Femi Ola’s name came up as one of the workers that were killed at the collapsed building at Lekki Gardens Estate, in Lagos State on Tuesday.
Words had gone round to his family members that his remains had been carried away in nylon bags and deposited in a morgue. This, it was learnt, threw the family into a mourning mood and made sympathisers to throng their homes to mourn with the family.
Before they could conclude plans to recover his remains for burial, Femi emerged and caused pandemonium in the house. “A ghost had appeared,” they thought as they scampered for safety. Contrary to their fears, Femi didn’t die in the incident.
Femi who earned the title of kokumo (Yoruba word for somebody that cheated death) narrated to the Nation how he survived thus:
“I was working as a pay loader before the building collapsed. I always slept in the building with others. When the incident happened, they thought that I was one of the dead victims. They had even sent message to my family that they saw my remains being taken away in nylon bags. My mother on hearing the sad news came in the company of my sister to the scene and started crying.
“I was not around all along as I had gone to work in another place. A friend invited me to go to another site with him before the incident happened. If not for the friend that took me out to another site, I would really have died in the building collapse because that was where I used to sleep.
“I thank God for preserving my life. I would go to church and give thanks to him. I was thought to have died but the Lord miraculously saved me.”
The food vendor of the victims, who simply identified herself as Iya Segun, was melancholic when The Nation encountered her.
She told the publication that she had been selling food to the victims for the past three years when the construction work started, adding that their images have been haunting her since the incident occurred.
“The victims and I were together before we closed for the day on Monday. I came back on Tuesday hoping to meet and do business with them as we had always done. But to my dismay, it was the gory sight of the dead bodies of the people that I spent the previous day with that confronted me.
“ I have been in deep shock since the incident occurred as their images have kept flashing through my mind. When I went out to urinate at about 2am on Wednesday, I had to run back to my room because I had a flash back of their images. It is impossible for such thought not to cross one’s mind because we had stayed together for several years.”
The victims include Sunday, one of the most hardworking carpenters on the site. He was a native of Abeokuta in Ogun State. He was married and had three children before his untimely death. Tunde, an iron bender who also died in the incident, was equally married with two children. He was from Ibadan. His colleague, Kazeem, was from Ife. He wasn’t married before his death.”
Seun, an artisan who slept in a high rise building beside the collapsed building, also suffers the same psychological trauma with the food vendor. Narrating the mood of workers on the site after the incident, he said:
“ We were sleeping in another building beside the collapsed building when we suddenly heard a deafening sound. Immediately we heard the sound, we all rushed out. Surprisingly, we saw that it was the building where our colleagues slept that caved in.
“We quickly moved in to rescue the victims. We succeeded in rescuing three people and brought out one that had died before rescue operators arrived. Shortly after that, I left the environment because the images of my dead colleagues kept bombarding my heart and imagination. It wasn’t a good experience to see one’s colleagues who were hustling to make both ends meet mangled in that manner.”
Bidemi, an artisan at the site, alleged that the contractors made life unbearable for them by not paying them their wages for a very long time before the incident occurred.
“ They have been owing us for about a month now. They used to pay us on a weekly basis but for the past four weeks, they have not paid us. This obviously weakened our morale as we could hardly feed and meet the needs of our family members and dependants.
“ This was why the wife of a dead victim brought her child to meet him when he was not sending money to them. This is very painful and regrettable. It shows how callous the regular employers are.”
Mr. Christine Ahisu, a resident of a nearby community in the area, shared his experience of the incident thus:
“I witnessed the disaster since it happened close to my place of residence. The actual number of people who died is more than those being reported. As at today (Thursday), dead bodies are still being evacuated from the site.
“The disaster occurred as a result of the thunderstorm which happened on Tuesday morning. Some of the workers were still staying in the building because the company owed them some money. It is only about 10 of them who survived and there are about 50 of them dead. This is because the building actually sank, not collapse as was widely reported.
That is why some people underground were still making calls for rescue but we are fearing they are now dead, since they have stopped making calls. They were supposed to erect a three-storey building but the owner added two.
“The land in question was sand-filled three months ago and they are laying irons on it almost immediately. There is another building adjacent the place where the same Lekki Garden is building, and they recently sand-filled the place too. Why are they sand-filling a riverine area? They are just reclaiming and sand-filling the whole place.
Florence, an aggrieved resident of the area, argued that the incident was caused by the use of substandard building materials.
“This is not the first time that a building Lekki Graden’s estate would collapse. About two years ago, one of their buildings collapsed at Abraham Adesanya Estate. Now, this one has happened. When I saw them refilling the sea shore, I said these people were not equipped for this because they didn’t take time to do the job. They were very much in a hurry to build the estate. If you check the ground floor, there are so many cracks. Look at the fences of the building and see what has become of it,” she said.
Mr Olumide, a security officer in an adjoining building, told The Nation that a good number of the victims were his friends, regretting that a number of them died labouring in vain.
“If you were here when they were bringing out those bodies, you won’t be able to eat. The victims were my friends. We used to eat noodles together every night.
The painful thing about their death was that so many of them didn’t get paid for the work they did before they died. They laboured in vain.
About 15 dead bodies were recovered within a space of time on that fateful day. Some are insinuating that the heavy wind that accompanied the rainfall on that day caused the collapse. But from my own point of view, the use of substandard materials was responsible for the calamity.”
Residents of adjoining high rise buildings, who spoke with our correspondents, have, however, expressed fears about the strength of their houses.
One of them who did not want his name in print said:
“There is no how that one would not have fears about the strength of the buildings after the incident. It is the collapsed one that we know about, nobody knows what would happen to the already completed ones.
If any of the completed buildings, should collapse, God forbid, the casualty figure would be very high. I think the government would need to carry out tests on all the buildings to check if they are strong enough for people to live in.
if you watch some of the buildings under construction, you will see cracks all around them, especially the ground floors.”
Foluke, another resident, said:
I have been fear-stricken since the incident happened. I have fears about the safety of my children and family members. So many estates are springing up in the neighbourhood everyday without the relevant authorities overseeing them. They have observed that building housing estates in this area is very lucrative and consequently not concerned about the quality of materials they use in building the houses.”