…Says Fourscore Limited must be prosecuted, Demands justice for victims
More than four months after the collapse of a 20-storey high rise luxury apartments in Ikoyi, Lagos State under construction by Fourscore Heights Limited, which claimed the lives of no fewer than 44 persons, including that of the developer, Olufemi Osibona, it was yet to be ascertained who gave the go-ahead for construction work to resume on the structure after it was sealed off sometime in July 2020.
Recall that the construction site at 44BCD Gerrard Road, was sealed off for about four months by agents of the Lagos State government, but curiously, a probe into the November 1, 2021 tragic incident instituted by the state government could not unravel under what circumstances work resumed at the site before it collapsed.
Chairman of the tribunal on the Ikoyi Building Collapse, and National President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Olutoyin Ayinde, who was guest on TVC’s all-female breakfast talk show, ‘Your Views’ on Tuesday, said the unsealing of the site remained a mystery. He also made a shocking revelation that while there were no approvals for the initial five, seven, and 10 floors, the one for 15 floors was given within three days, a period he noted, couldn’t have been sufficient to do due process. He said the death of Osibona notwithstanding, Fourscore Heights Limited must be prosecuted.
According to Ayinde, “From the tribunal’s report, it remains a mystery, and we didn’t want to load it on a dead man. You know if he was alive, there are a few possibilities. The building is sealed; it’s supposed to be unsealed by government itself. The report says that the commissioner sealed it because it was the commissioner and his task force that went to seal it. So, there is no way a permanent secretary would unseal; there’s no way a director would have unsealed it. It’s only the commissioner or someone higher than the commissioner. We have no proof.
“Now, the only person who would have told us; and there were other occasions where developers break the seal. So, the only person who would have told us, or to confirm whether government unsealed it or he was the one that broke the seal, was Mr. Osibona himself who is not alive, and we just thought it wouldn’t be fair to say that okay, because the man is dead, so he’s the one. So, that remains a mystery”.
Ayinde said the tribunal found that “There was no process of approval for five, seven floors, or 10; there was a submission for 15 floors and that was the only approval that the developer had. That approval was processed in three days! So, for us, it couldn’t have been properly done. There wasn’t sufficient time in the view of all professionals to investigate properly that level of development”.
Asked if the person who gave the approval would be prosecuted, Ayinde expressed hope that government would follow through with the white paper, stating that “Everyone who has had something to do with that process has been identified, recommendations have been made. We are hoping that justice will be done…”.
Shedding more light on the cause of the building collapse as contained in the report, the NITP president regretted that Nigeria is not ready for progress considering the over 50 years the country had been experiencing such. Attributing the incident to the collapse of ethics, morals and values, Ayinde explained that “When we say ethics, morals, and values, it’s not just about professionalism. When we were making our submission, there was a phrase I used in my address, and I said ‘members of the tribunal would be seeking protection because in a few months time, they will actually become the villains’ because Nigeria is not ready for progress.
“Nigeria is not ready for progress because at the end of the day, what you will have would be that okay, we’re trying to solve collapsed building issue that has been with us since 1971; it’s over 50 years now. Now, people expect this thing to be solved without finding anyone responsible for the lapses, and that’s going to be very difficult. For all of us who were on that tribunal, we are all private sector people. I have served government; I served in the capacity of a commissioner. I was brought in because of my professionalism.
“So, when assignments like this are given, I dare say that it goes beyond the ordinary. We were on trial as members of the tribunal. We were on trial with our children; I have children to whom I’m a mentor and they are trying to see how will their father behave? I have protégés who are looking at me; who have seen how I have behaved over the years, all of my members; people who are coming from years of experience. And people are looking at them; are they going to be objective?
“Let me say that even professionals did not trust the tribunal and that was why everybody was setting up its own kind of panel and things like that. For what purpose? I thought that we should be giving information to those professionals because they represented some professional bodies. So, that is what I meant by a collapse of ethics, morals, and values nationally”.
On why the other two structures must be demolished, Ayinde said they could eventually come down in the event of a storm, or when fully occupied. According to him, “Part of the report showed that even when the piles for the foundations were being made, there were failures, although there was claim to have redone them. But let’s assume that they redid them, these were structures that first came in as five-floor design, and then they went to seven-floor design, and then to 10-floor design, then to 15-floor design. And one of them was now taken to 20 floors; by the way, it was 20 floors, not 21.
“What happened was that there was just an incremental process, and by the time the engineering desk analysis was done on those two buildings, we discovered that the engineers might have considered dead load, and life load. The dead load are the construction materials themselves; the life load are the human beings that would come later; but they did not consider wind load. And when it comes to a height like that, you have to consider wind. So, what could happen, or what would likely happen, was if there is a storm and people are already moving in these two buildings, they could actually come down”.
On the possibility of prosecuting Fourscore Limited when the owner had died, Ayinde explained that “The document we have from Fourscore shows it has two directors. So, one director died, there is one more director, so, as far as the tribunal was concerned, there’s still a director. So, that’s one. Two, is that there were actually lawyers who represented Fourscore, and initially, they said they had no more information than we had because we told them what we had and what they could give us; they said they had no more information.
“But towards the tail end of the assignment of the tribunal, the same lawyers came and requested to visit the site because they had a hunch that there might have been a foul play. When you have a team of lawyers coming from that angle, then it shows you that there’s a company somewhere. So we said you know what, prosecute these people since there is a company on ground that is even able to say – when 52 people have died, that we think there is a foul play, and so let them come and then we can prove it”.
Suggesting how real estate industry can be regulated to avoid incidents of building collapse, the former commissioner in Lagos State, bemoaned the absence of a public housing policy in the country. He posited that “Planning answers to a vision. When you see estates organized in US or UK, it’s because there is a public housing policy. But because there is no public housing policy here, everybody does self-help, and there is no way we would do self-help and we would maintain the same standard because we have different access to land, we have different access to funds.
“So you can do 10 floors, and somebody else would do two floors beside you because we have different individuals building. But in other countries, it is corporate organizations that are building so you will have replica of the same thing, and you can repeat it from estate to estate, from city to city.
“Governance is a tough thing, so it’s not what anybody just gets into. When you say you want to be a governor, it’s not an easy thing. You must have that vision; you ask the professionals to help you to now make a blueprint. It’s that blueprint that we cannot make because most of our leadership is without vision. Government has the responsibility to put real estate companies in order. And then those who ask you to come and buy land, and then you will get a cow, you will get a ram, it just doesn’t measure; it doesn’t add up.
“And you find people having estates in fragile areas, in low-lying areas which become flooded as time goes on, like one happened like that in Abuja sometime ago. So, government must weigh in, sit down and be sure where you need to go. And then there are professionals who will advise them on how to get there”.