On Ita-Faji Building Collapse: Evidence of a Failed Enforcement Regime?

Ebenezer Makinde
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In Lagos State, after Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been convincingly elected by Lagosians, there was celebration, but it did not last long. Immediately, we moved from a fanfare to fair of death and fear. Social media platforms in it characteristic manner were inundated with several narratives. We first heard about a woman who lost five children to the incident, then the story was refuted and rebutted.

Then, we heard that one of the boys who died in the incident had told his mum that he did not want to go school on that day. And the discussion continued on Twitter only. On the field, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross, the Police and other rescue teams struggled to save lives. They fought hard. Of course, they lost some battle, but they won many others. All the same, it was a black Wednesday in Lagos State.

The incident occurred about 11am on Wednesday, 13th of March, 2019 when a four-storeyed building used as residential home; nursery and primary school and a shopping complex collapsed at Ita Faji on the Lagos Island. This led to the loss of many lives even as rescue teams struggled hard to save many others. Since the occurrence of this sad event, many prominent Nigerians have visited the scene while many others expressed their condolences, commiserated and sympathized with the parents and relations of the deceased.

President Muhammadu Buhari through his media aide, Femi Adesina having expressed his sadness at the incident and commiserate with the victims families charged the Lagos State government to do the needful to avoid any re-occurrence. Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was also present live at the scene to assess the situation.

However, while prominent Nigerians and government officials expressed their sadness and condolences, they also call for further government actions to avert any future  recurrences. Except that they are the government. That is how we do things in Nigeria. We prefer mere talks to real actions. Fake people!

Building Collapse in Nigeria: Too Many?

The spates of building collapse in Nigeria in the past twenty years have assumed a very worrisome dimension as many lives are lost and huge investments wasted. In a compilation and documentation done by Omeniru et al, (2016), over 175 different cases of building collapse have been recorded in Nigeria between 1971 to 2016 in Lagos, Abuja, Rivers, and Oyo State with about 1,455 reported casualties.

In 2016, more than 100 people were killed when a church came down in southeastern part of the country. In the same year in the same Lagos, a five-storey building still under construction collapsed, killing at least 30 people. In the same Lagos State, on 12th September, 2014, a guest house at Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed killing about 116 people including foreigners.

Each collapse carries along with it tremendous effects that cannot be easily forgotten by any of its victim. These include loss of human lives, economic wastage in terms of loss of properties, jobs, incomes, loss of trust, dignity and exasperation of crises among the stakeholders and environmental disaster.

Among other things, poor workmanship and ineffective supervision; use of quacks instead of professionals; corruption and greed in the building industry; poor enforcement of relevant laws; wrong construction methods; non enforcement of building codes or construction regulations; poor construction equipment and use of substandard building materials have been identified as the major reasons responsible for the increased incidence of building collapse in Nigeria.

Ita-Faji Building Collapse: Bringing the Law of the State Naught

The latest building collapse in the country has attracted Nigerians to the crisis in the Nigeria’s building sector. Some even played politics with the issue by juxtaposing the Ita-Faji Building collapse with the demolition of Yinka Ayefele’s Radio House in Ibadan by the Ajimobi led government in Oyo State. They pointed to the challenges faced by the government to demolish building marked for demolition in the light of the unnecessary and irrational emotions of Nigerians who usually gather to ‘overrule’ such demolition.

Governor Ambode reiterated this line of argument by apportioning criticisms at the owner of the collapsed Ita-Faji Building. According to the governor of Lagos State, the landlord of the building is to be blamed for resisting government demolition plan. He said the collapsed building was a residential house with a school operating illegally.

But can the state survive if a private citizen can routinely bring her laws to naught? Beyond the rhetoric and blame game of the Ita-Faji Building collapse is the challenge with law enforcement in Nigeria. I wondered in secrecy what Governor Ambode really meant by the ‘landlord resisted demolition plan of the government’. Like when did we get to this situation that a citizen can conveniently challenge the authority of the government when it is obvious that the government is in the right? The Lagos State government and all the agencies responsible need to come out and tell us what really happened.

Also, did the Lagos State government go to the location of the building with bulldozer and caterpillar to effect the demolition? The governor did not tell us any of this. Or whether any one received money to keep quiet. In Oyo State, when Ajimobi wanted to demolish the Radio House, he went there with bulldozer and all the pleads fell on deaf ears. So there are many things Governor Ambode is not telling us or does not know.

Failure of government Agencies

Building collapse in Nigeria exemplifies the failure of the government especially the government Agencies in charge of construction and building approval. In the case of Lagos State, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) is the agency specifically responsible for building control in all its ramifications like approval to commence construction after obtaining development permit, issuance of certificate of completion of building construction and fitness for habitation, identification and removal of distressed and non-comforming buildings.

The Agency works together with developers or owners to provide a highly quality service and to make sure that all building works are satisfactorily carried out. LASBCA also work closely with other government agencies such as Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA).

So, if the Ita-Faji building has been identified and marked for demolition, what is the agency waiting for before pulling it down? Many of such buildings are still in Lagos; disaster waiting to happen. Nonetheless, LASBCA have moved to take action as demolition of marked buildings in Lagos State commences already. But they waited for many people to die before they do their jobs. Someone needs to be punished for the lost lives.

Immediately after the building collapse in Ita Faji, many people were asking for the cause of the incidence. Like why did the building collapse? Instead of why did the government not destroy the building after it has been marked for demolition? As a matter of fact, the building collapse exactly because it is due to collapse.

Too many cases of building collapse is happening in Lagos State. This is not the time for mere talks. This is the time for the government to step up and work. A lot still needs to be done. The Good Lord shall grant the families of the deceased the fortitude to bear the loss and I also wish the injured speedy recovery!


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