Yemi Oke: Datkem Plaza: Politics is not about saving lives
Because Nigeria is a country where almost everything is given a political coloration, the partial demolition of Datkem Plaza, Ijebu Ode, a structure owned by Mrs. Olufunke Daniel, the wife of an ex-governor of the state and the senator representing Ogun Central in the National Assembly, Gbenga Daniel, was always going to be seen by many through the lens of politics. They have been conditioned by experience to see things through that lens. However, it is crucially important to go beyond politics in unraveling the present development. This is because a careful consideration of the facts of the case will show that the demolition is about law and order and public safety and nothing more. There is no way a partial demolition that took place after more than 12 months of unheeded warnings can be seen as playing politics simply because those contravening the law are highly placed political persons. Indeed, it is absurd to see ordinary citizens who have suffered such a fate as fully deserving of it and politically exposed persons as not. The idea of citizens potentially suffering as a result of the actions of highly placed individuals in society organizing pity parties for them (highly placed people) after they have serially broken the law is not only absurd; it in fact amounts to self-abnegation.
It is an open secret that the collapse of buildings has claimed thousands of lives and caused incalculable damage over the years. In April this year, a seven-story building collapsed in the Banana Island area of Lagos, with workers trapped under the rubble. There is no way Nigerians are going to forget the November 1, 2021, tragic episode in which a 21-story building being developed by Fourscore Homes collapsed in the Ikoyi axis of the state. The gory incident claimed 46 lives, including that of Femi Osibona, the owner of Fourscore Homes, while 15 others were rescued. In February 2022, a three-story building collapsed in the Onike area of Yaba, leading to several casualties. In May of the same year, the collapse of a three-story building in the Ebute-Meta axis of the state claimed at least eight lives, while in September 2022, a seven-story uncompleted building collapsed at Oba Idowu Oniru Street, Lekki. There have been many such incidents across the country.
Indeed, in January this year, the Building Collapse Prevention Guild indicated that over 271 buildings collapsed in the last 10 years, while at least 531 people have died as the menace of crumbling structures continues to plague Nigeria’s building industry. The incidents were linked to professional ineptitude. The houses collapsed because of excessive loading, the use of substandard materials, faulty design, poor workmanship, and a weak foundation. The most tragic of the incidents was the collapse of a part of a multiple-story building inside the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which left more than 80 worshipers dead while several others were critically injured. One can go on and on, but the point is that the collapse of buildings is a potent threat to life and property that no reasonable government can afford to ignore because of personal friendships or relationships with people.
What are the facts of the present case? As revealed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Engr. Olayiwola Abiodun, Datkem Plaza, located in Ijebu Ode, is an illegal structure whose developers ignored all the efforts made by the state government to halt further development on the site. A commercial building of Datkem’s status must have a parking space to accommodate vehicular traffic within and outside the facility for workers and visitors. It must have stage certification, which is usually issued at every stage of construction. But the building did not, and the owners were served abatement, contravention, stop work, and demolition notices between May and October 2022, which they ignored with relish.
Datkem Enterprises Limited submitted an application for an office building, located along Ibadan Road, Ijebu Ode in 2009 with registration number CB/05/299/2009, with a proposal was for five floors with airspace of 3 metres at the right, 5m at the left, 5metres at the rear and a setback of 32.5516 metres to the middle of Ijebu Ode/Ibadan road, Ijebu-Ode. However, the construction on site did not conform with the plan granted as there was a deviation from the airspaces and setbacks. That was not all: the building was enlarged with an additional-story building at the back, leading to over-density. The government gave a contravention notice with serial number 0106983 on May 24, 2022, and a stop work order with serial number 000623 on May 24, 2022. Both were ignored, and so the government issued another stop work order with serial number 001065 on July 22, 2022.
If the government stopped here, it would have been enough, but it actually went ahead to issue yet another demolition notice with serial number 0007549 on October 11, 2022, while a notice to seal with serial number 000815 was issued on October 4, 2022. Worst still, the re-sealing of the site on August, 1 this year did not stop work on the site. The developer wrote an appeal for unsealing, which was considered in order to evacuate the belongings on the premises and thereafter, quit notice with serial no. 0030750 was served on 31st august, 2023. Just where did the Ogun State government, which went over backwards to treat the developers with courtesy, go wrong in this matter?
In this country, developers routinely circumvent the law when erecting buildings, and the cost of contravention is huge. If, on completion, Datkem plaza had collapsed and claimed many precious lives, the same people complaining now would have taken the Ogun State Government to the cleaners, blaming it for failing to act to save lives because of the status of its owners. The time has come for us to determine what we really want in this country. It is a fact that over the years, many buildings have collapsed because some people believed that they knew the people in government and could circumvent due process. A government cannot afford to play politics with the lives of the people. A structure such as Datkem must have structural integrity, escape routes, and safety nets. Surely, Senator Daniel, an engineer himself, knows that. The owners of Datkem cannot produce any evidence of government approval in their possession simply because there is none. The Ogun State government merely acted to save lives.
Yemi Oke wrote this through [email protected]