Following the collapse of a five-storey building under construction by Lekki Estate Worldwide Limited on Kushenla Road, Ikate Elegushi, Lekki, Lagos State on Tuesday, 8th March, 2016, in which over 30 persons died, the Lagos state government under the able leadership of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in responsiveness to its oath of office, acted swiftly and responsibly to the situation which was commendable.
Also in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate of ensuring that the law takes its course, the state government arrested and is currently prosecuting the Manafing Director (MD) of Lekki Estate Worldwide and one of the contractors overseeing the collapsed building, sealed off the site of the collapsed building, sacked three senior officials of the state building control agency, as well as ordered the immediate sealing up of other Lekki estate buildings in the state in order to allow for integrity test to be conducted on them as a precautionary action to avert future catastrophe.
As expected the action of the government has continued to generate ripples in the society with people expressing divergent views on the matter in tandem with the constitutional right of expression.
In fact, while some people have applauded the government’s action, others have condemned it saying it amounts to double standard in that the same swift measure was not applied to the owner of the collapsed building in the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) in which over 120 people including foreign nationals lost their lives, which is very true.
As we reflect on this sad development of needless waste of human lives as a result of collapsed buildings which is not exclusive to only Nigeria, it is important that we place issues in proper perspective in order to fashion out a lasting solution to this problem as a mark of respect to the dead, to prevent a re-occurrence and for our collective good.
In seeking solutions to the problem of building collapse with particular reference to the actions of the Lagos state government on the Lekki Gardens Estate buildings, there are some questions begging for answers in the spirit of objectivity and fairness which must not be compromised for the sake of justice.
We need answers to the following questions and they are:
1. Was any investigation conducted which particularly indicted and recommended the sack of the state building control agency senior officials?
2. Like some people have questioned, why are these officials not on criminal trial for complicity or negligence of duty?
3. Is this not a case of a slap on the wrist for a criminal act which is in violation of the constitution and amounts to injustice, while some persons are standing trial?
4. Does the Lekki building collapse not indict the Lagos State Physical planning and urban authority as being culpable of granting permission for the construction of a three storey building which later became five storeys before collapse?
5. How can the Lagos State Physical Planning and Urban Authority be exonerated of culpability of failure to monitor and ensure conformity of the construction of the building in line with approved master plan?
6. What is the role of the Lagos State Safety Commission in all these developments?
7. Does the safety commission not have a role to play in ensuring that buildings or structures conform to safety standards? Is this not an indictment of the commission too?
8. Is the conduct of integrity tests on already completed and inhabited buildings though commendable, not an indictment of relevant building management agencies for failing in their responsibility initially? The belief is that the integrity test should have been conducted on the buildings before habitation.
We can go on and on listing areas in need of answers but for time and space and this goes a long way to show that the major culprit in the collapse of buildings is the irresponsibility and failure of the appropriate agencies of state to live up to their statutory functions and the inability of the state to do the needful of looking inwards by putting its house in order other than the resort to scapegoatism which has become a recurring decimal in our public life.
Thus, while recognizing that we have a collective responsibility to assist the government in finding lasting solutions to a problem which is within our capability to surmount, it behooves on us in the discharge of this patriotic call to duty to admonish that fairness and objectivity be our watchword for societal good.
In this regard, we are not unmindful of the fact that while we recognize that government has a responsibility to ensuring societal good by upholding the law at all times without fear or favour, it is also important for it to be fair, objective and responsive in the discharge of this function.
Thus we are calling on the government to be flexible and pragmatic in the handling of the Lekki Garden Worldwide Estates issue in view of the fact that the delivery of homes by this estate company is a combination of so many factors which includes borrowing by the company as well as depositors funds by innocent Nigerians who might be the fall guy of this clampdown by the law at this austere times.
The government should therefore as part of its responsibility of being sensitive to the housing needs of Nigerians and the economic plight of depositors as well as the need to ensure that businesses are not killed with sledge hammer because of infractions, allow for the complete demolition of garden estate buildings which do not conform to safety and structural standards and the rebuilding of new structures in line with building regulations and strict monitoring by the relevant agencies in order to prove that fairness and the greatest good of the society is the intent of government in this matter and not persecution.
Nelson Ekujumi, a social commentator based in Lagos writes this piece.