He shook his head intermittently in disbelief, wiping off tears with his right palm. For about two minutes, Nurudeen Solagbade, could not utter a word from his bed at the Lagos Island General Hospital.
He kept nodding his head in assurance to his worried relatives waving at him through the ward window that he was fine. The more he tried to engage them, the more he betrayed emotion.
“I never thought I would be alive,” the 33-year-old bricklayer intoned when he eventually mustered courage.
Solagbade was one of the survivors rescued from the rubble of a 21-storey building that collapsed around 2pm on Monday on Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The building was one of the three high-rise residential buildings owned by the Managing Director, Fourscore Heights Limited, Femi Osibona.
The building project which started in 2020 was billed for completion in 2022 with appreciable units of flats worth millions of naira said to have been sold to some potential homeowners whose dreams were shattered on Monday when the skyscraper crumbled.
As of Thursday evening, 40 corpses comprising 37 males and three females, had been recovered from the site.
Over 50 persons, including Osibona, his personal assistant, Onyinye Enekwe, and friend, Wale Bob-Oseni, were trapped in the building.
Luckily, nine persons survived the tragedy with three of them treated and discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. The six others admitted at the general hospital are Solagbade, Timileyin Oduntan, 26; and Waliu Lateef, 32; Ahmed Kinleku, 19, a national of Benin Republic; Sunday Monday, 21 and Adeniran Mayowa, 37.
Solagbade, a native of Iwo, Osun State, told our correspondent who visited the hospital on Wednesday that he, Lateef and about 33 others came from Ibafo, Ogun State, on Monday to work at the site.
He explained that he was putting finishing touches to a plastering work at Floor 15 when the building suddenly collapsed.
The bricklayer stated, “Waliyu (Lateef) and I have been living in Ibafo for over 10 years. We are from the same compound in Iwo. We were about 35 from Ibafo that went to work at the site that day. We were many and came from different areas. That was my first day of working at the site. Ordinarily, I would not have gone there to work but I didn’t have any other means to feed my family.
“Waliyu, Ayo (yet to be found) and I were asked to plaster an apartment for N40,000. We were about to complete the task when the building collapsed. I initially thought it was the lift installed in the building that crashed until I found myself buried.”
Having spent a day inside the rubble without food, water or sufficient air, Solagbade felt the end had come; more so with the gory sight of dead bodies scattered around him. He and Lateef were eventually rescued on Tuesday.
He said, “We didn’t sleep all through Monday night. We saw a small hole where little air was coming in. We couldn’t stand so we had to crawl to the spot to get some air. We crawled on broken concrete blocks.
“Early Tuesday morning, we heard voices of people around the site and started shouting ‘help, help.’ After some time, they responded and told us to be patient. It was God that saved us; it wasn’t our knowledge. I couldn’t believe we would come out alive and see our families again. The developer was also in the building when it collapsed. He was there with some other people.”
Solagbade sustained injuries in his spine, left leg and hand but said he was gradually responding to treatment. “I am still feeling pains in my spine and left leg. They have done a scan and they are attending to us well,” he added.
It was observed that the impact of the building collapse affected Lateef’s left eye, chest, back and right leg. Like Solagbade, the 32-year-old artisan said he never believed he could have another shot at life after he found himself trapped in the rubble.
He said, “It was God’s mercy that I survived. I begged him for mercy because I thought the end had come. I had concluded that I would die and decided to say final prayers so that I would make heaven.”
Recounting his horrendous experience under the debris, Lateef said he was in a bent position for several hours and became so weak that he nearly passed out.
He added, “There was a lighter with me. I turned it on and saw dead bodies everywhere. Bricks had fallen on some people and they were struggling to breathe. It was a horrible way to die and I don’t wish it for my enemies. I was touching the heads of dead people. With this experience, I will never work in high-rise buildings again.”
Surprisingly, one would hardly notice Oduntan was a victim as there was no visible mark of injuries on his body. “It was the grace of God,” he said, beaming with excitement.
Oduntan, who resides in the Agege area of the state, said he started working at the site four weeks ago as a labourer, adding that he and few others were eating in the backyard of the building when the tragedy struck.
He recounted, “We were all confused and ran to hide somewhere. I hid near a container. Everywhere was cloudy and dark; we couldn’t see anything. I heard the sound of something crashing towards the spot where I hid and shifted my body. A brick fell on my right hand. I struggled to pull it off and came out myself. It was just God that saved me. Everything happened within seconds.
“I called for help and some people assisted me to rescue Sunday (Monday) and two other persons close to where I hid. We wanted to rescue more people but police chased us away from the site.”
A United States-based realtor, Wale Bob-Oseni, was upbeat of celebrating his 50th birthday in style until a sudden turn of events on November 1 during a discussion with his friend, Osibona, inside the building.
Bob-Oseni’s relative, well known as Alakowe, disclosed that the victim, who was billed to return to the US that day, and Osibona, were about to bid each other farewell when the structure crumbled.
There were reports on Thursday that the friends’ corpses had been recovered but Alakowe said Bob-Oseni’s had yet to be found.
He said, “His 50th birthday is November 22. He was together with the owner of the building last Friday. He wanted to return to the US that Monday but his friend insisted that he should come. They had discussed and were about to part ways when the building came down. We were told they were on the ground floor. The rescue operation was slow after the incident occurred. But after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited, there were improvements. They have not found his corpse yet but his friend’s body had been recovered.”
A member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) redeployed to Lagos from Borno State for fear of Boko Haram attacks and posted at the real estate company was said to be among the victims trapped in the building.
Identified simply as Oyindamola, the young graduate’s corpse was reportedly evacuated on Wednesday, barely three weeks after she joined the firm.
“She was originally posted to Borno but she was redeployed. If we had known, we would have allowed her to continue her youth service in that state,” a family member lamented while speaking to journalists at the scene of the incident.
Also, 0sibona’s Personal Assistant, 26-year-old Enekwe, whose wedding was reportedly slated for December, was among those who lost their lives.
It was said that she resumed work on Friday, October 29, 2021, on a monthly pay of N150,000 which she never lived to collect.
“She lived at Ago Palace Way, Okoya. They offered her accommodation in Ikoyi because of the distance and a monthly salary of N150k. Her wedding is coming up in December. Her family has even given the husband’s family their list. May her soul Rest in Peace,” Instablog quoted a family source.
An aluminium frames installer whose name could not be ascertained and his assistant, Kenneth Otu, were among the people working inside the building at the time of the incident. The duo reportedly came from Abuja a few days ago to work at the site.
Our correspondent witnessed moments when the artisan’s black Highlander Jeep parked at the entrance of the site was being driven away on Thursday by a relative with the assistance of an automobile mechanic.
His wife, clad in native dress, was lost in deep thoughts, leaning her back on a tree and sitting quietly with arms akimbo. The deceased’s son confirmed that the vehicle belonged to “my dad” but declined further comments.
Otu’s elder brother, John, told Saturday PUNCH that he spoke to him (Otu) on the phone a day before the incident occurred, lamenting that the family had not been allowed to see his corpse.
He said, “The governor has assured us that we would be allowed to see his body tomorrow (today).He was from Cross River State but based in Abuja. He came to Lagos with his boss. They were supposed to work at the site till December. They just spent three days there. We spoke to him on October 31.”
Sanwo-Olu on Wednesday assured affected families that they would be allowed to identify corpses of their loved ones on Thursday after completion of autopsies.
The bereaved families expressed anger on Thursday as they were not granted access but the governor appealed to them, saying the autopsies would soon be concluded.
An attendant at the Mainland Hospital morgue, Yaba, told our correspondent on Thursday that the mortuary was still collating photographs and details of dead victims.
A father, Edward Godwin, whose 18-year-old son was also trapped in the rubble, said he came from Abuja to look for him.
He said, “I came from Abuja this morning (Wednesday); my son is one of the victims, an 18-year-old boy. I got a call about it at 10am yesterday (Tuesday) and I started coming down immediately and ever since I got here, I was directed to the IDH, but they didn’t allow me to check whether my son was alive or dead. I’ve been to the general hospital, but I was not allowed to see anyone.”
Gafar Ogunfunwa, the younger brother of a pastor at Redeemed Christian Church of God, Living Water Parish, Ibafo, Ogun State, Ola Ogunfunwa, said on Thursday that his brother’s corpse had not been found.
From the building’s structural components to the figures of corpses found in the debris, the incident had been plagued with controversies.
The suspended General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Gbolahan Oki, on Monday, stated that the collapsed edifice was approved as a 15-storey building, and not 21.
The state’s Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, disputed Oki’s claim, insisting that 21 storeys were approved.
However, a document from the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority that went viral on Wednesday, confirmed that the government indeed approved “15 floors” for the real estate firm.
The permit was dated April 9, 2019 and signed by the agency’s general manager. The government had yet to deny the document as of Friday.
There was also a discrepancy in the fatality figures. As of 11.50am on Thursday, the emergency responders said 38 corpses had been recovered. Two more bodies were reportedly evacuated later in the day.
But Sanwo-Olu while addressing journalists at the scene on Thursday said “32 bodies” had been recovered so far and transported to the morgue.
Giving an update on Friday, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, said 38 bodies had been recovered.
He said, “So far, we have recorded 38 dead bodies. And as you know, we have nine survivors. Some bodies are ready for identification. So, people can go to IDH, Yaba as from 4pm (Friday) to identify the bodies of their loved ones.
“For bodies that may be very difficult to identify, we are going to be conducting DNA tests for such bodies to be identified. There are rules for giving bodies to people.
“There are some of the bodies that are in a state that it would be unprofessional for the hospitals to allow people to look at them in that present state and for them to be released the way they are. That is why we have the little delay that we are having.”
Meanwhile, a five-member panel constituted by the governor to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the disaster was inaugurated on Thursday.
The panel led by the President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners of Nigeria, Tayo Ayinde, was given a 30-day ultimatum to submit its report.
Other members of the panel are a lawyer in a private law firm, Ekundayo Onajobi, who will serve as the secretary, Dr Akintilo Adeleke, Yinka Ogundairo, Godfrey Godfrey and Mrs Bunmi Ibrahim.
Sanwo-Olu had in a statement on Wednesday by his Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Alaka, promised that the investigation would be open and thorough, noting that the panel had been given clear terms of reference.
The panel was required to determine whether there was full compliance with physical planning and building materials laws of the state; whether there was supervisory or oversight lapses on the part of regulatory agencies, and make necessary recommendations to guard against reoccurrence.
The statement added, “The panel will be finding out who the culprits are. The investigation will start from the heads of regulatory agencies. Rest assured that if there are other people that are found wanting in the course of investigation, everybody will face the full wrath of the law. Members of the panel are people of impeccable integrity.”
Sanwo-Olu also declared three-day mourning in a statement on Thursday to commiserate with those who lost their loved ones in the tragic incident.
“All flags are to be flown at half-mast in public and private buildings and official engagements cancelled during the mourning period,” he added.
Sanwo-Olu also noted that since a help desk was opened at the scene of the incident on Wednesday, only 19 names of missing persons had been documented 24 hours after. – Punch.