by Roland Agi
Tuesday last week, Nigeria once again, lost more than thirty precious souls in the unfortunate collapse of a five-storey building under construction on Kushenla Road, Ikate Elegushi, Lekki.
There is no way the loss of these hardworking and invaluable Nigerians who died could ever be atoned for, and the best, in fact, most reasonable thing for anyone to do right now, is pray that the Almighty God comforts the family of these ones and gives them eternal rest.
Nigeria is a country that is almost at home with the tragic, sadly almost always avoidable happenstances. When buildings under construction do not collapse like it occurred last week, we lose souls in needless road, aviation or fire accidents or even violence instigated by ethnic or religious enthusiasts. Nigeria prepares for eventualities.
The most spoken of accident lately was that of Mr. James Ocholi and his family. Ocholi, who until his death was junior minister in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, was returning from Kaduna in the company of his wife and son. They all died in the accident. Preliminary investigations by the Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC) indicated that human error, including allegations that the driver of the vehicle the Ocholis were traveling was not licensed to drive, over speeding and the improper fixing of one of the tyres might have precipitated the accident while the loss of lives is attributed to the non-fastening of seat belts by the Ocholis.
As Corp Marshall of the FRSC, Mr Boboye Oyeyemi briefed the Federal Executive Council last week, he exulted nothing more than the self-righteousness that you find in heads of such organisations, who have failed in the maintenance of that which should be their primary duties. Were the procedures for the issuance of drivers’ licenses as seamless and efficient as it is in more serious nations, it would be near impossible to find people behind the wheels of vehicles without valid licenses.
Were operatives of the organisations not given to compromises on the use of seat belts, it would be impossible for Nigerians to drive or be in moving vehicles without fastening their seat belts. But organisations fail in Nigeria and then pass the buck on to citizens who have been presented the choice between obeying and tipping an officer in lieu of observance of the rule.
It is the same bulk passing that I see in the efforts of the Lagos State government on the collapsed building mentioned earlier.
Although the governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode on Monday announced punitive measures against officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, including the sack of the General Manager, Engr. Adeigbe Olushola for obvious negligence and compromises they may have encouraged, the government needs to go further to ensure that any government official found guilty of any malpractices which may have contributed to this and any other such accident in the past is made to face the law.
Although the point need be stated that Mr. Ambode did noble and in a very unusual way by wielding the stick on these government officials, nothing short of a prosecution of everyone who is found culpable would suffice for the immediate and put deter from such malfeasance in future.
Currently, questions are being raised about why these individuals have only official reprimands while they have not been arrested by the police and taken to court in the same way in which Managing Director of Lekki Gardens, Mr. Nyong Richard and one of the contractors handling the project Odofin Taiwo Henry were. These two young men are to be in police custody on the order of an Ebute-Metta Chief Magistrate Court for the next 30 days pending the completion of investigations by the police.
The prima facie guilt for which these people are being punished ahead of their trial is the claim by the Lagos State government that the company illegally added two additional floors to the building in defiance to approved plan by regulators, which led to the sealing of the site.
The state government went further to claim that: “ in a brazen act of defiance and impunity, the owners of the building, Messrs Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited, the promoters of Lekki Gardens, criminally unsealed the property and continued building beyond the approved floors,” This would be why police prosecutor, Godwin Osuji informed the magistrate court that an ex-parte application had sought to remand the defendants beyond the constitutionally prescribed period in the interest of justice, public safety, public order and morality. So why not bring in the government officials.
But one could even interrogate this allegation before the conclusion of investigations. At what point did Richard’s Lekki Gardens, which is reputed to have delivered affordable housing units for 4500 families with an additional 10,000 in the pipeline in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos become such an irresponsible corporate citizen. This organisation is also said to have about 250 people in direct employment and another 10,000 indirectly employed. What motivated the decision to bring a man who submitted himself to the police into court in handcuffs and keeping him in jail for one months while investigations are ongoing? What kind of signals does this send to other investors in the industry? Is it true that the state government is dredging around this same area and that this could have also contributed to the collapse?
What Nigerians and the whole world needs to see in the unraveling of the circumstance that led to the collapse of this building and the unfortunate harvest of deaths is a honest and transparent investigation and eventual prosecution of the matter such that justice is seen to have been done at the end of the day.
The chance that observers would even be more skeptical are heightened by the fact that no one has been brought to book in respect of the collapse of a guesthouse located within the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun-Egbe area of Lagos in September 2014. Over hundred people lost their lives in this incident but promoters of that project are walking the streets and rubbing shoulders with a lot of people in government. Nigeria must begin to see justice for one as justice for all and render justice with evenness.
In the interim, lawyers to this poor young man who has been remanded in custody for one month need to seek all the remedies available under the law to get him out until police investigation is complete and those complicit and charged to court. More importantly, governments at all levels in Nigeria must do a lot more in the reform of institutions.
Agi is a public affairs analyst and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org