The spilling of blood from building collapses across the country continued in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, as a seven-story building collapsed leaving scores dead and injured. The latest incidence brings to fore once again the approach to standards in the country. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE (Abuja) And ANAYO ONUKWUGHA (Port Harcourt) report.
To residents of Woji Road in GRA Phase 2, Port Harcourt and humanity in general, Friday, November 23, 2018 would remain the darkest day in their lives. It was the day a seven-story building still under construction collapsed burying over 60 persons in the rubble.
The construction workers and suppliers, it was gathered, were on the ground floor of the building waiting for their weekly payment. So also were food vendors who were waiting for their payments from the workers, having been informed that the workers would be paid on that fateful day.
The plan for the collapsed building, meant to be a hotel, was approved by officials of the Rivers State Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning in 2014 as a four-storey structure but the developer changed the plan on his own to a seven-storey structure in January 2018.
The latest in the long list of building collapses across the federation is one too many of avoidable loss of lives and property. A cycle of events that constituted authorities for years have failed to address.
Experts were of the belief that the way and manner officials in charge of building supervision operate in the country with sheer negligence to laid down laws, spell doom for the nation as more structures are in line to collapse in the country.
So far in this latest episode, 39 persons have been rescued alive while eight persons were confirmed dead.
The rescue efforts, currently ongoing, are being carried out by officials of the Rivers State Ministries of Special Duties, Works, Urban Development and Physical Planning as well as Health. Also involved in the effort are construction giants, Julius Berger and Lubrik as well as Shell, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Red Cross and Rotary International.
One of the rescued victims, who gave his name as Victor said, “Over 60 people were on the ground floor waiting to receive their payment when the building collapsed.
“As for me, I spent two days there; Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, at about 2:00pm, as the excavator opened the ground, I saw people and started shouting. As I was shouting, they created small space for me and I raised my hand and people pulled me out.”
Another victim, who identified himself as Obinna narrated his ordeal: “On Friday, after we finished work for the day, we took our bath and were lying on the ground. Immediately, I heard a sharp sound, about 16 of my colleagues sank and as I turned to run, the rubbles gripped me and I didn’t know myself again. When I regained consciousness, I saw a little hole close to the generator stand and I forced myself and crawled out from there. I raised my voice and people who were selling outside came and assisted me.”
However, there are cries by family members of the victims and some concerned Nigerians that the state government is not doing enough in the effort to rescue victims still trapped under the rubbles of the collapsed building.
According to Dr Chi Ihionu, a relative of one of the trapped victims, Ihionu Ekene Morgan, the number of victims rescued so far are exaggerated as no serious efforts have been made to rescue the victims.
Ihionu said, “My family (as most families of the victims) has been at the site since Friday evening. No serious effort has been made to rescue the victims. The first four victims were evacuated via mob actions, manually using sledgehammers on Saturday.
“Out of these four victims, one person came out unscathed, one dead, two unconscious (one eventually died enroute the hospital) and by Saturday evening, two more were retrieved dead.
“The figures being claimed by the officials as rescued, though highly exaggerated, were passersby injured by shrapnel when the building collapsed at about 4.35pm on Friday, November 23, 2018. Other than these six victims, no other person has been retrieved dead or alive.
“From the account of the uninjured man rescued on Saturday, there are over 200 people trapped in this site. It is understood that the contractor slated Fridays only, as the payment day to workers, engineers and suppliers, hence the crowd on this faithful day. The only equipment on ground are five excavators and one 60 tonne crane.
“The crane is too small to lift these boulders while the excavators are the wrong equipment for cutting them to smaller sizes. Please see attached pictures for the size of the boulders and equipment on ground. No jack hammers or any earth moving equipment required to cut and lift the boulders and rescue the victims, rather the excavator buckets are being used to break the decks.
“There has been no sense of urgency or coordination in the rescue operations. The body language of the rescue team seems to be of hope lost. We have overheard them say that there could be no more survivors, but we believe this is hasty as it is too early to draw such a conclusion.
“They have informed us that Julius Berger is in charge of the rescue operations yet the only Julius Berger branded equipment on site are ambulances and Hilux vans. No diggers, cutters, cranes or any requisite equipment/motors belonging to them is here. The excavators seem to belong to MCC.”
But, the Rivers State commissioner for Information and Communication, Hon Emma Okah, dismissed the claims by Ihionu, describing it as unfair and insensitive.
Okah, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, said it is understandable for a victim’s relative to be unhappy over the incident, but one cannot dismiss genuine and timely efforts of the state government and others to salvage a very bad situation.
The statement read in part: “The grouse of the report is that the Rivers State government is not rescuing anybody from the collapsed building site, pouring invectives and dishing out misinformation and inaccuracies regarding the rescue operations.
“We have chosen not to dance naked in the streets because the report is hollow and smacks of ignorance regarding the subject.
However, below is my preliminary response to the report.
“It’s absolutely an unfair and insensitive comment. I have been involved in the rescue operations from the beginning of this unfortunate incident. The governor gave a marching order even from abroad that no cost or effort should be spared to get everyone out.
“The massive nature of the seven-storey building (spanning about 100 feet long and 50 feet wide) and materials that collapsed on one another is a huge factor. The floors are compressed like loaves of bread and this is making rescue efforts extremely difficult and slow.
“A visit to the site would show that there is hardly enough space for various earth moving equipment mobilised from different companies in the state since Friday. All manner of machines have been deployed including the ones mentioned.
“Understandably, a relation of a trapped victim is bound to be unhappy but you cannot dismiss genuine and timely efforts of the Rivers State government and others to salvage a very bad situation.
“Rivers State government cannot begin to manufacture earth-moving equipment found abroad overnight but it has relied on cooperation and support from various companies who have sent in machines and personnel. We are grateful to them. Their contributions helped to save lives.
“A calamity of this nature is novel here and everybody is called upon to help. We commend the efforts of the young volunteers who have shown courage and bravery in combing and opening up portions of the building but to deny credit to the government and other workers, professionals and corporate bodies is to say the least, uncharitable.
“The nature of the collapsed structure makes it extremely difficult to achieve results in minutes. It would take time and we appeal for patience.”
Medical Treatment To Rescued Victims
Most of the first set of victims rescued from the collapsed building, especially those taken to privately owned hospitals claimed that they were not giving adequate medical attention as management of most hospitals informed them that they would take care of their own bills.
According to a victim, Victor, “On that Friday night, about seven of us were taken to a hospital at Abuloma by operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). On that first day, I was given three drips. The following Saturday morning, a woman, whose husband is also in the hospital told me that we should call our people because everybody on admission there is on his or her own.
“When I heard that, I acted like a madman and left the hospital. As I am here now, I am having chest pain and hope that government can sponsor my medical bills so that I can go back for proper treatment.”
On his part, Obinna said: “They only gave us drips at the hospital and there were no drugs. When I got tired of taking drips, I asked them to discharge me.”
Probing Cause Of Incident
The Rivers State Police command on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, announced the arrest of the owner of the collapsed building as well as the contractor handling the project.
However, the police public relations officer (PPRO) of the command, Nnamdi Omoni, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), did not give the names of those arrested.
The arrest was in line with the directive of Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who also directed the attorney general and commissioner for Justice, Dr Zacheaus Adango, to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the incident.
Speaking at the site of the collapsed building, Wike described the incident as a sad development, which has led to the painful loss of lives, saying, “I feel so pained that we have to face this kind of calamity at this time.
“I commiserate with the families that have lost their loved ones who came to seek their daily bread. Government will do all it can to give them the necessary support.
“I have directed the attorney general of Rivers State to ensure that all legal steps are taken to do what is right within the ambit of the law.
“Whoever approved this structure and those involved in the construction will face the law. Government will take every necessary step to ensure that culprits are brought to justice.
“Whoever is involved, from the owner or the contractor or the officials of the state, will face the full weight of the law.”
The governor noted that all officials of the Rivers State government, who defaulted in their duties, would be sanctioned.
He said, “Government will take steps to acquire this property. We cannot allow this illegality. If you look at the master plan of this area, a seven-storey building is not allowed here.”
Substandard Products: Is Nigeria A Frail Nation
From building collapse to fire outbreaks resulting in cable melting; from fake drugs to substandard machinery, electronics to household wares and so many others costing Nigerians lives and the economy billions of naira, the issue of substandard products has become a source of worry for many experts in the country.
The consequences are forgotten easily because often they are highly affordable hence there is no need to fight the scourge to a standstill.
A count of the total number of building collapses and fire outbreaks in the last six months in the country is alarming. Some states recorded more than 250 cases of fire outbreaks, often-electrical faults from poor wiring.
As Nigerians continue to suffer in the vicious circle of substandard products, the main regulatory agency, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) though one of the nation’s anti corruption agencies, is like an orphan.
Is Nigeria losing the battle against fake and substandard products? LEADERSHIP Friday put the question to Mr Mohammed Bougei Attah, who is the national coordinator, Standards Awareness Group, a group of non-state actors’ in the fight against fake and substandard products in Nigeria.
Attah said Nigeria found itself in a precarious state because over 90 per cent of consumption is foreign, which has given rise to dubious individuals, who cash in on the influx to negotiate with their foreign manufacturers to exploit the people.
He alluded that the situation has impacted negatively on Nigeria’s foreign reserve and was of the view that past governments’ poor attitude towards standards even made the situation worse.
“Poor funding of government agencies has weakened the ability of regulatory agencies to perform their statutory responsibility,” Attah said.
Citing the cement sector, Attah said prior to March 5, 2012, cement production in Nigeria was on the wills and caprices of producers. The meeting of stakeholders changed the situation where cement quality, cost, application where tabled and agreed upon by stakeholders in the industry.
“Nigerians began to have a voice in the quality of what the producers used and it led to reduction in the number of building collapse in Nigeria”.
Attah, lamented that successive administrations in SON failed to invest in the creation of more awareness across the country against substandard products. He said the latest collapse in Port Harcourt is a direct consequence of lack of awareness, as contractors appear to be operating without proper checks in ensuring that standards are maintained.
It would be recalled that a University don, Prof Justitia Nnabuko, while delivering the 104th inaugural lecture of the University lamented that substandard products, as well as non-registered pharmaceutical drugs and products were still rife in the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
She regretted that despite committed efforts by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other regulatory agencies, some desperate businessmen were still flooding the country with unwholesome products especially from China.
While SON remains a key factor in standardisation of products in Nigeria, inadequate manpower continues to handicap the agency. With a little above 3, 000 staff nationwide, the agency has been condemned to fight a grim battle to keep Nigeria safe.
Not until 2015, Nigeria never had a testing laboratory for quality and which no doubt has, in no small measure, affected standards in the country. While its peers like Egypt, Kenya and other African states are way ahead in standards mechanism, Nigeria is still a sitting duck.
Poor funding of government agencies has weakened the ability of regulatory agencies to perform their statutory responsibility