‘I Was Buried Under The Rubble For 7 Hours’ – Survivors Of Lagos Building Collapse Tell Their Stories

But as loved ones say final goodbye to the departed in such mournful mood, survivors of the collapsed building have continued to share testimonies of their narrow escape from death. One of them, Mr. Moruf Abdulhakeem, a Primary 5 and 6 teacher in the affected school, Ohen Nursery and Primary School, said he went out to buy food and on his way back to classroom at about 10 am, the incident occurred.

According to him, he noticed that the wall was vibrating when he was at the second floor of the building but before he could take another step, the entire structure came crashing down in debris and dust, with a deafening noise.

Moruf told Saturday Sun that other teachers, the proprietress of the school and pupils were in their various classes when the incident occurred. “As I was climbing up, I noticed there was vibration and shortly, the building collapsed. While I was trapped struggling to get help, I could hear voices of other people crying for help. Many were praying and shouting Jesus! Jesus! Jesus save us. When I could no longer hear voices after some time, I, thought, they have been rescued, not knowing that many of them died in the process.”

He explained that when the whole incident was going on, neigbours gathered and rescued him and others that were trapped. “I was buried under the rubbles from 10am to 3pm (7 hours) until help came my way through the neighbors, area boys and other sympathizers. I guessed that I stayed alive because of the water that they were pouring into the collapsed building. I was busy praying and begging God not to allow me to die in the process.”

According to him, there was no sign that the building would collapse, although it had been marked for demolition about 10 years ago. “When the building was marked 10 years ago and nothing was done to save the situation by the landlord, the proprietress of the school made efforts and renovated it. Since that time, we have been managing it, until it suddenly collapsed.”

Moruf, a part-time student of Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, sustained injuries on his left arm and other parts of his body, and is now lying helpless at home. “As I am speaking, I am still in shock and afraid of what happened. I heard that the proprietress of my school and many pupils lost their lives.”

 Another survivor, Miss Ibidun Ayeni whose mother, Mrs Amudat Ibidun died in the process, described the incident as an unforgettable one.

She explained that the house had been in a state of serious dilapidation and that the landlord could not attend to it, even when the tenants are paying their rents regularly. “We occupied a room apartment and paid the sum of N70, 000 yearly. Though we know the building was not strong enough, but did not envisage that it will collapse so sudden.”

Ibidun who could not speak much due to shock stated that she noticed vibration in the building and before, people could make move, it was already down. “I was not at the same spot with my mother when the incident occurred. It was when I was rescued that I found out that my mother did not survive. I am in serious pains due to the injuries I sustained all over my body.”

As rescuers continue to dig into the rubbles of the three-storey building that came crashing down last Wednesday, at Ita-Faji, Lagos, with the hope of seeing if there are more survivors to be rescued before it is too late, more facts have continued to emerge about the state of the building that brought so much grief, pain and tears to hundreds of relatives of the victims and thousands of onlookers.

Located at No. 44 Massey Street, Ita-Faji, on Lagos Island, as at the time of filing this report, rescue work by locals was still ongoing at the scene where, so far, 25 bodies are said to have been dug out and taken to the mortuary while about 50 have been rescued alive although LASEMA had earlier claimed that they had rescued all those trapped under the collapsed building, a claim which some of the residents faulted as untrue and non-reflective of the fact on ground and which is: there are still victims trapped under its debris.

As for the dilapidated nature of the collapsed building housing shops, school and residential quarters, of that there is no argument. Saturday Sun investigation showed that what happened was due to as much a human error of judgment as official dereliction of duty.  It learnt of how before this tragedy, the house had been marked down for demolition by officials of the local government but the owner managed somehow to wriggle himself free from the gripping hands of the law. As for those who expressed concern, he was reported to have asked them to mind their business as he was minding his.

The landlord, some of the residents claim, had reneged on all agreements reached on the house which is said to be more than 50 years old before some renovations were carried out on it about 12 years ago.

The woman who saw the collapse coming

According to one 65-years-old woman, Alhaja Olorunoshebi, who claimed to have survived the building collapse by a whisker, things got to a head when she was tagged a pest by the landlord over what he saw as her constant complaint over the condition of the house.

“My marriage to an Ijebu man brought me here,” she said in Yoruba. “And since then, I have not seen people who are lackadaisical like these people. It was when we moved in to this vicinity that the collapsed building was  renovated. I have always stood against it. I told them that they could not build their toilet on the compound drainage because it would be too risky, and it would still be our duty to clean the drainage. Their drainage was close to our drainage, but their toilet end was on some part of our drainage. They begged us and begged my neighbours’ mother, and even went ahead to beg the community head, Faji. In the long run, we agreed and they built it. Like I feared, their dirt are being pushed towards our end.”

The warning signs

A stitch in time saves nine.  Alhaja Olorunoshebi said if others had joined her to protest some of the things she was complaining about, the tragedy might not have happened. As it were, she said her several warnings fell on deaf ears of the proprietor of Ohen Nursery and Primary School and the landlord.

“The warnings started with the pipes,” she said. “The back pipes started leaking. When I complained, they promised to buy a bigger one. Before long, the wall of the house started to crack. My house is directly after the toilet. I complained and complained, and they promised to mend it. They called bricklayers who were never monitored. I took it upon myself to monitor the bricklayers, but since I was not the one who gave them the job, there was hardly little I could do. In fact, I begged them continuously until they decided to renovate part of the house. There was a time some people came from Alausa to check the house, I was happy but my happiness was cut short as the government could not follow up the demolition notice.

She added that after the government officials left, she went to meet them that they need to reinforce the building. That was the time they went to buy a bag of cement and used it to patch up fault lines.

“After a month and some days, it started to break and that made me to accost the proprietor to complain.  When he refused, I bought cement and patched it myself. But it soon went from bad to worse. The proprietor called a bricklayer who brought brown cement to patch the house. The incident started from the same spot. I was at the window when I saw bricks falling inside my pots. I climbed upstairs and called the proprietor. He was trying to make me sit but I refused. I called him to see that the last bricklayer did a shoddy job and that it had started to crack.”

According to her, while she was complaining she saw the landlord and his wife and pleaded with them to see the crack. “They followed me and were surprised at the level of the damage. The landlord said we should leave it, so that they would know the extent of the damage. He said I should let it be tomorrow (Thursday), as I was trying to call for support, I went to push the wall, telling him where he would need to start from. The proprietor left for his office upstairs with the promise that he was going to call a bricklayer. I was still behind my window with the landlord when the house caved in. It was the landlord that saved my life. I was blind but he kept pushing me making sure I was in front of him. They were nonchalant with the house.”

More calamities waiting to happen

As sympathizers stood behind the demarcation line put in place by the rescue officials they stated mentioning streets names of buildings that are in danger. A lady, who was identified as Kemi, said that she has refused to visit a friend because she stays at 15 Adawu Street, Idumota.

Findings by Saturday Sun show that like Kemi said, the green-painted building is a death-trap for its residents. When the reporter entered the building he observed that the rear, non-painted side of the building serves as resting place for lizards and other rodents in the community.

“The first time I went to her (friend’s) house – she lives on the ground floor – from where I sat, I could hear footsteps of the residents. I told her but she said that the house is one of the cheapest in the area.”

“No 37 and 39 buildings on Ali Street are also awaiting collapse,” residents allege. “The brown and grey colour buildings are not fully occupied. The houses stand at the junction of the street, opposite a slaughterhouse.”

According to Baba Waidi who claimed to be one of the stakeholders in the community, the house has been marked for demolition since five years ago, same time the collapsed building was marked.

“Even though we are not staying in the building, we are scared of our life. The building is tilting forward every day and nobody knows when it will collapse. There are people still staying inside the house and most of them are hoodlums,” he stated.

When the reporter visited the place following the hints, he saw blue boxers hanging from one of the windows on the first floor, a proof that there is truly an occupant in the house. Also, at the side of the house, is a store with the name: “Ewa Olorun Princes Store.” It was half-opened. A woman sat in the shop mindless of the danger looming above her. When Saturday Sun approached her, she refused to talk but made a side comment to her friend in Yoruba language. “Has he come to bring the house down by himself,” she asked rhetorically.

Another building residents claim may go the way of the collapsed building is one at No 13, Haffner Street. A closer look shows that the brown building has patches all over. A part of its entrance had given way to reveal some rusted metal on the left side.

In fact, one Ete, sitting on a chair in a bungalow opposite the house, had, upon spotting the reporter, beckoned on him to show him the house. He said that the residents are aware of the condition of the house. “These people are living in danger and they are daring death in the face,” he said. “When it happens, they will be looking for sympathizers, may God help us in this country.”

Why we booed Ambode – Residents

Talking about the collapsed building, in the course of the ongoing rescue efforts, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode visited the scene first before leaving to check victims at the General hospital.  When he visited, his convoy was parked at Ali Street. But immediately, he stepped out of his car, he was greeted with sachet water and boos  by the angry crowd.

Narrating the incident, Alhaja Kudirat Molade who share the same fence with that of the collapsed building said that the people felt the pain of the loss much, that’s why they booed the governor.

“I am not happy with the welcome the area boys gave the governor,” she said. “No matter what happened, they should have waited to hear what he was going to say. It made the governor to leave immediately. I lost my clothing and I don’t know have a place to sleep.”

Another resident, Abulazeez Elegushi, who was the first responder, shed more light on the situation. “I was cutting fish for somebody when the house collapsed, the customer said she wanted to say hi to someone in front of the house,” he said. “It was around 9 am but the rescue operation started here around 2pm. It was almost late for the victims and the governor came later. To some it was as if he (governor) does not care. I lost my phone and SIM card while rescuing the victim. I was the person who made the first contact with the first survivor.

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