• Traders count losses
FATTEH HAMID captures the despair of shop owners who suffered untold losses after the collapse of a building in Lagos
Ibadan Street in Ebute-Metta, Lagos State, was a beehive of activities on Thursday when our correspondent visited despite the fact that tragedy hit the area four days ago.
Tragedy struck in the area on Sunday when a distressed three-storey building collapsed, killing 10 tenants.
A businessman, Nelson Chioma, stood helplessly close to some scavengers he contacted to dig out the portion of his shop and warehouse buried under the rubble.
Asked how he felt losing his goods to the incident, Nelson said he was grateful to God that he was not at the scene when the building collapsed.
He stated, “I just finished offloading goods that day when I decided to go home to pick up something. On my way back, I received a call that the building, which I left a while ago, had collapsed. The shop was among others at the ground floor
“I couldn’t believe my ears because it was not more than a few minutes before the building collapsed. It’s a shocking thing to me. I rushed down there and we could do nothing because there were people stuck in the rubble and operations had begun by the rescue team that came to the place. Since Sunday, I keep coming to monitor the spot of my shop to see if there are things I can rescue.’’
The sad businessman said he lost about N3m to the incident, adding that he had yet to recover half a million naira of his goods buried underneath the rubble.
He added, “Many of the goods were destroyed when the rescue team came trying to rescue lives. Lives are vital. I understand this perfectly. But I also know that someone whose property was lost to disaster is almost likely to collapse or faint upon hearing such news. When the rescue team came, they told us that they were not concerned about our property but the lives trapped in the rubble.’’
Nelson further said that while trying to recover their goods on Sunday, some people confronted them, adding that they had to remain calm and wait till the conclusion of the rescue operation to resume searching for their goods.
He added, “At the moment, we can only appeal to the government that after rescuing those trapped in the rubble, they should turn to those of us with property too because many of us have nothing else to depend on than our goods. It’s a part of our lives taken away too.”
Goods, money lost to incident
Another businessman who lost his engine oil goods to the incident, Michael Ogboji, told our correspondent that he was saddened by the situation.
Ogboji, who was teary as he narrated his ordeal to Saturday PUNCH, noted that the loss he incurred was irreplaceable.
He stated that many of the goods were supplied by some persons who expected payment after he completed sales.
He said, “A day prior to the incident, I went to the market to buy goods which total worth was over N8m. The next thing was that on Sunday night, my ‘boy’ called me to say that the building had collapsed and the warehouse was buried under the rubble. I was at Ikorodu when the call came in. I inquired if he could get any of our goods out but he said he couldn’t get any. I asked him if he could see anyone to help get any of our goods out. But he said policemen were there and they were not allowing anyone to go in or out.’’
Ogboji further stated that when he got there, he counted 10 corpses.
He said, “I am not even concerned about the money I lost in the tragic incident. I am still alive and that is enough to be grateful to God for. When one is still alive, there is hope.
“I sent a picture on WhatsApp to those who supplied me goods. They came to the scene of the incident a few days later to see what happened. They confirmed my claim and had yet to return since then. Till now, I don’t know what to or where to. By my calculations, the goods I lost would amount to N8m. I stocked my shop on Saturday.”
Speaking about efforts to recover some of the trapped goods, he said, “I sell engine oil and during the rescue of those trapped in the rubble, most of the goods burst. There is nothing I can do about that but when there’s life, there’s hope. Life goes on.”
A generator seller and parts dealer, Francis Egbuonu, who used a shop in the building as a warehouse stated that though he lost millions to the incident, his loss was incomparable to the lives lost. He was excited about the lives saved.
He said, “As a human, the major thing there is the lives that were saved. Yes, their lives were more important to me. I would have been happier if no death was recorded in the tragedy, but it is a sad one that lives were lost.
“Some people might say their own goods are important. But for me, I cannot compare human lives with goods. The rescue team was able to rescue lives and that is important to me. Though some people died, some were rescued. If the rescue team didn’t show up, it would be impossible to use our bare hands to save up the number of people they were able to save on the day of the incident.
“Inside my warehouse, I have complete generators that got damaged under the rubble while they were trying to rescue those trapped under the rubble. For my goods, it will take me time to calculate the exact amount of what got damaged. I’ll say the total amount of good there will be around N8m to N10m because I stocked the store a day before the incident.’’
He further said that they were only able to recover scraps, adding that all the generators were destroyed. Egbuonu also explained that he was at home at the time of the incident and was called on the phone to see the extent of damage.
Another businessman, Innocent Nnam, known popularly as Apostle The Great in the area, deals in generator parts. He also lost goods to the incident.
Estimating his loss to be overN10m, Nnam said he was unable to recover any of his goods under the rubble. He stated that he couldn’t say whether they were damaged or not.
Speaking further, Nnam expressed joy that some people were rescued when the building collapsed.
He stated, “It is a sad painful occurrence, though my goods got trapped when the building gave way, it’s not the same thing when one considers the fact that some people lost their lives. No one will pray for such an experience. One can’t even wish it for one’s enemy. My prayer is that such an incident will not be repeated. Several goods are underground and we don’t know what our fate is.”
He urged the government to quickly intervene to ensure end to such an incident in the state
Nnam said, “Many buildings are not in a good shape and they are being overlooked by government officials and when an incident like this happens, they’ll start marking buildings for demolition. I don’t think it’s the best way to go because at the end of the day nothing comes out of such moves.
“Government has a responsibility to protect citizens’ lives. Government agencies in charge of ensuring building integrity in the state must take stringent measures to end building collapse in the state. This is an important area that both the Federal Government and Lagos State should pay attention to.”
A spare parts seller, Ugochukwu Umeigdo, told Saturday PUNCH that he was in Ogun State on the day of the incident, adding that he was called on the phone that his shop was gone after the building collapsed.
He said, “When I got here on Monday, a caterpillar had scattered everything and I couldn’t find any of my goods, I couldn’t recover anything. I came here today (Thursday) to monitor what is happening. I saw scavengers picking scraps and I monitored what they were picking to see if I could be lucky to get any of my goods.
“It is a sad incident but what about those who lost their lives to the incident? We have to accept things as they are. I cannot kill myself because of the situation. I am alive and I know that struggle continues.”
Rescue operation ended
Ten occupants of the building including a member of the National Youth Service Corps, identified only as Oluwakemi, lost their lives to the incident.
Also, about 24 persons, rescued from the rubble with varying degrees of injury, were either treated and discharged or transferred to a general hospital for further treatment.
It was gathered that the occupants of the building were in their various apartments when it caved in around 9.30pm.
While some occupants were lucky to escape out of the collapsed building, others were trapped beneath the rubble.
Before the arrival of emergency responders, some members of the community searched through the rubble and rescued the trapped victims.
Scavengers had a field day
Scavengers trooped into the site after the rescue operation ended to pick scraps either lying around the area or buried under the rubble.
On Thursday afternoon, scavengers were seen fighting over some money which they were said to have dug out from the rubble while searching for items to sell. The money said to be about N300,000 was found at the part of the building where shops were located.
As they dragged about who should be in possession of the money, some youths got wind of what happened and forcibly collected the money.
Sadat Mustapha, a family member of one of the victims, said she couldn’t understand why the youths would collect the money without looking for who the owner was.
She added that the youths came to the area under the guise of protecting property.
She stated, “You can see too how they argued and fought over who should be in possession of the money. We tried to claim it for the owner but they refused to listen to us. They brought scavengers to the location to cut iron rods. Why do they have to do that? I think it is wrong to cut iron rods used in building the house. I see that they sold it to the scavengers on the spot. They have to respect those who died, including the injured and those who lost valuables to the incident.’’
On his part, Nelson, however, said that the youth asked the scavengers to come to the site after the rescue operation had ended.
Their belief was that if the iron rods were properly removed, it would be easier for those whose goods were buried under the rubble to retrieve some of them.
He noted, “That’s the business of the area boys. They said they were removing the irons to help us. But if they had ulterior motives, we will leave them to their conscience. We lost millions in terms of goods buried under the collapsed building. We have nowhere to turn to.’’
Also, Egbuonu stated that the first action by the youth should have been to secure the property of the occupants before inviting scavengers to the scene.
He said, “We understand that the scavengers will still come to the location to pick things. But it shouldn’t be when we have yet to secure our goods buried under the building. We are only seeing scraps while our items worth millions of naira were destroyed when the incident occurred.’’
Our correspondent who approached the youth for an interview was told by one of them that they would not to talk to anyone.
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