THE year 2011 was arguably one of the saddest periods in the recent history of Lagos State. That year witnessed a harvest of collapsed buildings.
Following the incidents which occurred in quick succession in different parts of the state that year, and in an attempt to prevent future occurrences, the state government identified about 80 distressed buildings. But this did not do the expected magic. Two years later, fresh cases were recorded. These consequently swelled the number of identified distressed buildings which currently stands at about 600.
The unending cycle
The Lagos State government, through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, recently, revealed that it had marked 191 buildings for demolition. It also stated that about 447 defective buildings might collapse in the city.
The commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr Toyin Ayinde, at a ministerial briefing in Lagos, said that 41 of the 191 distressed buildings had been demolished.
“In the last one year, 5,910 structures were identified and served contravention notices, while 447 defective buildings were also identified in different parts of Lagos State,” he said.
This was corroborated by the General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Abimbola Animashaun, who noted that 4,099 contravention notices were served, while 2,226 buildings were sealed off for non-compliance and 444 buildings were unsealed after compliance.
Animashaun said the agency was structured to respond effectively to distress calls arising from fire incidents and building collapse, adding that its officers had consistently liaised with all relevant agencies to ensure that life and properties were protected.
“During this period, we responded to over 80 distress calls. We have responded to major incidents such as the Synagogue building collapse, Jankara incidents, the foam incident, spare parts, Balogun Market and Ereko” She added that the government experienced lesser cases of collapsed structures because it was possible to monitor construction processes and issue certificates of fitness for habitation.
As good as this may sound, findings by Saturday Tribune in parts of the state where scores of such buildings are known to exist, however, suggest that the state government may need to consider other methods of identifying distressed buildings and getting occupants out of them (where necessary). This is so because there appears to still be countless, yet unidentified unhealthy buildings in the state. This is even as occupants of those already identified and marked are still staying there. It was also observed that many houses that can be deemed to have been evacuated have shops carved out either within the premises or somewhere very close.
Saturday Tribune had visited Lagos Island on a number of occasions regarding the heavy presence of distressed buildings there. Its latest visit to the area, reputed as the abode of numerous old and ‘unhealthy’ buildings in Lagos, showed that it is still the same old story. Some of the streets found to have such buildings include Bamgbose, Odunfa, Evans, Olushi, Branco, Adu and Sabi Court. Others are Koilo and Atiko streets, as well as Igbose Road, Campos Square, among others. A common feature on the aforementioned streets is that not only are most houses there very old, they are also densely populated with virtually no drainage systems. This discovery seems to buttress the message contained in a report that was compiled by experts which indicates that about 50 per cent of building collapse in Nigeria takes place in Lagos, with Lagos Island identified as the home of many buildings highly susceptible to collapse.
Quite a number of occupants of these buildings understandably refused to speak with Saturday Tribune on the issue. A few who did said they had embarked on what passes for a suicide mission because they had nowhere else to go. From Saturday Tribune’s interactions with some of the people of the area, as an overview of the entire development, it was deduced that many occupants of such buildings have refused to move for major reasons: lack of money to move elsewhere; lack of will to leave their comfort zones and a desire to continue living in family houses (for free).
Belonging to the third category was a young man who was one of the few people who chose to speak with Saturday Tribune on the subject. The occupant of a shabby-looking house on Odunfa Street, identified simply as Isaac, said the house belonged to his late father who, he said, had apportioned two rooms for him. “There is no way I can leave, at least, not yet. The house was my father’s. He had many children, so, after his death, we all decided to share the property accordingly. I got two rooms and I have let out one, while I reside in the other,” he said.
The problem is not in any way restricted to Lagos Island. In one of such buildings spotted at the Challenge area of Mushin, it was observed that in spite of a LASBCA seal conspicuously pasted on the building’s walls, which was apparently meant to warn residents to steer clear of the building, the occupants as well as people who displayed things for sale in the front were freely going about their businesses. One of the traders indicated that their general attitude was borne out of the fact that apart from the seal pasted on the building, nothing was heard from the building control agency that pasted it there. “We saw them paste the seal but they disappeared afterwards. So, what can we do but to take advantage of the situation and go about our normal businesses?” she said.
Vacate distressed buildings, Lagos warns residents
But the Lagos State government has continued to appeal to the people living in distressed buildings, particularly the identified and sealed ones, to immediately vacate such structures. In a recent chat with the media, the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Ayinde, said the call had become necessary because of the loss of lives associated to building collapse incidents in the state. Ayinde said the government would continue to embark on massive campaign against weak structures in the state so as to discourage people residing in them.
The commissioner said the time had come for occupants of identified weak structures to quit such buildings in their own interest. He described as regrettable, the refusal of many people to take necessary steps to protect themselves. “My message to those still living in identified distressed buildings is that their lives are invaluable. There is no amount of money that can purchase a human life. They should see themselves as precious and rare; something rare can’t be found anywhere else. So, they should do all within their power to protect their precious lives and part of the protection is to avoid living in dangerous structures that are likely to collapse,” he said.
Ayinde urged property owners to engage only the services of certified experts while putting up structures. “Construction is a science; there are people who studied it. There are experts who are specialised in standard construction,” he noted.