Friday, November 23, 2018 is one date that will linger in the minds of Rivers people, particularly residents of Port Harcourt, as well as those living and doing business there for a long time. It may be described as the most tragic news of building collapse in the annals of the oil and gas-rich city.
Lately, just when the usual crowd that trooped daily to the site of the unfortunate incident such as families of trapped victims, sympathizers and passers-by have reduced as hopes of finding more bodies dimmed, the unexpected happened. Rescuers pulled out two more decomposing bodies from the rubbles, precisely on Friday, December 7, 2018.
This brings the number of deaths, so far, to 12 while more than 31 persons were rescued alive since that ill-fated incident which affected the mood of the state.
According to Monday Kalio, coordinator of the volunteer works at the site, who confirmed the recovery, the decomposing body of a middle-aged man was found about 3 am, last Friday and deposited at a mortuary in Port Harcourt.
Kalio said, “We have recovered 41 bodies. Ten are dead and 31 are alive,” even as he asked that more hand gloves and nose masks should be provided for the rescuers. But a day after Kalio spoke to newsmen, two more decomposing bodies were found same day, one in the wee hours of the morning, the other in the night.
Rescuers who have been having a hectic time searching for remains of victims complained that some of the equipment used for the rescue operation have gone bad, in addition to not having access to food and water which they said was hindering rescue efforts.
However, about nine heavy-duty equipment remain at the scene where rescue operations are still on-going with workers digging two large holes to the collapsed building in order to gain access into the underground area where some trapped workers are expected to be.
Two of the workers who did not want their names mentioned appealed to the state government and companies to provide more equipment to enhance the rescue operations.
Families of workers still trapped in the collapsed building remained hopeful as some of them who spoke to The Tide commended the rescue work done so far, saying the work attitude of the rescue workers have improved. Although 12 lifeless bodies have been removed from the rubbles, more persons may still be trapped inside the wreckage. But at this stage it might take more than a miracle or another world wonder to find more survivors as rescuers and volunteers are still undaunted in their task of clear, search and hopefully find….
Members of the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Gateway have been on hand providing social services like food and water for rescue workers and volunteers, assuring that it would continue to give necessary aid to rescuers at the scene of the collapse building.
President-elect of Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Gateway, Arinze Akupue, while speaking to newsmen urged the rescuers to double their efforts in ensuring that more trapped workers, including one of its members, Rotarian Morgan Ekene Ihionu, are rescued.
Akupue said it was disheartening that some family members of those trapped in the rubble were yet to leave the scene several days after the 7-storey building caved in.
The state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said recently that initial investigations had shown that the building permit obtained by the owner of the structure in 2014 was for a 5-storey building, but that in September 2018, a permit for a 7-storey building was issued by a government official. Already, the state Commissioner for Urban Development and Physical Planning, Dr Reason Onya, had stepped aside to allow for unimpeded investigation into the cause(s) of the incident.
Despite digging two large holes, rescue workers have not been able to gain access to the underground parts of the collapsed building, though most of the rubbles have been cleared by the worker, even as the perimeter created at the scene have been reduced to allow business owners within the area to have access to their shops and stalls.
Chairman, Port Harcourt Division of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Mr. Yibotemeka Kalio, said rescuers have two more floors to crack in order to gain access to the underground parts of the failed building believed to be housing more trapped workers.
Kalio said, “The site has been divided into three. The first site we have cleared and we have done searches. On the second side they are cutting off the iron rods. What we have left here now are two floors. That is why they (workers) are cutting off the iron rods so that they can crack and we can go in and do our search and rescue.
Asked about the possibility of finding more victims alive, he retorted, “Honestly and sincerely we are still hopeful. The possibility is still there that we may see some living cases to rescue and then possibly some other cases to recover.”
But who are the casualties of this hapless incident. Like prominent Nigerian author, John Pepper Clark, wrote in one of his celebrated poems ‘The Casualties’ were he made reference to the many casualties (victims, if you like) of the Nigerian Civil war. Indeed the casualties are not only those who died. Neither is it only families of diseased persons nor their loved ones. Though the circumstances seems dissimilar, but war, like accident, the latter been the case of that Port Harcourt collapsed building, usually results in ‘weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth’ if the scale of a 7-storey building collapse with many workers on site is anything to go by.
Some of the lines of that classic poem in no particular order read thus: ‘The casualties are not only those who are dead. ‘They are well out of it. ‘Though they await burial by installment.
‘The casualties are not only those who have lost Persons or property, hard as it is To grope for a touch that some
May not know is not there.
‘The casualties are many, and a good member as well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck.
We are all casualties!”
Indeed, the casualties are many! For nothing else, the serenity of Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s Garden City was shattered by news of the collapsed building under construction with many workers trapped in it. People made distress and frantic calls depending on which side of the divide. One needed to have seen how many a resident of the metropolis trooped there from far and near to ascertain if what they heard was true. Indeed, the casualties are many.
Without a doubt, Dr. Onya should be commended for rising to the occasion by stepping down to ensure an unimpeded investigation into the incident. Like the rest of us, he too is a casualty.
Governor Wike himself is a casualty, having cut short his trip abroad in response to a call of duty in his immediate vicinity as the chief security officer of the state, not minding that he has able hands such as his deputy, Dr Ipalibo Harry-Banigo, who in the governor’s absence led relevant members of the state executive council daily to the scene with strong assurances that the state government would institute a probe into the cause of the tragedy.
The state Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. John Basia, his Environment counterpart, Dr Roselyn Konya, as well as the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Princewill Chike, temporarily relocated to the site of the collapsed building as they were seen there daily attending and responding to issues.
It was gathered that when the governor returned from his trip, he immediately dashed to the scene of the incident with his wife, Justice Eberechi Suzzette Nyesom-Wike, where upon he commiserated with the families of those who lost their loved ones, who, according to him, had gone there to work in order to provide for their families.
Wike described the building collapse as a sad development, saying, “I feel so pained that we have to face this kind of calamity at this time. I commiserate with the families that have lost their loved ones who came to seek their daily bread. Government will do all it can to give them the necessary support.
“I have directed the Attorney-General of Rivers State to ensure that all legal steps are taken to do what is right within the ambit of the law,” the governor stated, even as he ordered the immediate arrest of the owner of the collapsed building, saying that the State Government will bring all culprits to book.
“Whoever is involved, from the owner or the contractor to the officials of the state, they will face the full weight of the law. Government will take steps to acquire this property. We cannot allow this illegality. If you look at the master plan of this area, a 7-storey building is not allowed here,” he said, and commended the construction giants, security agencies and non-governmental organizations for working with the Rivers State Government in carrying out rescue operations at the site of the incident.
Some 24 hours after the governor’s arrest order, spokesman of the State Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, confirmed the arrest of the owner of the structure, adding that any official of the state government found to have been involved in the incident, one way or the other, would be invited for interrogation and possible arrest.
In the same vein, leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Martins Amaehule, who led other lawmakers to the site of the incident, stated that the state legislature will resume plenary immediately to look into the matter and enact laws that will monitor construction of buildings in the state.
“Investigations need to be carried out and I can assure you that the Rivers State House of Assembly will reconvene to carry out proper investigation to ascertain what happened here. Be assured that in the coming days we will sit and review the situation,” the House leader said.
Already, the governor on Tuesday, December 4, made good his promise of instituting a commission of inquiry led by Justice Adolphus Enebeli to investigate the collapsed 7-storey building during a brief ceremony in Government House, Port Harcourt, with a charge to identify the owner of the building and the holder of the certificate of occupancy, according to a statement issued by the Special Assistant to the Governor on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu.
To be cont’d.
The governor’s charge reads, “To ascertain/identify the owner, developer and/or holder of the certificate of occupancy over and in respect of all that piece or parcel of land situate and lying at 119 Woji Road, (Plot 80), GRA Phase 2, Port Harcourt.
“Ascertain whether the construction of the 7—storey building on the said 119 Woji Road is covered by any valid or approved building plan and/or whether requisite approvals were issued by the appropriate ministry or agency of the Rivers State Government prior to the commencement of construction “.
The governor also charged the Commission of Inquiry to ascertain whether the architectural, engineering and structural designs of the said building were undertaken by competent and licensed experts in relevant fields.
He further charged the commission to ascertain whether appropriate/necessary tests, including soil tests, were carried out to ascertain the suitability of the site for construction of a building of that size.
Responding, Justice Adolphus Enebeli assured the governor that the commission will execute its assignment with the needed timeliness and in line with the law; adding that they will not disappoint the Government and people of Rivers State because the assignment touches the essence of humanity.
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the built industry all supported the governor’s decision to probe the incident, even as they have gone a step further to give expert advice to forestall future occurrences; in addition to commending the state government for its quick response to the incident which according to them saved many lives.
One of such is the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) in a nine-point statement jointly signed by Tete Inameti and Emmanuel Ikechukwu, chairman and secretary of the body in Rivers State respectively and obtained by The Tide, as they called for regular audit of building structures in the state to authenticate their integrity.
While noting that though building approval agencies have always been the immediate targets of blame, the NITP said it that the public should realise that approval of building plan is a joint responsibility of all the relevant professionals in the built environment. You see, they too, like other relevant professionals bodies, are casualties.
The statement reads, “We (NITP) have been inundated with distress calls as a result of the collapse of a 7-storey building under construction along Woji Road in GRA, phase 2, Port Harcourt.
“While appreciating the calls from the public and the print and electronic media, the institute commiserates with the Governor of Rivers State, the people of the state and the families of victims of the collapse building.”
The institute noted that the tragic incident is a wake-up call to all professionals in the built environment to demonstrate the requisite professional standards and commitment to put a stop to quackery in the state, even as it called for strict penalties for those responsible for the sad incident no matter how highly placed to deter future occurrences.
The statement reads, “That town planners should be adequately staffed and equipped with professionals in the construction industry for effective routine supervision and monitoring of project sites during and after construction.
“Government should implement the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law No 6 of 2003 by establishing Local Planning Authorities in all 23 local government areas of the state, as well as a physical planning board at the state levels of plan approval so as to reduce the workload on the Ministry of Urban Development.
“Construction work should only be carried out by registered contractors and supervised by registered architects, engineers and builders rather than engaging unskilled contractors, while clients should obtain approvals before they begin construction and should not develop at variance with the approved plan,” the state NITP said.
On their part, the Nigerian Institute of Builders called on the State Government to set up a building control agency that will oversee building constructions in the state.
Rivers State Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Builders, Akinola Bammeke in his reaction to the November 23, 2018 tragedy further said, “What has happened is very unfortunate. One of the ways to check this kind of incidents is for the state government to set up a building control agency that will monitor building projects all through the various stages of construction,”
Bammeke also said the State House of Assembly needs to review ‘existing’ obsolete building laws to ensure that only professionals engage in construction of houses in state to avert such incidents.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Institution of Architects (NIA) led by the Rivers State Chairman, Egbuonu Asomba said only a proper probe can unravel the circumstance behind the incident.
Asomba said, “When a building collapses there are so many possible reasons for building collapse. You have to start looking at whether a proper soil test was conducted from the outset.
“Then you should also ensure that the proper design by professionals are involved at the design process. From the design of the building up to sending it for approval.
“I expect a lot more diligence, a lot more participation by every section of the brick environment. The professional architect, the professional structural engineer and every other professional must be involved to ensure that the right thing is done,” the State NIA boss said.
While the various steps taken by the state government so far in getting to the root of the matter are noble, the myriad of professional advise given by stakeholders in the built industry are very important lessons and instructions to the relevant authorities. For now, everyone should hold their horses and heave a sigh of relief, while awaiting the findings/report of the Justice led panel of inquiry; for we are all casualties of Friday, November 23, 2018, one way or the other.
By: Dennis Naku