Lekki Gardens and What Is Not Being Said By Theophilus Opaleye
Tragedy struck in Lagos in the early hours of Tuesday, March 8th 2016 when a building collapsed at one of the residential estate projects belonging to Lekki Worldwide Estates Limited, owners of Lekki Gardens. The company, which had hitherto enjoyed a fair share of positive media coverage, has since then become the fulcrum of conversations around the spate of building collapse in Lagos. The Lagos State Government swung swiftly into action in a way that has become typical of the Akinwunmi Ambode administration. In addition to rescue efforts by the relevant LASG agencies, the Governor approved the dismissal of a number of state officials and directed the Directors of the company to submit themselves to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police. Essentially, Lagos State has done everything right as should a government that places a premium on the lives of its citizens.
The image built by Lekki Gardens as a disruptive force in Nigeria’s real estate sector has been overshadowed by the events of that tragic night. Lekki Gardens operates with the vision of providing affordable housing for clients in choice locations at major cities in Nigeria, with payments structures that make it easy for almost everyone who desires to own a house. The company which started with 350 houses in 2011 has since delivered about 6,000 home units with commitments to deliver another 12,000 within the next year. And even though the name Lekki Gardens has become the brand’s primary identity, the company has since expanded outside Lagos with about 57 projects currently underway across the country. 57 projects and 6,000 housing units without a single occurrence of the kind of tragedy that happened on March 8 – a record that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The Managing Director of Lekki Worldwide Estates Limited, Richard Nyong, has since complied with the directive of the Lagos State Government by reporting himself to the Commissioner of Police for interrogation, after which he was detained. Not only that, he was ordered to remain in police custody for 30 days pending the conclusion of ongoing investigation. It is at this stage of proceedings one begins to wonder if in a bid to curb the current spate of building collapse in Lagos, the government is not erring on the side of scapegoatism – a situation in which instead of addressing the problems, an individual is made to suffer extreme punishment in the hope that by offering him as a judicial sacrifice, others would fall in line.
The Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory, in line with its mandate, claimed to have carried out preliminary tests on some buildings constructed by Lekki Gardens in Lagos to ascertain their fitness. Nothing alarming has been found according to what we have heard, so the agency has decided to carry out further tests. The police, with the help of engineers and construction experts, are also doing their own investigations. It is therefore alarming to hear that without waiting for the reports of these investigations, the Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, has gone ahead to mark other locations, which are totally different from where the tragedy occurred. One wonders why the government would order buildings which have not been found to have any structural defects to be demolished, buildings which people saved their hard earned money to purchase.
Contrary to what is being peddled about in the press, construction had been halted on that collapsed building at the time of the incidence. It was an uncompleted building which was yet to be handed over to Lekki Gardens by the contractor, and there was a disclaimer on the site which states site work resumption at 8am and closure by 6pm, so there was no work going on at 4am when the tragedy occurred. The area in question is close to a large group of shanti, and some of the survivors confirmed that they ran from their shelter due to the heavy wind and downpour at the early hours of that morning.
Buildings collapse in other parts of the world, even in first world countries where processes are followed strictly and materials are of the highest standard. The Manhattan building last year and the double collapse in central Istanbul last month, in each of these cases the course of action taken by authorities was dictated by findings from investigations carried out by relevant agencies. This is the way lasting solutions are found to prevalent problems, not the crucifixion of one offender for the sins of all.
An accident such as this building collapse, as it is unfortunate, is a chance to come up with better ways of doing things. Two wrongs doth not a right make. The Lagos State Government under Ambode has built a reputation for doing things the right way, and that standard should be maintained in this case even as emotions run high. The eyes that cry should still see. Evicting people from their homes, removing shelter from the heads of innocent families and demolishing houses that have not been found defective is not the right way to address the issue of building collapse in Lagos. The management of Lekki Gardens have openly stated their commitment to catering for the needs of each and every family affected by the building collapse by visiting the victims while awaiting compilation of statutory autopsy report that would determine identification of the deceased and expedite engagements with the bereaved.
Lekki Gardens management have set the high target of delivering 100,000 housing units by 2018 and 1 million units in the next five to eight years, spreading from four states to twelve. That dream will go a long way in alleviating the 15 million housing deficit Nigeria is currently battling with. That dream must not be derailed by making Lekki Gardens the scapegoat when there is an opportunity to find a lasting solution to a perennial problem.
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