Thursday, July 12, 2013 was Kafila Oyeniyi’s birthday. She did not celebrate much, just an intimate period with her husband, Atanda, who had promised her a surprise package later that week.
As they slept in their apartment at 29, Oloto Street, Ebute Meta, Lagos that night, Atanda told his wife of seven years that by her next birthday, things would be better and they would celebrate it with more fun.
But that birthday was Kafila’s day of death.
She and her one-year-old son were among the seven people who died when their three-storey-building collapsed.
Kafila was a teacher, who lived in one of the apartments on the first floor of the building.
“ A few hours after we finished our conversation, said our prayers and lay on the bed to sleep, a sudden noise woke me up. My six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son were sleeping in the living room while our one-year-old son slept between my wife and I in the bedroom,” Atanda said.
Forty-year-old Atanda, also a teacher, said he was roused from sleep by a loud noise and the voices of people, who turned out to be his neighbours.
He said, “I woke up and heard people calling my name. The neighbours were shouting, asking us to hurry and come out.
“It took me a moment to make out what they were saying. I heard something about the house about to collapse. I acted swiftly and woke my wife up. I told her to grab our toddler.
“I woke my other two children up, but they were not quite awake yet. But I grabbed them and carried them, one on each arm and we made for the door.”
If Atanda did not act swiftly, the house would probably have collapsed on them as they slept in their bed.
But as he led his family towards the door, praying with all his might, shouting “La Ilaha illa Allah, La Ilaha illa Allah…” the house came down.
The bereaved man said, “Immediately, I woke my wife up, she grabbed our little child and strapped him on her back. I told her too to pray as we tried to escape. She did not panic unnecessarily. My wife was a woman of faith. I tried to tear the net on the door. That was when the house collapsed on us. I blacked out immediately.
“A short moment later, I moved. I was disoriented; my body did not feel like mine. Everywhere was dark. I just moved towards an opening in the wall where the door was supposed to be. I stumbled out, covered in blood.”
At 2am when Atanda made it out alive covered in blood and dust, all he could do was point to the house and shout, “My wife, my children, please” as he was rushed to a nearby hospital.
He was physically restrained by sympathisers as he tried to re-enter the collapsed building and rescue his wife and children. They took him to the hospital.
“When I got to the hospital and the doctor tried to sedate me so I could rest, we got into an argument. I told him I could not go to sleep while my family was still in the rubble of our collapsed building.
“He said I could collapse on the way, but I told him I did not care, that I needed to go back to the scene. I got there and was shocked to learn that none of my family had been rescued yet.
“Rescue operation was already on, but they had not paid attention to the side where my family was yet. I had to raise the alarm and shout at the people there to help look in the side of our apartment.”
Raising the alarm worked, but rescue workers could not get to where his family was until six hours later.
At 8am, Atanda’s two oldest children were brought out alive.
An eyewitness told our correspondent that the two children were brought out completely covered in dust and with minor injuries.
A moment later, rescue workers made a tragic discovery, the lifeless bodies of Kafila and her child.
The child was found without any physical injury, but a beam seemed to have crashed on the mother.
The theory was that the little child suffocated in the dust because rescue workers could not get to them on time.
Atanda looked depressed when he spoke with our correspondent on Tuesday. He spoke calmly, looking towards the rubble that claimed his wife and child, as if they would walk out at moment. There were bruises on his hand, head and legs.
He had summoned the courage to go to the site of the collapsed building and sift through the rubbles of his former home to salvage whatever he could.
“I have nothing at all, safe for what I am wearing now. I am currently living with a family friend, who has been very good to me. I know things will be alright but I am helpless at the moment,” he said.
The site of the collapse continues to play host to a myriad of people – victims, who have come to search for their belongings; scavengers, who have come to hunt for scrap metals and victims’ belongings.
Some of the victims spoke with our correspondent on their close shave with death.
With a heavy dressing on a wound on his head, one of them told Saturday PUNCH that his kindness would have led to his death.
He said, “I woke up around 2am and heard a sound. I looked out of my window and realised my window had fallen off. I knew what was happening right away. I woke my family up hurriedly and we made it downstairs from our first floor apartment.
“When I got downstairs, I realised those in the last two floors did not know what was happening. I was about climbing the staircase to go and warn them when the building collapsed. A beam fell on my head but I was lucky to be alive and crawled out.”
Another victim, Adebayo Ayodeji, who made it out of the building with his pregnant wife alive, was full of praises to God when he spoke with our correspondent.
Ayodeji told Saturday PUNCH, “We were on the first floor of the building and rushed out immediately we heard a sound. Most of those who were trapped in the building were those on the second and third floor.
“Even though we lost everything we had in the collapse, I thank God that all members of my family are accounted for. Immediately we realised the house was about to collapse that night, I carried my children and we ran out.”
Residents said the landlord of the collapsed building ran away very early on the morning of the incident and had not been seen since then.
Many three-storey buildings have been marked as distressed by the Lagos State Building Control Agency since the incident, prompting speculations of impending demolitions.
But the General Manager of the state emergency agency, Mr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, said the marks on the buildings did not necessarily mean the buildings were up for demolition.
He said, “This government is not about demolition all the time. We are just being proactive. The idea of marking them is to notify them that the buildings need to be assessed for structural integrity.
“In case of those buildings with notices of evacuation, we only put that there to instruct them to find alternative accommodation pending the time the buildings will be certified ok or otherwise.
“If any building is tested and seen to be bad, we make recommendations for restricting. This is not about demolition at all.”
Ebute Meta Old buildings: An accident waiting to happen?
Ebute Meta has some of the oldest buildings in Lagos. Saturday PUNCH noticed that going by the state of some of the houses in the area, the residents might be living in deathtraps.
On Oloto, Willoughby and Market streets are many old three-storey buildings that are not fit for habitation.
Most of the houses bear the Lagos State Building Control Agency’s big red ‘X’, which shows the buildings need attention.
On Willoughby Street, any visitor will wonder if anybody lives in house No 7, but people actually live there.
The three-storey building has been given a facelift of white paint, but the house is undoubtedly distressed. From a distance, it is apparent that the decking level of the house is bent; the general feeling is that the deck could cave in at any point in time. The building has also been marked.
Our correspondent spoke with residents of the house.
Chuks Uzodinma, who has been living in the house for about seven years, told our correspondent that the building was first assessed and marked by LASBCA about five years ago.
He said, “When they marked the house, the landlord went to the office of LASBCA. When he came back, he said he had been told to do some repairs on the house, which he did. In fact, about 12 pillars were added to the structure, while many parts of the house were plastered with cement and it was repainted.
“The landlord said at the time that he had settled the government officials. We have never had any reason to complain to the government about the state of the building. The problem is that the building looks bad outside but it is solid inside. They marked it again after last week’s collapse on the other street.”
None of the residents of the house could tell the exact time the house was built.
Two streets away, at Oloto Street, occupants of house No 14 seemed to be confused as to whether to move out or stay when our correspondent got there. They gathered in front of the house, discussing a paper from LASBCA that had just been pasted that morning, informing them that the house was distressed and unfit for habitation.
Our correspondent sought permission to go into the house and saw that the house was an accident waiting to happen.
The concrete decking on each floor of the three-storey building had peeled off in many places, revealing the metal rods of the decking.
The third floor decking had once caved in in two different places and had been repaired with roofing sheets.
Our correspondent asked why the residents were still living in the house and one of them, Peter Tomori, said “the notice is too sudden.”
“Why did you not complain to the developer and LASBCA before about the state of the house?” our correspondent asked.
They said LASBCA was aware of the state of the building since its officials had once marked the house.
Tomori told our correspondent, “Few years ago, when it was first marked, the developer of this house settled the matter with the agency at Alausa.
“But when they came back this morning and told us we have to move out in two days, we were shocked. How can we manage that sudden evacuation? We know it is dangerous and we plan to move out, but they should give us little more time.
“This house used to be a small bungalow but the other three floors were constructed about 15 years ago by a developer, so we cannot really say how old the original building is.”
But a corps member, a resident of the house, told our correspondent the other occupants may not want to say the truth.
The corps member, who declined giving his name said, “All the houses that are marked on the street have been going to settle themselves at Alausa. We heard some pay N200,000, some N150,000. A house the size of this our own, we heard will have to pay N300,000.
“Where do we get N300,000 when some tenants cannot even pay rent? They pay the money to an Access Bank account as I heard.”
A resident of Oloto, whose building has also been marked by LASBCA, also alleged that the officials of the agency have been collecting bribes from developers in order to overlook the state of their buildings.
The resident, Adekunle Oluwafemi said, “I am supposed to be in Ibadan now but I deliberately stay around to make sure my family is not thrown on the street before I come back.
“What you hear about developers and residents paying money to government officials is true. My own building has been marked many times. But by the time the developer comes back, he tells us all is well and that the building has been certified okay. We all know the government officials collect money.”
“The only reason I continue staying in the house is that it has not started giving signs like pieces of concrete falling out of the walls.”
Our correspondent spoke with a resident on Kadara Street, Ebute Meta, Abdulwaheed Akodudu, whose building has been marked by LASBCA to know if any payment had been made by those who manage the building.
“I cannot tell you if our own developer has gone to settle himself because I cannot even get a hold of him. But we know they will surely settle the matter. This house has been marked numerous times and it seems the matter dies down when the developer goes to see the officials,” he said.
Our correspondent could not get a copy of any teller used by some of the residents to pay the bank, even though many residents kept repeating that developers, landlords and residents had been paying.
On Borno Street, Ebute Meta, an occupant of a marked building told our correspondent that LASBCA officials milk developers.
Ajayi Olumide said, “I have been living in this area for at least 17 years. Nobody will own up that they have been paying government officials money in order to spare their buildings, but it is true. I don’t know what the developer handling this building has been paying but after marking, nothing happens here.
“This is not the first time houses will be marked here. The last time there was a building collapse in Ebute Meta, they came to mark many houses, but developers and landlords know how to settle themselves.”
But LASBCA General Manager, Mrs. Animashaun Odunayo, denied that officials of the agency were getting bribes to overlook distressed buildings.
She said, “Anybody can say anything about us but these are just allegations. Our conscience will not even be at rest because this has to do with lives.
“This allegation cannot be true because our officials have instructions on what to do about buildings that may be distressed.”
Most of the residents said all the houses that seemed old could not be more than 20 years old even though most of the buildings looked more than 40 years old.
Mr. Adeyebi Osugbo, a developer, told our correspondent that many buildings that used to be bungalows were acquired by developers in the 90s, who raised them up to three-storey buildings.
Saturday PUNCH assessments revealed that many of the buildings have been given little repairs since they were reconstructed. Many of them were also not constructed with standard building materials.
Read more: Punch Newspapers