Saving Precious Lives

By Odimegwu Onwumere

When the loud noise came on September 13, 2015, the children never expected that they would be later pulled out of the building debris.

The death toll had risen from four to ten after the sound was heard. The blocks were soaked with the innocent blood of the children taking Islamic lectures.

Alhaji Alhassan Barde, the Executive Secretary of the Plateau State Emergency Management Agency, said that his team “rushed to the scene when the matter was reported to us and our efforts yielded fruits as we were able to minimise the number of casualties.”

Some children and their preceptors were buried alive, while many had different degrees of injury on their waists, legs, hands, heads and other parts. They were rushed to the hospital and were receiving treatment.

The North-central Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abdulsalam Mohammed, said that apart from the fact that it was raining and some pupils did not come to school, some were yet to pay their fees and had been sent home; if not, the figure of victims could have been embarrassing.

The annoying aspect of the collapsed Abu Naib Islamic School on Gero Road in the Bukuru area in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, where the children were taking Quranic lessons, was not about the irritating cry of survivors and the death toll, but why a school in a modern Nigeria, should be operated in an uncompleted storey building regarded as a bungalow that was believed to be for a secondary school.

Checks have it that the survivors of the Quranic collapsed school had tales of woes. Some of the victims that were rushed to the Plateau Specialist Hospital especially, said that the incident was better imagined than experienced. The touchy story of a 10-year-old female student of the school, Mamunat Mohammad was that the incident was nightmarish.

While she recounted the bad omen that befell her school, Abdulsalam confirmed the death of four students who died on the spot, while 25 others were nursing injuries at a specialist hospital, where one of them died after.

The story from the Chief Medical Director of Plateau Specialist Hospital, Dr. Philemon Golwa, to the NEMA scribe was that two other persons also died at the hospital after, making the number seven.

Mrs. Zuwabia Ibrahim, whose daughter Amina survived the mayhem said that she thanked Allah for saving her life.

Meanwhile, it was not only the students that were trapped in the collapsed edifice. Mallam Useni Ibrahim, a survivor-teacher of the school, described the incident as a bad omen, and mourned fellow teachers who died in the catastrophe.

Commenting, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, a journalist said that while Barde’s team could be commended for moving to the scene immediately, “the pertinent question remains: where in the world do buildings collapse at the rate at which they do in Nigeria?”

Adeniyi said that he was disturbed with what he said were familiar stories that were being associated to the collapsed building, such as: “The foundation and all the materials were for a small bungalow, but the building structure was suddenly converted into a two-storey structure, forcing it to cave in as the foundation materials could not cope with the new weight,” said NEMA Zonal Coordinator (North-Central), Abdulsalam Mohammed, who blamed the collapse of the building on carelessness. “The materials used were even very poor. If you check the blocks, you will find that they did not have enough cement in them. If you check the rods, you will find that they were even too light for a building of that weight and magnitude.”

However, that was not the first time school building was to collapse in Nigeria. In July 2014 a newly completed Ejigbo High School of Ejigbo town in Osun State, collapsed. The difference with the Quranic School that collapsed in Jos and that of Ejigbo was that no death was recorded, given that students were yet to occupy the Ejogbo school building.

In the same year, precisely in May, a school building belonging to Homaj Private Secondary School at Igoba community in Akure North local government area of Ondo State collapsed and killed two and injured three. The school was said to be uncompleted.

From Port Harcourt to Plateau and from Lagos to Lokoja the story was not different. With the ill-fates that befall students in their schools premises, Adeniyi added that he was perturbed and aghast with the electrocution of a 300-level female student of Accounting recently, Oluchi Anaekwe, whom he described as “brilliant” at the University of Lagos.

The depressing doom that befell Anaekwe, according to Adeniyi, was when she unknowingly stepped on a high-tension wire that fell from an electric pole. 

“She was said to have been rushed to the school clinic where, according to many students, she was not given adequate attention until she died. Not being promptly attended to at a medical centre is of course a familiar Nigerian story and so is death by electrocution, one of the several tragedies which depict just how very cheap life has become in our country today,” Adeniyi said.

Uju Anaekwe, a 200-level student of Medicine in the university and sister of Oluchi, who sustained injuries below her nose and on her right arm in the incident, told reporters that she was walking with the sister when the unexpected happened.

Inter alia, Uju said, “I noticed electric sparks of white blue light. It all happened within microseconds. I initially lost consciousness. When I regained my consciousness, I saw people running away from us. I tried to stand up but I could not, because I was still feeling electrical shock in my body. As I turned, I saw my sister (Oluchi) with the electric cable around her leg.”

It was noted that the Medical Centre in the school where Oluchi was rushed to, did not even had a toilet roll, according to Uju, who questioned, “What does the school provide for the Medical Centre to cope with emergency?”

According to a source, “Oluchi’s life could have been saved. When they brought out her body, I checked it and I discovered that the only stiff part was Oluchi’s left arm where the electric cable struck her. Every other part was moving freely. And this shows she was left to die because the nurses and doctors, who attended to her, did not know what to do when she was rushed to school clinic and LUTH.”

Nigerians were of baked breathe that the environment in which knowledge was being imparted in the country has not been made conducive for the pupils or students. Checks revealed that in some of the schools, students receive lectures in makeshift pavilions, while others take lessons in shaky buildings that were disasters waiting to happen.

The irony was that Parents Forum Association of the schools across the country only engages in protests in any of the affected schools with letter sent to the appropriate authorities and the authorities would call for probe that would die as soon as they were set up.

Such call was made last year by the then Speaker of Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Najeem Salaam, when the newly completed Ejigbo High School collapsed. He called for thorough investigation into the collapse.

In a press briefing signed by his then Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Goke Butika, and made available to newsmen, Salaam, who was representing Ejigbo state constituency, said, “I personally monitored the work-in-progress of the collapsed building, and no sub-standard materials were used in the construction of the building; it was too early to conclude that the building collapsed due to sub-standard materials.”

Conversely, heavy wind has been associated to some collapsed schools building, especially the school that collapsed in Osun State which Governor Rauf Aregbesola had at a campaign rally in Ede, said that the school which was built newly, was one of the most beautiful schools in the country. That was before it land-crashed.

The Police Public Relations Officer for the state, Mrs. Folasade Odoro attributed the collapse to have occurred due to heavy wind.

She said, “The main hall of the newly completed ultra-modern Ejigbo High School collapsed due to heavy wind which blew this morning. Two artisans laying tiles sustained injuries. They were treated and have been discharged.”

For-the-moment, Mr. Kunle Awobodu, President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild, in a public presentation he made available to journalists few days after the Jos school hitch happened, called on President Muhammadu Buhari government to help eliminate the idea of using what he described as “Substandard Building Construction” in Nigeria.

That was even as he added that ‘change’ should be felt in the construction industry in Nigeria, the same way ‘change’ was being felt in other industries across the country. Awobodu attributed the concurrent building collapse in Nigeria as largely man-made, saying that in the olden times, building hardly collapse due to the orderliness that was the Nigerian system then.

“If people entrusted with the duty of implementing regulations and laws on physical planning and building control have been knowledgeable, sincere, steadfast and committed, the danger of slum growth and defective buildings would have been nipped in the bud from the outset.
Preventing haphazard development and substandard building construction is less expensive and more effective to demolition,” Awobodu said.

He further highlighted, “Low staff strength, bureaucracy, experience, poor methodology, sentiments, cowardliness, compromise, corruption and lack of enforcement are the major bane of physical planning and building control operations across Nigeria. When the majority’s interest in a service is not determined by passion but by immediate pecuniary gains in a deteriorating societal value, the collective desire for an organized society will remain a mirage.”

Briefing journalists on Wednesday, September 16 2015, in Jos, Abdulsalam said of the collapsed Quranic School that all the materials and the foundation were for a small bungalow, but after was converted into a two-storied structure.

He added that “very poor materials” were even used for the building. He stressed that the blocks could be checked to ascertain his verdict that enough cement was in dearth in them. Likewise the rods, he said that the quality was not for such a building.

While expressing his condolences to the concerned families, he flummoxed why a bungalow should be converted into a two-storey building without any formal advice from building experts.

How to curtail this alarming menace is today a burning issue of concern in the development of the country.

In 2010, a research titled “Building Failure and Collapse in Nigeria: the Influence of the Informal Sector” by Fagbenle, Olabosipo I., Department of Building Technology, Covenant University; and by Oluwunmi, Adedamola O. (Corresponding author), Department of Estate Management, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, suggested that the building failure and collapse in the country stem principally from hasty construction, low quality workmanship, poor supervision, inexperience (use of incompetent hands), ignorance, evasion/non-compliance with building regulations and non enforcement of building quality, standard and control on construction site/market.

The research added that investigation revealed that more than 70 per cent of the reported cases of building collapse in Nigeria stemmed from the informal sector; and showed that 70-0 per cent, 23-3 per cent and 6.7 per cent of the reported cases occurred in private, public and corporate organizations respectively.

It concluded that there should be the need to educate or give further advise to the government and the governmental agencies to be proactive to their duties in order to curb/reduce this negative image.

Awobodu, however, suggested how to reengineer the building industry in the country as follows:

1.      Both the Federal and States’ Ministries of Physical Planning and Building Control Agencies should be re-organised, sanitized and strengthened for better implementation of the established regulations. Such ministries, agencies and departments should be headed by professionals of high integrity that have the natural passion for standard construction and enviable physical planning.

2.      Strong enlightenment and enforcement units should be established to support the ministries and agencies.

3.      Enumeration of building sites should be carried out in our cities so as to determine the staff strength required to monitor such sites.

4.      The cost of Certificate of Occupancy and building plan approval should be reduced to encourage prospective land owners and developers to obtain them. Possession of land title documents and building plan approval documents enables landlords and landladies to access bank facilities and reduce the rate of litigation on land matters.

5.      The government should outsource professionals to boost the staff strength to facilitate/quicken building approval process and ensure effective monitoring of construction works.

6.      Eradication of substandard building materials in the Nigerian market.

Meanwhile some dignitaries across Nigeria had sent in their condolences to the victims of the collapsed Abu Naib Islamic School on Gero Road in the Bukuru area in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State.

To former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar: “I am deeply saddened to hear that 10 kids died in Jos yesterday after their school building collapsed. They only wanted to learn. My heartfelt condolences go to their families who must be going through so much pain. May God comfort them, and heal those who sustained injuries. To avoid incidences like this, the development control departments of various governments must ensure engineers and builders adhere to building codes.”

Alhaji Atiku made this disclosure a day after the incident happened through his social network accounts. Albeit, the office of the Directorate of Press and Public Affairs of the Executive Governor of Plateau State, the Rt. Hon. Barr. Simon Bako Lalong in a letter made available to newsmen the same day and signed by Samuel Emmanuel Nanle, referred that the governor received the news of the collapsed school building with a broken spirit.

The governor, hence, mobilized emergency units in the agencies such as the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the Nigeria Police and Government Officials to the imperiled site for rapid assistance of the victims.

Part of the statement reads, “The Governor expresses deep concern for this loss of lives which brings to bear the necessity to ensure that public buildings conform to building standards and the need for them to be certified fit to accommodate students in training. In this wise, the Governor has assured that all Agencies of Government saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that all public buildings particularly schools are fit for use, are up and doing in ensuring the safety of these structures.”

.Onwumere a poet/journalist writes from Port Harcourt