For residents of Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the South Eastern part of the country, these are not the best of times. Reason: The rising occurrence of collapsed buildings in the city has unsettled many residents who are not sure of which building will cave in the next time.
To deepen their fear, the collapses are not restricted only two old buildings. In fact, out of the recorded cases of building collapse in the town, more are either new buildings or those under construction. Available statistics show that no fewer than 10 buildings have collapsed between 2000 and 2014.
Six of these were new buildings while the rest were old ones.
The most recent ones were the collapse of an old three-storey building at the Fegge area of Onitsha, early last year. This was followed by the collapse of another five-storey building still under construction at Obanye Street. The most recent collapse occurred penultimate Monday when a four-storey building which had reached the plastering stage, fell like a pack of cards.
The latest incident occurred at about 1.00 p.m. when the building suddenly came down, killing four persons, including three artisans doing the plastering job. Also killed was a church worker looking after the St. Christopher’s Anglican Church premises, Odoakpu, where the building was situated.
Eyewitnesses told Vanguard Features, VF that it was only God’s intervention that prevented the death of many pupils of the primary school located within the compound. The pupils who usually played in the collapsed building, had just returned to their classrooms after the break, when the building crumbled.
Late rescue operation
VF further learnt that four hours after the collapse of the building, no rescue team was on hand to clear the debris and probably save the trapped victims from the clutches of death. Rescue operation only commenced when the victims had already given up the ghost. Rescue operation however started when members of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, NRCS and other voluntary agencies and individuals arrived the scene of the disaster.
Eyewitness accounts informed that officials of the Church were not on hand to to assist the Red Cross. Similarly, Onitsha South Local Government could not provide excavators or cranes to assist in removing the debris from the collapsed site
But the Chairman of he Onitsha South Council, Mrs Ann Chukwuneke, attributed the collapse to poor materials and supervision. She charged the Anambra State Urban Development Board, ASUDEB, to, as a matter of necessity, hand over approved building plans to the Council engineer who would oversee the supervision of the construction of such projects.
Also reacting, the Council engineer, Mr Oluchukwu John and the Liaison Officer, Emeka Okafor corroborated the Chairman’s reason for the collapse of the property.
The Ogirishi Igbo (Igbo Spiritual leader), Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, also attributed the collapse to poor quality materials. He called for the use of only high quality materials in erecting buildings of such size.
Ezeonwuka also stressed the need for builders to do soil tests to determine the suitability of the soil where the building is being erected.
Meanwhile, the church has debunked claims that about 15 persons died in the incident. The Parish Mission Committee, PMC of the St. Christopher’s Anglican Church insisted that only four persons lost their lives in the disaster.
The Chairman of PMC, Evangelist Kingsley Agbadike told newsmen at the scene of the incident that three of the victims were artisans plastering the building, while the other was a church yardman who was just sweeping a corner of the rooms when the incident occurred. Agbadike further confirmed that construction work on the building which was designed as Parish office, commenced in 2012. it was roofed in February this year and was at the plastering stage when it caved in.
Government to set up materials testing lab
He said the caterpillars were still evacuating the debris of the collapsed building, after which investigations would commence on the actual cause of the building collapse.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State who visited the site of the collapsed building unveiled plans by his government to commission a laboratory that would test and verify the quality of all the materials used for the building.
The Governor who was received at the site by the Anglican Bishop On The Niger, Rt. Rev. Owen Nwokolo, emphasised that the laboratory which would be commissioned by next week, would also be used for testing all the materials to be used for future building construction in the State. This is to ensure that only quality standard materials were used and to forestall further building collapse in the state. The proposed laboratory, he said, would operate like the drug laboratory to ensure maximum quality. The Governor directed the Commissioner for Works, Mr. Callistus Ilozumba to carry out a technical survey of another building within the premises of the collapsed building in order to ensure that it met the required structural standard. He warned builders in the state not to cut corners, stressing that henceforth, the state government would prosecute any contractor whose construction work collapses.
Diocese sets up committee to investigate collapse
As a fallout of the collapse, Bishop Nwokolo has set up a Diocesan Committee of Inquiry to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the collapse. A press statement issued by the Diocesan Director of Communication, Sir Oseloka Offor said the standing committee of experts and professionals would determine the quality of work going on in all the church projects in the diocese as a means of stemming future occurrence.
The statement stated that in accordance with the tradition, the building cannot be enlisted as one of the church projects until it was certified by the diocesan consultants. The church noted that as soon as it got wind of the collapse, it contacted Julius Berger Construction Company, Consolidated Construction Company, CCC and other construction companies operating in the commercial town, which joined in the rescue efforts.
Director-General of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, ONICCIMA, Mr. Dominic Ajibo also aligned with those who attributed the collapse of buildings to poor quality materials.
Poor quality materials
Speaking at the 7th edition of the Perspective, the annual lecture series of the chamber, Ajibo regretted that low quality imported and locally produced materials have flooded the Nigerian markets and created serious obstacles to our national development. ”We should follow world standard and depart from low quality standard both on what we produce and those we import, both consumables and non consumables,” he said. He regretted the number of lives and properties so far lost to buildings collapse, saying it has impacted negatively on the organised private sector, OPS, which the Chamber represents.
In his own reaction, the Chairman of South East Zone of the Campaign for Democracy, CD, Dede Uzor A. Uzor canvassed the setting up of a committee to monitor all building projects in the state.
When set up, the committee, he said, should screen all those who claim to be engineers and building contractors, as well as building materials being imported into the country.