortuaries. We do not have space, as people are still being brought in,” Peters told Punch Newspaper at the time.
A survivor, Uduak Effiong, also told the newspaper that the number of dead could be as high as 300.
“From my estimation, more than 300 people might have died because people came from other churches in all parts of the state, including government-sponsored praised singers with uniforms to attend the programme. For some of us that escaped, we only did by the special grace of God,” she said.
A panel of inquiry was set up after the incident, and during one of the hearings, the Head of Town Planning Department of the Uyo City Capital Development Authority, UCCDA, Effiong Akpan, said both the owner of the church, Akan Weeks, and the state government was to blame for the calamity.
Akpan said the church was being constructed without approval and when his department sought to demolish it, the government did not approve the necessary funding for the demolition to take place.
“We needed cranes, excavators, bulldozers, money, security coverage and vehicles to carry out the demolition… but the then Accountant-General did not release the money,” Akpan said.
But Governor Udom overruled the probe panel and exonerated the pastor who owns the collapsed church building. Udom said that since the pastor was relying on the professionals he had employed for the building, it was the professionals, not the pastor, that is to blame.
Synagogue church building collapse
It was on September 12, 2014, at the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), owned by the popular televangelist, T.B. Joshua, when a six-storey guest house which was still under construction in the church premises, but which was already housing guests that visited the church from all over the world, collapsed, killing a total of 116 people died in the incident, out of which 84 were South Africans.
Shortly after the collapse, it was reported that the owner of the church tried to bribe journalists to keep them from reporting the incident, but some refused to collect the money and went ahead to report it.
It was reported that the church did not obtain the necessary authorisation before embarking on the building construction.
Then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, formed a panel of enquiry to unravel the facts of the matter, and following investigations, the contractors in charge of the building were arraigned before Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of the Lagos State High Court on a 110-count charge of manslaughter, to which they pleaded not guilty.
The synagogue church was also charged with one-count of building without approval. The case is still pending at the court of appeal after their no case submission was struck out by the lower court.
There have been several other incidences of building collapses across the states of the federation including in Anambra, Ebonyi and Benue. However, none of these cases has been investigated nor any defaulter held responsible.