Nigerian god and the miracle option
We should not expect God to do for us what we ought to do for ourselves.
On Monday, Nigeria was confronted with the tragedy of a 21-story building collapsing on Gerrard Road in the elite enclave of Ikoyi, Lagos. Up till the time of writing, we don’t know the identity of the dead who may be at least 20. We don’t know the wounded who are now in the hospital or luckily in their homes.
Most of the survivors belonged to the group known as Nigerian Anonymous. They were the workers on site. Who would give us their names? This was not the World Trade Centre in New York or some fancy apartment in Banana Island. This is the carcass of a building under construction which once completed, most of the workers who built it would never have access to it again for the rest of their lives.
Imaging if the collapse had been delayed for five more years and the property were populated with the families of the Nigerian rich. Those who would be living in those three towers, including servants and drivers, would be in their hundreds. We need to thank God for his mercies. We also need to learn our lessons. It is not certain what has become the fate of the developer of the property, Mr. Femi Osibona. One statement claimed he had been arrested. Another report indicated that he may have been one of the victims of the tragedy.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has moved in to take charge of the crisis. His Deputy Governor, Obafemi Hamzat, also visited the premises of the collapsed building in Ikoyi, one of the most expensive pieces of Mother Earth, and said indeed that the developer had approval for a 21-storey building. It is obvious however that despite Hamzat’s pronouncement, that does not certify the integrity of the structures. One storey is down now. Two are still standing. The future of those two structures is also in jeopardy.
The Lagos State Government has issued a statement assuring the public that it is up to its responsibilities in this matter. Gbenga Omotoso, the Commissioner for Information announced that Governor Sanwo-Olu is setting up a panel to get to the roots of this tragedy and make appropriate recommendations. Omotoso said the panel would be made up of members from the Nigerian Institute of Architects, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Nigeria Society of Engineers and other professional bodies.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has said the government will surely find out what went wrong and punish those indicted,” said Omotoso. As a first step, the Governor ordered the suspension of Gbolahan Oki, the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA. In his immediate comment after the collapse, Oki allegedly said the building may have collapsed because of poor and substandard materials used.
Even then, there has been some information in the public realm that should be of interest to the expected panel. One was the statement credited to David Majekodunmi, the President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects who said most likely the builder did not engage the services of qualified consultants for the project. He alleged that the names of the architect, builders, engineers and other mandatory consultants for such a project were not listed at the construction site. Only the telephone numbers of the project developer were listed.
Last year, Muritala Olawale, the Managing Director of Prowess Engineering Ltd, allegedly withdrew the services of his company from Fourscore Heights Limited, the developer of the project. In a letter in the public realm said to have been directed to Osibona, last year, Olawale said his company was withdrawing its services “because we no longer share the same vision with you as our client in terms of how the project is being executed.”
Olawale was very specific: “We can guarantee the integrity of the first two buildings and also works done up to the fourth floor of the third building supervised by us provided specifications have been met in terms of the required concrete strength. This we do not have control over as we do not have the concrete cube test results for each stage of the building to date. Also, kindly note that we are not taking responsibility for any other construction errors that may have occurred overtime on the project.”
Olawale would be thanking God that he wrote that letter dated February 20, 2020.
We have seen that in the realm of public health, public safety and public morality, we need stricter laws and stricter regulations. I remember during the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerian owned airlines were literarily dropping from the sky. It was a testy period until the government wielded the big stick and all of us are the winners for it.
In 2002, I was to travel to Bauchi to attend the special convocation of the Tafawa Balewa University where late Sir Dele Ige, the junior brother of Chief Bola Ige, the first elected Governor of Oyo State, was to be conferred with an honourary doctorate degree. I boarded IRS airline with other passengers including my cousin from Okemesi, Akin Osuntokun and Senator Peter Adeyemo from Oyo State. We were about seven minutes to the flight when we realised that the plane was losing height. The pilot announced calmly: “We are having some problems. We would try and return to Lagos!”
That morning, I realized that all Nigerians; Christians, Muslims, Traditional Worshipers, can actually pray in tongues! The flight back to Lagos took about 15 minutes. When the plane touched the tarmac, the cabin exploded into celebrations. God and the steady skills of the pilots guided us to safety.
In Nigeria today, we also expect God to be the pilot after providing us with the blue sky to fly in. We consign public safety to the realm of faith and superstition. There was a treading video some months ago. An impressive church building was on fire. Instead of the members calling the fire brigade, they trooped outside the front of the church. As the fire was gaining strength, the members were busy calling on the Holy Ghost to come and quench the fire!
Governor Sanwo-Olu has done the right thing by suspending the top civil servant in charge of approving the building plan for Lagos. He needs to do more, but he alone cannot do everything. He needs to get to the roots of this collapse, not just to honour the dead, but also to preserve the living. We need to know that it would spell disaster for Lagos and for Nigeria if Lagos also acquires the reputation where high-rise buildings are not safe. Lagos is the heartbeat of the Nigerian economy. It would be disastrous if we allow the property market in the state to go burst simply because some of us would not do our duties. The truth is that with this collapse, high rise buildings would face a tougher time in the market.
Sanwo-Olu must come to the rescue to allay the fears of the public and investing members of the international community that the Gerrard affair was only an accident and not the pattern of things to come. God loves Nigerians. He also expects us to do the right thing. Sanwo-Olu should help us find out those who did the wrong things that may have contributed to the Gerrard tragedy.