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‘Cracks heralded building collapse that claimed 12 in Jos’

  • Experts say building ‘not handled by pros’

 

It was dark. The dust was choking, and oxygen was depleting. But for Khamis Kabiru Nalele, who was buried under tonnes of concrete and steel, that was the least of his worries. To his right lay motionless his pregnant elder sister Amina. A little further ahead, he heard his father’s slow but deep moans, and urged him to stay awake.

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“I could only hear the sounds my father made. My elder sister Amina and I were together in a section of the drugstore when the building came crashing on us,” said Khamis, 17, a survivor of the three-storey building that collapsed on Butcher Line, Monday in Jos North LGA of Plateau State.

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Khamis had been rescued from the rubble when a combined team of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Nigerian Red Cross, security agents, and residents pulled him out, almost six hours after the incident. But his sister Amina, who managed the pharmacy, and his father Kabiru Nalele, who had gone to supervise some repairs on the building, had died, entombed in the rubble alongside ten others.

At the time he was rescued, Khamis was hyperventilating, insisting the rescue workers reach out for his father and sister instead. But knowing the other two could not be saved, rescue workers had prioritised Khami’s rescue, after which he was rushed to the hospital.

By Tuesday afternoon, when search-and-rescue operations ended, NEMA announced that 12 people had been killed, with four injured, following the collapse of the building which belonged to Rufai Nalele, Alhaji Kabiru’s son. While the ground floor of the building had served as a pharmacy, the three top floors were residential apartments occupied by members of the Nalele family.

Khamis told Daily Trust Saturday that labourers had been invited to fix cracks, adding that they had informed the family that by removing a particular glass window, the surrounding wall within the Pharmacy was going to crack. “But we didn’t know it was the entire building that would crack, and shortly after they removed the window and stepped out, while another man was fixing the door, the building crashed down. It was sudden; I didn’t hear the warning signs. I just found myself pressed down by a heavy object,” he said.

For neighbouring houses, however, the sound had been thunderous, and dust had clouded the area for over an hour, as youths trawled through the debris, using bare hands and small tools, mostly uncoordinated, but determined to break pathways in search of survivors.

Maryam Aminu Bako, a neighbour to the Naleles, said: “I heard the sound and immediately peeped through my window when I saw the building coming down.”

During the search-and-rescue, and while Khamis drifted in and out of consciousness, he said his father’s phone rang constantly, and as his hands wondered in the rubble, he found the phone and reached to the outside world, alerting rescue workers that indeed there were survivors in the rubble.

“I could hear the chaos all over, the sounds as they tried to dig us out,” he said.

Though the teen told Daily Trust Saturday that he was still trying to make sense of the entire incident, he has been certified fit and has returned home, to mourn his lost family members.

The late Kabiru’s younger brother, Alhaji Habibu Lawal Nalele, said the house belonged to Kabiru’s son, Rufai Nalele but Kabiru, the family patriarch who lived around Mango Street had gone there with some labourers to fix the cracks on the building. “He had gone there with his two sons, Rufai and Abdulrahman. But shortly after, the two left the father and others in the building before it collapsed. From what I gathered, Kabiru had also stepped out and returned shortly before the building came down,” he said.

Kabiru had died alongside two of his children, Amina and Safiya, while Rufai had lost two of his sons and a wife. “Others we lost include our elder brother’s daughter and all in all, the Nalele family lost eight people. There was also a drug company rep that died, and a female customer.”

But what followed was outrage at the seemingly poor professional judgement in building storey buildings within Jos metropolis. The incident had led to a social media campaign championed by youths to identify and call the attention of the Jos Metropolitan Development Board (JMDB) to mark and demolish seemingly ambitious but poorly constructed buildings.

Though many had claimed the Nalele building was originally an old structure in which three additional floors were constructed on top, Habibu Nalele, the deceased’s younger brother said the building was barely three years old and that his brother had demolished the old structure before he reconstructed the building. He however confessed that he believed the cracks from the building were responsible for the collapse.

Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s declaration for the JMDB and the Ministry of Lands and Survey to move from street to street with security agents to identify and mark for demolition buildings that were not properly structured was backed with action on Thursday morning when another poorly-structured building was brought down by authorities.

A weak part of the two-storey building complex located at Mango Street had already caved in a week before, but shop occupants on the ground floor had been undeterred and continued to occupy the building despite the imminent danger. By Wednesday evening, our correspondent observed the shop owners evacuating their goods having received an eviction notice from JMDB which was backed by a demolition action the next morning.

With many resting the faults of poor construction squarely on builders and engineers, the Plateau State chapter of the Nigeria Institute of Building told Daily Trust Saturday that preliminary investigations revealed that the collapsed three-storey building was not handled by a professional. State Chairman of the NIB, Peter Wikadason said: “We’ve finished conducting an investigation as a joint body with all the building professionals in the building industry and we’ve discovered that no professional was used throughout the project, sub-standard materials were used and approval was not given for that building by JMDB. You see, the combination of these three factors is a recipe for disaster.”

Wikadason described as unfortunate that some people get approval for a one floor storey building, but try to circumvent the system by erecting additional floors adding that, “If the project was not designed to carry the excessive load, you should expect that the house is going to collapse because the foundation cannot carry the excess weight that has been added.”

His words were echoed by the Acting Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers, Okey Ezema who stated that “there was low level professionalism on the building; it is possible there was no design and if there was no design, no professional was involved from the preliminary stage. So, this is a case of quackery and the use of bad materials.”

The NIB stated that with its recent award by the National Board for Technical Education to serve as a training body that will train and certify artisans it was doing its bid to ensure a better work force in the construction industry. He however said enforcement was critical to ensuring that building regulations are adhered to, adding that “we want the agencies involved to stop these buildings from their foundation if approval has not been given, the building doesn’t have to reach so far before we start the enforcement.”

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