Two persons lost their lives on Christmas Day at the Police College Barracks in Ikeja, Lagos, when part of a two-storey building collapsed. The casualties were a police sergeant and a relative of another police officer. The incident happened at the W Block of the barracks around 4.30am.
According to an eyewitness, the extension of the building, which served as toilet and bathroom, was visibly worn out before it went down on Christmas Day. The two casualties, Daily Sun gathered, were using the restrooms at the time the building caved in. They died before help came their way.
An occupant of the building, a policeman who refused to be named, said he did not sleep at home on Saturday night, and expressed gratitude to God, as he could have been a victim. According to him, he usually woke up to use the toilet at about the same time that the incident happened before going for his morning exercise.
Meanwhile, investigations revealed that, since 2014, the police authorities had given occupants of the dilapidated building a quit notice but the occupants, citing lack of alternative accommodation, refused to leave.
A heavy slab was said to have fallen on the two people, making them unable to scream for help. Neighbours told Daily Sun that, initially, they were not too sure whether people were trapped or not. When the other residents came out of their apartments, the roommates of the two casualties, who had seen them going to the restroom a few minutes earlier, quickly raised the alarm and the search began, until they were found dead.
Bala Yusuf, who lives adjacent to the building, said it took the efforts of sympathisers to remove the dead bodies from the rubble. He noted that various rescue agencies did not respond promptly to the emergency.
“Two of the bodies were found at almost the same place. The men in the barracks joined hands to roll away some heavy stones. The rescue team that first came was without any equipment. Their officials were watching as the rest of us were also watching, helplessly,” he said.
However,, the zonal coordinator, South-West, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Yakubu Suleiman, said the agency’s officials arrived the scene less than three minutes after they received the distress call.
“Our office is just a few buildings from the scene, so there is no way we could have delayed. We got the distress call around 6am and we were here in two minutes. Our office is behind the barracks,” he said.
He confirmed that the building had since failed an integrity test, prompting the police to issue a quit notice to the occupants, who remained adamant in not moving out.
“NEMA has concluded search and rescue operation. One police officer and a relative to another officer were found dead. Both of them are males. We have made necessary arrangement to pull down the rest of the building,” he said.
Policemen, the Nigerian Red Cross Society and other civil society groups were at the scene preventing hoodlums from stealing people’s property.
But some angry occupants accused government of not providing adequate housing for policemen, saying that was why many had continued living in the decaying buildings at the barracks.
One of them said: “There is nobody that will want to risk his or her life but because there is shortage of accommodation in the barracks (they stay on). But when things like this happen, people will begin to blame us that we are stubborn, which is not true.
“The sum of N9,500 is deducted from my salary monthly, yet there is no accommodation for me. It is not fair.
Government should come out and say the truth and stop this blame game. It is true that they asked us to leave the place but, with no alternative accommodation, what do we do?”
Daily Sun observed that many occupants were hastily packing their belongings from the building, including rice and tomatoes that were meant for the Christmas celebrations.
At 11.20am, a bulldozer was brought to the scene by NEMA, in collaboration with the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), to pull down the dilapidated buildings. Officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency were also on ground to run an integrity test on the opposite building, which was also rundown.
Another officer accused the occupants of neglecting minor things that wouldn’t have cost them much money to fix.
“It is sad that people lost their lives there, but you need to see the kind of life these people lived. They didn’t care about anything, not even their own lives. Merely looking at the collapsed extension, you would know that it was a tragedy waiting to happen.
The major parts of the building had badly cracked. For example, if a septic tank were slightly bad, they would leave it and allow faeces to be flowing on the street. Something that a half bag of cement could do, our colleagues would leave for the Federal Government in Abuja to come and repair,” the officer said.