The Next Lagos State Building Collapse
“Enforcement of building control regulations; regulation and inspection of building works and certification of various stages of building construction and keeping of such records; removal of illegal and non-conforming buildings; identification and removal of distressed buildings to prevent collapse; issuance of certificate of completion and fitness for habitation.”
The state consequently swung into action, pulling down many a defective building, and has reportedly sealed hundreds of others. Then came the mother of all Lagos building collapse at The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) headquarters in the Ikotun area of the state. Momentous as it is sadly symbolic, it claimed the highest number of casualties ever recorded in the state’s 48-year history —116! Witnesses at the scene of the incident saw and heard the building tumbling down. It was, however, unlikely if the state’s formidable ‘anti-building collapse’ arsenal saw it coming.
Quite disturbing is the thought that a next collapse could be one the watchdogs never really saw, talk little of barking at. The Lagos State Government, consequently, set up a coroner’s inquest aimed at getting under the foundation of the building, as it were, and finding answers to why it crumbled. Besides, the state had just had a new governor, and people needed to know an ‘aksan’ helmsman was one that broached no nonsense.
Upset, one online commentator, DJA1804, reacting to the ongoing legal tussle, writes: “There is no indication of any recommendation by the coroner for any sanction on officials of the Lagos State Physical Planning agencies. Does this not indicate that the government is only interested in punishing offenders that are unfortunate to record calamities? What were their officials doing for years that the building had been in use before the collapse? How does prosecuting SCOAN, only, bring back the dead to life?” But there are also virulent takes, like one Stanley Ugochukwu, who writes: “The collapse of that building is an organized (sic).
It is an act of sacrifice to the devil himself. Only a few can see beyond their nose(s). If he is innocent, let him go and prove his innocence. Why is he (T.B. Joshua) running from court invitations?” Paradoxically, views on what should become the judicial fate of The Synagogue, its founder, T.B. Joshua, and the engineers that shaped the building, are divergent. The matter is already the subject of court sessions, and while some people cry: ‘an eye for an eye’, others reason it could be unwise to mete same strokes to all folks.
Both sides have their reasons. The first school of thought insists state punitive measures, including confiscation of land, must be applied without fear or favour. They reason that if alleged negligence resulted in the death of dozens of innocent persons, heads have to roll.
(It must be noted that while T.B. Joshua and The SCOAN are magnified outside Lagos and particularly adored overseas, Many Lagosians snub the church). The second school regards victims of the collapse as martyrs or casualties of a most unfortunate accident, as could perhaps befall any organization. In this class are the thousands of residents in the church’s host community and the many more thousands: beneficiaries of its commercial boom. While the bubble lasted, The Guardian in its May 18, 2014 edition had published ‘Synagogue Economy: How Church’s Success Boosts Business In Host Community’.
It was a tale of “uncountable hotels” providing lodgings to thousands of visitors to the church every month; hundreds of agents who for a handsome fee helped guests to find accommodation; taxi operators, shuttling between the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, and appealing to colleagues to help ‘ferry’ the massive human cargo; residents being pushed out by landlords, as buildings were hurriedly converted to hotels; shop owners smiling to the banks, not minding the huge rents they pay landlords. According to one agent, “I am benefiting from the church. On a regular day, even without dissipating much energy, I take home at least N20.000.”
But that was before the collapse. Following the incident, there had been an unexplained cessation of the church’s crowd pulling programmes. Again in its July 26, 2015 edition, The Guardian had published ‘Synagogue Church vs Lagos Coroner: Community Groans, As Prophet Lies Low’. Asked to comment on the state of business, one Mrs. Eyitope who sells fabrics answered: “Business in this place is now dead.”
It was a tale of former hotels being re-converted to conventional accommodations; job-less taxi operators; and fears that idle youths may gain the devil’s employment. When The Guardian visited Mrs. Eyitope on Thursday, she was napping beside a bolted glass door. “So, how has been business, since the last story we did,” she was asked. She had just three words: “It is finished!” Whether the measure was adequate enough or not, she explained that she sat beside the door to prevent repeat of a burglar’s visit who made away with her purse, the week before. But she is not the only one that has lost a purse.
There are facts indicating that since the church halted its special programmes, the Lagos State government has lost billions of naira that might have accrued from the religious tourism spun by the Synagogue. Until the programmes were stopped, the volume of air travellers bound for the church was unrivalled by any religious organization, private or government establishment. The next Lagos building collapse, at the end of the day, might not be so much a physical structure as the loss of what might have been the state’s equivalent of Mecca or Medina.
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