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Collapsed buildings: survivors still in agony, uncertain of their future

By Tobi Awodipe
10 May 2019   |   4:00 am
Odunoloa Temidayo wants to be a journalist when she grows up. That has always been the dream of this shy, reserved, once-bubbling teen right from when she was very young...

Children playing at the court

Odunoloa Temidayo wants to be a journalist when she grows up. That has always been the dream of this shy, reserved, once-bubbling teen right from when she was very young. But that dream was almost truncated on the 13th of March this year as she was one of the lucky survivors in the collapsed three-storey building on 63, Massey Street, Ita Faaji, Lagos Island on that day.

Healed and revitalised now, the 16-year-old recounted to The Guardian the experience of the day she says she will never forget as long as she lives.

“We were all at home, my mother, my siblings and I. I had to take my younger ones to school before coming back home to prepare for my tutorial as I was preparing to write my senior GCE examination. When I got back, my parents had both gone to work leaving my older brother and myself at home.

Immediately I got in, my brother said he was having a premonition that something was about to happen in the house and I laughed at him, saying he had started his spiritual dreams and visions. He ignored me and said I should be fast and leave the house.

As I was about to leave, I realised the slippers I wanted to wear were bad so I took them to a cobbler just opposite the house and sat there waiting for him to repair it. Before my very eyes, I saw the house I just came out from dividing into two, collapsing into itself and I immediately fainted in shock as I had never seen anything like that before.”

Thanking God that none of her family members were killed, she started crying immediately she remembered her friends and neighbours that weren’t as lucky.

Temidayo said they were not able to bring out anything, “not even a pin” from the house and had to start life all over again. “Things have been very hard, my parents have gone to work now, my mother works at RedTag, the branch on Lagos Island while my father works in Ikoyi. I’m not sure what is next in store for us but I am begging the government not to abandon us to our fate. My parents have vowed never to return to the Island again, they want to rent an apartment at Ikotun but we don’t have any money.”

Praising the Lagos State emergency rehabilitation camp, she said the place had been a god-sent for them. “They give us everything we need, I don’t know how the government knows what we need but they know and they give us. Whenever I remember people that died, like Daddy Sherriff, Taiye, Aunty Tope, the students of the primary school and one blind man that lived downstairs, I don’t know his name, I feel extremely sad and wonder why I was spared. The people I loved the most, Taiye and Aunty Tope died and I am yet to recover. I want to read journalism and mass communication but I don’t know if it will still be possible with all that has happened now.”

Orekoya Sulaimon, another resident of the same building said he moved into the house three years ago with his mother after his parents separated. Despite the fact that the building was distressed, rent wasn’t cheap as he said they rented the room for N70, 000.

Crying and speaking in Yoruba, he said, “When we were about to move into the house, we noticed that the house was very distressed but we decided to manage it like that. It had cracks on the wall, both inside and outside but we never imagined it would collapse so soon.

On that black day, we were at home and had just finished eating when the landlord’s wife came to meet us and suddenly started rambling that when they wanted to raise the building from one storey a few years ago, they wanted to rent the decking part to a network provider to mount a mast but she discouraged her husband, telling him to add more residential floors instead. She also said that she left instructions for her kids to be taken to a nearby church when they returned from school and so on.

I was wondering why she was telling us all these unnecessary stories and while I was still standing there confused, she and her husband who were on their way out, suddenly turned and told us that the back of our room had a ‘small issue’. So we all went to look at what she was talking about and before our very eyes, the wall started cracking.”

“My mother immediately raised alarm and told us to get out that the house was about to collapse and I immediately obeyed but my uncle that came to visit us said I should give him his slippers at the door and immediately I did and he started putting them on while I tried to lock the door. As I was locking the door, I heard a loud sound and looked behind me and the floor caved in like a lift, taking my uncle with it.

While I was still shouting, where I was standing on caved in as well and we were trapped there for about six hours.

Everywhere was dark; I couldn’t see anything but I could still hear my younger sister’s voice as well as others, crying for help. I told her to conserve her energy for breathing and after a while, I heard people breaking through the rubble and a ray of light came in.

While trying to move, I touched something big and soft and on raising it to the light, I saw it was someone’s dismembered leg. I threw it away in shock and my mother told me it is the leg of the uncle that was trying to put on his shoe. I refused to believe her, digging further as much as I could till I confirmed through the trousers he had on. A pillar had fallen across his body, severing the leg from the body; he was already dead by then. I was crying non-stop by now, shouting for help louder.

“We were rescued shortly after and placed in an ambulance but my mother kept shouting that her leg was in so much pain.

At the hospital, I asked about my younger sister the following day when I woke up and I was told she was better and was recovering well. I didn’t know I was being deceived. When I was about to be discharged on Saturday, my sister’s husband came and said I should do like a man and so on. It was then I was told that my sister suffered a spinal cord injury and died the day before. They had to take some Muslim clerics to deliver the news to my mother because of her state.”

Sulaimon revealed that after he was discharged, he was so disoriented and depressed, he went to live with a relative but still suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and had to move to the rehabilitation camp for proper care.

“I am being well taken care of here. I eat and sleep well and see doctors and psychiatrists. But I am afraid for the future; I don’t know what will happen to me when I have to leave here. I want to be supported with funds to get a house and start my business. I customize clothes for a living. I will be doing my freedom this year and want to stand on my own two feet,” he said.

Modinat Lawal, popularly known in the camp as Iya Akoni was a resident at Apatira. She said she lived in the building for three years.

Clutching her baby, Akoni, to her chest, the boy played, oblivious to the fact that his father was gone and his mother was in pain. She claimed that she didn’t know the building was distressed and was told by the landlord and agent that the building was just renovated. (The cracks were actually plastered three years ago by the landlord).

Narrating the incident to The Guardian, she said she had taken her older children to school while her husband, who worked as a bouncer at a popular hotel on the island had just returned from work, complaining of feeling ill and requested some drugs. Not seeing the drugs, she said she was standing across the street, shouting to her husband when the house suddenly caved in.

“I immediately collapsed and started shouting for help. People didn’t even know what happened initially but I started screaming my husband’s name and that the house had collapsed. He wasn’t rescued until 4:00 p.m in the evening and was brought out dead and was buried immediately because we are Muslims. I never even saw him nor where he was buried; the last time I set eyes on him was that morning when he asked me to go buy drugs for him.”

Lamenting that life had been very hard for her since that day, she said she had no family in Lagos and nobody to ask for help.

“When I heard they were taking us somewhere, I elected to go along. I don’t have anything left in this world; someone gave this dress I’m wearing to me. I do nails and plait small children’s hair for a living but I haven’t been able to do that since that day. We are being well taken care of here; we have no problem but what will happen to me when we leave here? I am here with two of my children; the third one is in a boarding school. I want the government to help me with funds to get a house and shop so I can fend for my children and myself. I don’t want to go back to the Island again, that place holds bad memories for me.”

Ibidun Ayeni who lost her mother and is still in shock said the collapse did not come as a surprise to any of them. “It was only God that held that building till morning because if it had collapsed the night before, we would all have died excluding the school children.

We have all been seeing signs, right from when we moved in four years ago. It was my mother that secured the place, I wasn’t around when she got it and from the outside, it looked relatively okay but once you got inside, it was clear the building wasn’t sound. There was no place to spread washed clothes so we knocked some nails on the wall in the passage and we noticed that the nails couldn’t stay in, sand kept pouring out. Whenever it rained and thunder struck, the walls cracked.”

“I received a prophecy in the church that the building was going to collapse shortly after I moved in with my mother but after the third, fourth year and the building didn’t collapse, we disregarded the prophecy.”

Showing off her injuries, she said she was recovering well but was still sad over the death of her mother and stepfather. I didn’t even know my mother had died until someone tagged me in her picture on Facebook saying “R.I.P.” I was so traumatised and went into shock.”

“When they asked us to come here (LASEMA camp, Igando), I was reluctant and initially refused until one of our tenants who came here earlier sent whatsapp pictures and videos to us, showing off how she was enjoying the camp. I will never go back to Lagos Island to live under any circumstance. When I went back last week to see my people, I couldn’t believe I lived in that kind of environment.”

Ibidun disclosed that she was trying to save up money for her higher education before the unfortunate incident and worked as a cleaner for offices and homes.

“I want to work and fend for myself but I am yet to fully recover. I don’t want to be a cleaner forever but at this stage, I am ready to do any work to keep body and soul together. I don’t regret coming here at all; we’re being taken care of as much as possible. When I got here, I was very lean and haggard but now, I have put on weight.

Even my former neighbours didn’t recognise me when I went back to Massey. The items that were donated to us were shared amongst us and we’re free to do what we like with them. I was surprised they didn’t take anything for themselves. I don’t want to be stranded when I leave here, I want to get a job and go back to school but I don’t have anyone to help me as I am an orphan now.”

Iya ‘Beji who lost one of her twin girls, Taiye, burst into tears immediately she tried to speak. She couldn’t continue as she kept on crying and had to be led away. Her voice, hoarse from crying was filled with so much pain as she said she never imagined she would have to bury a child in such circumstances.

The surviving twin, Kehinde was playing with water with other children, seemingly oblivious to what her mother was experiencing but this was discounted as The Guardian reporter was told that she usually asks of her twin intermittently in tears, saying she missed her and wanted to see her.

One of the nurses said they kept telling her that her sister had been taken abroad by some family members for a while and, ‘she would be told the truth when she is a bit older and is able to process it. For now, we want them to heal in every way possible, physically, mentally and psychologically.

A lot of them suffer from trauma-related disorders including poor sleeping, eating habits, hallucinations and bad dreams, headaches, claustrophobia, fear of being in any building other than a bungalow amongst other issues and we know with time, some of these issues would be resolved.”

Of the almost 500 displaced camp residents, most are young children and teenagers and the number is likely to go up according to the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Adesina Tiamiyu. “We have about 500 people as of today but more and more people are still coming in. The figures are fluctuating daily, so I cannot give a specific figure.”

On the survivor’s future plans, he said while they are trying to put things in place, the plans of the survivor’s would also be put into consideration. “We ask them the plans they have for themselves as soon as they come in, telling them not to wait for government before making plans. Remember some of them were into businesses before they were displaced and every morning, some of them leave the camp to go to their places of business.”

“I tell them, ‘government is taking care of the feeding for you and your family free of charge, accommodating you free of charge and so on’.

If at the end of three months, government gives you a token, you can add something to it and get a comfortable accommodation. But if you aren’t doing anything, at the end of three months, you will have nothing to show for it. I don’t want them to come here and just eat and sleep for three months; I urge them to think of what they can do to support themselves, no matter how small.

I know something terrible happened but it is not the end of life. I always implore them to speak to those who go out daily to show them the ropes and guide them into something. Nobody will blame them if they go round, do temporary menial jobs to raise money and get back on their feet.”

“Even if we take the maximum six months to camp them, the months will fly by in the wink of an eye and without proper planning, they will be back to square one. That will be disappointing for us personally because of the efforts we are putting into trying to effectively rehabilitate them. We are also looking at trying to engage the Lagos State Security Trust Fund to find out if there is any support that can be rendered to them.”

Adesina said whilst he wasn’t pining the blame on the survivors, the role of society in nation building had to be re-examined. “If you see a house that appears distressed, however little the crack is, you must be concerned. Don’t wait for government to come to your rescue, go and report to the appropriate authorities.

Some landlords resist whenever we mark their buildings for demolishing and we meet with stiff resistance even from the tenants. There was a video of a house that was circulating on social media that showed the balcony was already falling off and the governor, after seeing the video, personally directed that the house be traced and demolished. It was traced to Obadina Street in Lagos Island and to our utmost surprise, when we got there, a bricklayer was already patching it and plastered it overnight. But we evicted the tenants that same night because we were unsure if the building could last another 24 hours.”

“Nigerians must play their own part really. If people don’t rent such houses, the owners will be forced to repair them properly or give them out to a developer to pull it down and re-build them.

Thankfully, in the last one month, government and government agencies have shown more resolve and they would take chances again knowing full well that the wrath of the people will fall on them. I want to believe that this will send a strong signal to a lot of landlords to get ready for their houses to be demolished when it is showing signs of distress.”

He urged stakeholders to improve in service delivery, show compassion for human lives and be above board. “I have impressed on my staff not to collect any form of gratification and those that have attempted to play smart in the past lost their jobs. I want all government agencies to be firm and honest and after a while, Nigerians wouldn’t see any official to bribe to look the other way when they are doing the wrong thing.”

He warned landlords and developers that keep adding floors to buildings without doing structural tests to desist, urging regulatory bodies to be up and doing. “We must be firm. When someone applies for building permit, send someone there and be honest.

Government needs to be more forceful in enforcing building regulations. Concerned professional bodies should form pressure groups and get involved with the regulatory bodies with information, ideas and training, else this will become an unending ugly cycle, waiting for another one to happen.

Nobody wants these kinds of tragedies to happen and it saddens us to see that there seems to be no end to this problem. I would continue to advise everyone to handle this issue with all the seriousness it deserves,” he said.

As the day drew to a close, the children took the courts and fields to play while they were waiting for dinner to be ready.

At 8:00pm, dinner was served to all the residents in the camp. As they jostled to fill their plates, Iya Akoni remarked aloud that their stay at the camp would soon be over and the future still remained uncertain for most of them, herself even more so.