14 March 2019
10 people have been reported dead when a building in Lagos that also housed the Ohen Nursery and Primary School, and residential apartments, caved in around 10am yesterday. No one is quite sure about the casualty figures. Nigerian emergency services claimed that 37 people were rescued alive.
The building, according to Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, had been earmarked for demolition and the nursery and primary school were being run illegally on one of its floors. One resident told reporters that government officials responsible for inspecting and certifying buildings as fit for habitation had always turned a blind eye after being bribed by the owners.
Ambode said after the incident: “I want to commiserate with the families of those who lost their lives in this collapsed building. I want to quickly let Lagosians know that this is quite an unfortunate incident. All we are trying to do is to scale up the rescue operation. Our response units are already here; we are getting additional cranes to be able to go deeper than where we are now to rescue more trapped victims.” The president added in a statement: “It touches one to lose precious lives in any kind of incident, particularly those so young and tender. May God grant everyone affected by this sad incident fortitude and succour.” But beyond the warm words, don’t expect any real action to prevent another tragedy from happening in a country where buildings collapse too frequently and little regard is paid to building regulations.
Lagos State is the richest in Nigeria, with a budget bigger than that of many African countries, and the city of Lagos is Nigeria’s commercial capital. Such crumbling high risk buildings are common across the state, and corruption at petty official level is only part of the explanation.
Apart from lax enforcement of building regulations, states like Lagos and across the rest of Nigeria have witnessed for the past 30 years a rapid degradation of public schools due to grand scale looting of public funds. This has forced many parents to send their children to private operators, and many of them are only marginally better than decrepit public schools and operate with minimal oversight from state governments.
Many governments at all levels have abdicated responsibility that is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution which guarantees free and adequate education for all school children. Nigeria’s rulers, alongside most wealthy Nigerians have opted for private or foreign education for their children. Most of those rulers were educated in reasonably decent public schools a few decades ago. So by failing to to provide an adequate education for all Nigerian children in premises suitable for learning, the Lagos State government is partly responsible for the deaths of the schoolchildren that perished in this building.
The state of Nigeria’s public schools and the callous disregard for the plight of the poor by the country’s ruling elite were highlighted by the president Muhammadu Buhari as he cast his vote in last month’s (s)election at a primary school in his hometown, Daura. The president didn’t seem embarrassed in the slightest about the state of the school.
Buhari, whose children studied abroad, showed little regard for the children that attend that school where he voted and it’s probably because he knew he didn’t need the votes of their parents to win reelection. The president was always going to “win” regardless of how people voted.
The president and other members of the Nigerian elite may not be punished at the polls for the failure to improve the conditions the majority of Nigerian schoolkids have to study under, but that doesn’t mean they are not culpable for the deaths in disasters like the one in Lagos yesterday through criminal negligence.