EMAMEH GABRIEL and George Okojie write on the dark Wednesday that clouded Lagos State after the collapse of a school building, which left over 15 people dead, one missing and many others injured
It was almost noon and the weather in Lagos was hot above normal. Some residents in the premises had come out to relish the afternoon air but that moment was shot lived. They had hardly started, when a loud pop from nowhere rocked the air like an explosive, leaving them running helter-skelter.
Thick dust from rubble had enveloped the air and at this time, none of them had realised what was going on. It was the same building they came out from a moment ago which had pupils in the second and fourth floors that just caved in.
In no time, residents around in their hundreds were attracted to the scene. They gathered and stood bemused. It is in the narrow-gated street of Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island. People were seen racing from rubble to rubbles in an attempt to rescue and save lives already trapped inside the collapsed three storey school building.
An intense silence and shock grip the country with news of over one hundred school pupils, including family members trapped in the old building believed to have been due for demolition. This was coming exactly a week after the shocking Ethiopian Airline crash that saw three prominent Nigerians lose their lives along with over 150 other foreign nationals.
Chorus of loud wails pierced the air, as parents, relatives and friends, particularly women rocked back and forth with their hands covering their heads and faces, shouting: ‘‘my child’’, ‘‘my children are trapped in the building’’. ‘‘Please do something before I kill myself’’.
With the little courage left in them, the men had to join the rescue teams but some had their strengths quickly sapped when the hope of their children coming out alive started fading.
It was an emotional and heart-wrenching scene to watch, such that incited the thoughts of Stephen Adly Guirgi who after burying his son all alone cried: ‘‘I begrudge God none of this. I do not curse him or bemoan my lot. And though my heart keeps beating only to keep breaking–I do not question why.
’’I remember the morning my son was born as if it was yesterday. I loved my son every day of his life, and I will love him ferociously long after I have stopped breathing.”
It is one of the most difficult things in the world for parents to bare seeing their own children being buried, a situation that somewhat negates nature. No parent should have to bury a child.
They had woke up early on Wednesday to prepare their children for school and prayed for them to go learn and come back home. Sadly for some, it was the last good bye they would bid them.
For Mr Abdulfatah Ayoola, it is more emotional to hear him narrate the last conversation between him and his son, which was more of premonitions.
He had laid his hands on and prayed for Fawad, his six year old son, who had told him for the first time to pray for him before they parted ways. He never knew that would be his last time of doing so- a ritual he had performed for six years.
Fawad, they said, got to school, cheered his classmates and settled down for the day’s lessons without knowing it was his last day on earth. By 2pm, his corpse was retrieved from the rubble of the building that collapsed in the Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island.
“He woke up late for school,” Fawad’s father Ayoola said sobbing. “After taking his breakfast, he requested for money but I told him there’s no need for money since he has his lunch with him. Then he said, ‘daddy, pray for me before I go’, and I did exactly as he requested. He walked to school which is just few metres from the house.
‘‘I don’t think I can sleep tonight. My late son and I did almost everything together; we ate together, prayed together, spent time discussing. I was introducing him to life because he was my eldest child.”
The sobbing Abdulfatah said he had “visited Kings’ College not too long and liked the academic atmosphere. And I was assured that an interview date will be communicated to me soon but now I can’t take him there anymore because Fawad is gone.
‘‘God gives and takes, we cannot question Him. All I need to do now is pray for him, console the mother, I know of a family who lost four of their children in the building, what will be their fate? Praise be to Allah for everything.”
A woman yet to be identified was initially believed to have lost all her four children to the accident, though reports still have it that one out of the four is still alive but battling to survive.
She had received a call that her children’s school building had collapsed. On getting there, she found out that four among them are gone.
In her case, if the last failed to be revived, how would she and her husband cope seeing that there will be no heir to carry the family’s name.
The case of another family that was reported to have lost their three children, was that of emotions, regret and guilt. They have watched their kids stayed at home for a whole week with a heavy heart because they could not afford to pay their fees. They had managed to raise the money (probably excited) then took the kids to school only for all three kids to die in the same day.
The three-storey building which had a school inside it had before now, according to reports, been marked three times for demolition but cutting corners kickbacks had paved way for the landlord to get the building repainted.
When Akinwunmi Ambode, the governor, visited the scene, he said the school operated illegally. Residents also said the collapsed building had been marked for demolition and the occupants given notice to quit.
To Mr Muyideen, everything the governor said means nothing to him as one of his daughters has not yet been found.
Emergency officials had on Thursday concluded rescue operations at the site of the three storey building that collapsed killing many pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School and other occupants. Mr. Muyideen Akinshina, one of the parents of the victims disclosed that one of his three daughters, Mujidat, is still missing, 24 hours after the collapse.
Akinshina, whose three children attend the school, disclosed that to aggravate the agony, he has buried one, Aaliyah, who did not survive after the collapse.
The bereaved father lamented that he is now left with his last child, Abdullahi, who is two years old and was still being attended to at the hospital ward.
“Of my three children, I lost one, Aliyaha, one is still missing, Mujidat, while Abdullahi, who is two years old, is still being attended to at the ward.”
Meanwhile following the appeal by the Lagos State Government for voluntary blood donors to cater for injured victims, scores of residents thronged the premises for the exercise.
Commenting on the development, executive secretary, Lagos State Blood Transfusion Committee, Dr. Modupe Olaiya, said that hundreds of residents have voluntarily donated blood to treat the victims.
Olaiya disclosed that besides the General hospital, more centres have been opened to assist in collection of blood for patients, adding that the locations will also operate at weekends.
She, however, urged residents to often visit the hospital and donate blood for patients, saying, this will reduce the agony that victims of emergency often encountered.
As more Lagosians commiserate with families of the victims, Lagos State Governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo-Olu also on Thursday visited the site of the collapsed three-storey building.
He also visited some of the school children who survived the collapse in the hospital to felicitate with them.
Sanwo-Olu was accompanied on his visit by the Deputy Governor-elect, Dr. Kadri Hamzat.
Sanwo-Olu sympathised with those who lost their lives, saying that government and others were doing all they could to resolve issues arising from the collapse.
He said as a father, his thoughts and prayers were with the parents and members of the community, adding that beyond this, there was need to put factors in place to ensure that such incidents do not occur again in the future.
He said he would be committed to ensuring such occurrences were avoided in the future when he took over as governor of the state.
In his words: “I visited the site of the collapsed building at Ita-faji and the general hospital where those affected are receiving treatment. The community, rescue workers, health personnel and the State government are doing all they can to aid and resolve all issues arising from that unfortunate incident.
“As a father, my thoughts and prayers are with the parents and members of the community, but beyond this, we need to put factors in place to ensure that we avoid such occurrences and I will be committed to doing that.”
Builder Kunle Awobodu of Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) said, ’’Innocent children were killed today, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Compromise-cum-political influence is the barrier to the Building Collapse Prevention Guild’s (BCPG) struggle against building collapse on the Lagos Island.
’’Again, we appeal to Gov Ambode, Oba Akiolu and Asiwaju Tinubu to support our cause against bad developers and negligent regulators. There are many buildings waiting to collapse all around us. A stitch in time saves nine.
’’Please, save our collective birthplace from constant danger of Building Collapse.’’
To avert more of such disasters, the state’s building regulatory agency which is the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), General Manager, Engr. Olalekan Shodeinde has appealed to Lagosians from breaking government seal to avoid building collapse.
Shodeinde who was represented by the Agency Secretary, Mr Tayo Fakolujo, said the building, a four floors structure with a pent house being used as school was marked as distressed in the year 2017. He said the building collapsed due to foundation failure when the bearing capacity of the soil could not sustain the structure because of the load being transferred from the additional pent house.
According to him, the building after several inspection rounds in the past was empty before now, but the recalcitrant owner renovated it with gravel as granite without carrying out a thorough engineering appraisal and integrity test on the structure and let it out for use. The additional load of penthouse imposed on the distressed structure added to the design capacity.
He appealed to Lagosians to desist from breaking government seal and stop putting additional loads to old buildings which he said is suicidal. He emphasized that no responsible government will watch her citizen die avoidable and careless death without taking precautionary measure to stop it.
‘’The spate of building collapse in the past years is a re-awakening to the fact that both the government and the people need to collaborate more than ever not only to stem the collapse but also to ensure that people building houses obey the physical planning laws of the state. This is attainable when government and its people work together and build right,” Shodeinde stressed.
Meanwhile there was a little drama at the Lagos State General Hospital as families of victims of the collapsed building protested over what they described as inhuman treatment from the hospital management.
The women in their numbers had alleged that management of the hospital refused to attend to survivors of the accident, demanding N150,000 before they could commence treatment.
“Please help these little children in this ward, have mercy on them and their mothers. A woman who had five children as at yesterday is now battling to save her last surviving child. A woman with four children now has two left fighting to stay alive.
“Please help them, release drugs, they need blood and money for treatment. It is heartless to ask a woman who just lost four children to go and start looking for 150,000 to save the life of the last surviving child, please intervene on our behalf,” one of the women was pleading.
“The school has a large population, it’s a big school. All three of my friend’s kids attend the school and she lost all of them. How old are they that we are coming to general hospital to collect their bodies? One woman who has lost four out of five of her children slept here and was given a bill of 150,000 to go and pay to the bank. Is that not heartless?” another protester expressed bitterness, alleging that they were asked to pay to collect the remains of her friend’s children.
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