By JOSFYN UBA, TESSY IGOMU, CHINELO OBOGO and LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU
Tragedy struck yesterday in Lagos when a two-storey building partially collapsed killing three people at Church Street, Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, Isolo.
The ill-fated block marked M20, according to eyewitnesses, collapsed at about midnight, instantly killing two sisters Toyin and Bukky Coker, while their aged mother was later confirmed dead at an undisclosed hospital where she was rushed to for treatment.
Daily Sun gathered that the late Toyin was an employee of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and was in her early 30’s while her younger sister, Bukky, who was in her late 20’s, was awaiting her National Youth Service Corps posting.
Most residents told Daily Sun that the collapsed block had shown signs of distress, as there were visible cracks on the walls. The building, it was discovered was already marked for demolition, but that the Lagos State officials were not seen again after the action was taken.
According to a resident of the collapsed building, Amodu Omoniyi Eyitayo, who miraculously escaped death, he felt vibration from the building and noticed that particles of sand, blocks and cement were falling from the wall in his room, and quickly moved to evacuate his personal effects.
Eyitayo said: “I moved into my apartment in September this year and I occupy the second flat, which is on the ground floor. Before I came for the inspection of the house, I had already paid my rent to a man called Baba Ali, who is the agent and caretaker of the flat, which I occupied. After moving in, one of my neighbours, who lives above, asked if I was not aware that the house had been marked for demolition by the government. I told him that I had no idea. The next week, another neighbour asked me why I rented the house considering the fact that it had been marked for demolition. When I heard this the second time, I called Baba Ali on the issue but he refused to give me audience.
“I kept putting pressure on him so that he could get me another apartment, but he was evasive and at a point, he told me that there was nothing wrong with the house and that I should have no fear. After a short while, I started noticing that the plasters on the wall were falling off and the tiles on the floor were breaking and this made me worry about my safety, but since I already paid my rent and had no other money, there was nothing I could do.”
Mr. Eyitayo recalled that on Tuesday evening, when he returned from the church, he wasn’t comfortable and his mind told him to touch the wall. “When I did, the part that I touched fell down and I could see the outside of the house from my room,” he said, adding: “I also observed that sand and cement particles were dropping from the walls and the ceiling, I heard a cracking noise in the wall and I became alarmed.
“By 11pm, I put a call to Baba Ali to come and see what was happening because other occupants of the building said that they were experiencing the same thing. Baba came that night and said it was too dangerous to remain in the house and he got a place for me and my flat mate to spend the night. But because I was supposed to have an interview the next day, I had to pack my credentials, clothes and other personal effects. But before leaving that night, I went with my friend upstairs to the middle flat where I met Mrs. Coker.
“I told her of my observations and advised her to leave the building immediately because I had a strong feeling that it will collapse at any time. When I told her, she asked if I was the person living downstairs and I said yes. She then thanked me and said she had heard what I said and that was all we discussed. By the time I had taken all my important documents, it was some minutes past 12midnight and I had barely stepped out of the house when it came crumbling down.”
A resident of the estate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Daily Sun that she used to occupy the flat where Mr. Eyitayo now occupies, but had to move out with her family owing to the deplorable condition of the house.
She said she was a friend of the late Mrs. Coker and described her as an individualistic woman who always stood by what she believed.
She said: “She had always known about the situation of the house but insisted that she was not going to leave until the government renovates it. The irony of it is that she owns three flats, which are situated around Oja Bus stop in the estate, but refused to live there and had recently evicted the tenants and refunded their rent to them.
“We do not know her reason but we learned that she said she did not want anyone living there anymore.”
A member of the Estate Residents Association, Mr. Dimeji Gbadamosi, said it was unfortunate that the incidence occurred and blamed the National Emergnecy Maintenance Agency for not responding promptly.
Gbadamosi said that despite informing the agency immediately the incidence occurred, they did not respond till about 7am, by which time the bodies had already been evacuated by youths in the neighborhood.
He said: “This incidence occurred at about 12.05am and I reliably got information that NEMA, the fire service and the Red Cross were informed, but they did not respond on time.
“The Red Cross came by 6am, while NEMA came at about 7am, by which time the bodies of the dead had been evacuated by the youths and deposited at the Isolo General Hospital mortuary.”
The Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, Kehinde Bamigbetan, under whose jurisdiction the estate falls, said he was alerted to the incident by 3am and arrived there almost immediately.
According to Bamigbetan: “When I was informed about the incident, I immediately called 767, which is one of Lagos State emergency line, and informed them about it. By the time I got there 15 minutes later, the young men in the estate had evacuated the corpses.
“I was told that residents of the building and some of those around had written series of letters to the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC). However, I will find out from them if there was any correspondence from the residents. The estate operates under a zonal structure and each block operates under a zone. So when a thing like this happens, the zonal chairman will inform the resident association who in turn should inform the Local Council.
“The residents of the house have said that they noticed that the building walls were cracking and some were already caving in. In such a situation, the reasonable thing to do is not to remain in the building but to move to a safer house since it was no longer habitable. It is unfortunate that the residents knew about the situation of the house and still stayed. I learnt they were told to evacuate, yet they remained there. The Lagos Physical Planning Authority (LASPPDA) and other agencies in charge of the estate are all here and they will take inventory of the extent of the damage and decide on the way forward.”
Shortly after the incidence, officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) were seen marking some buildings around the vicinity for assessment, and possible demolished. As at the time of filing this report, a total of eight houses were marked for assessment and the residents of the marked buildings were given 48 hours to vacate. Bimbola Odunayo, the General Manager of LASBCA said the incidence was very unfortunate, but assured that the agency will do everything within its power to ensure that the situation is under control.
According to her, “Unfortunately, we did not receive any correspondence from the tenants about the condition of the house but with what has happened we are going to commence work immediately to ensure that those living in houses that are marked for assessment are safely evacuated. We will soon begin reconstruction and maintenance of the buildings which are due for demolition and they will be done with standard building materials.
The government will do everything within its power to ensure that this type of incidence does not occur again.” General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu confirmed to journalists that the corpses were brought out of the rubble and thanked those who were involved in the evacuation. “When we got the information, I immediately alerted our local rescue team and we moved to the scene.
We met with other stakeholders and decided that the other three flats will be pulled down. We gave the occupants of the flats some time to move their luggage, and then we pulled down the structure. We have appealed to all the local council chairmen to put in place local emergency response committees in their respective councils to prevent this from happening.”