The Gerrard Tragedy: In Search Of The Truth

By Bode George

The November 1st tragedy which brought down a 21-storey building on Gerrard Avenue in Ikoyi and perished scores of lives is probably the most devastating building collapse in the history of our state.

There are various issues that are quite worrisome about the incident. Indeed, the tragedy brought forward the patent inefficiency and perhaps even complicity of the Lagos State building regulatory authority. It demonstrates the obvious lacuna in the proficiency of the physical and urban planning codes.

The ill fated building

The whole Ikoyi axis is all reclaimed lands. Knowing the precariousness of reclaimed lands, the colonial authorities predicated all building and construction designs at 2 -storey ceiling. Nothing more.
It was also meant for purely residential purposes.

All these original predications are now blatantly abused. The inception of Bola Tinubu administration virtually distorted and destroyed the aesthetic essence of Ikoyi.
Without tact, without thoughtful vision, he engaged in reckless approval of various high-rises in residential abodes, bringing the chaos of unregulated commercial activities into the once peaceful private, residential expanses.

Now , everywhere you look , skyscrapers are sprouting from Maitama Sule in southwest Ikoyi to the fringes of Osborne , from the boulevard of Alexander to the narrow confines of Bankole Oki, from Kingsway road to Bourdillon, from Falomo to Milverton, from Glover to Oba Adeyinka Oyekan Avenue- Ikoyi now looks cluttered, ill-planned, clogged in ruinous expansiveness, quickly dissipating into another concrete jungle swarming with competing high-rises narrowly wedged together , stripped of architectonic beauty.

Several law suits have been filed against many owners of these high-rises by concerned Lagosians. But even the courts appear helpless. The late Dr Tunji Braithwaithe and Olorogun Ibru were prominent in their courageous judicial litigations against the illegal high -rise developers cluttering Ikoyi.

The Gerrard disaster was avoidable only if the tools of power had been sincere, honest and discerning in their obligations to the Lagosian people. But greed, indifference and deliberate complicity contributed to the tragedy.

It is not enough to set up just any panel to probe the needless tragedy. We need comprehensive answers to all that appear presently veiled. The guilty must never be spared the full weight of the law. In this wise there is a need for a full competent team of technical and judicial officers to unravel this disaster.

The panel must conduct its sittings in an open, unfettered forum to ensure probity and fairness. The panel must be truly independent with the powers to subpoena anyone no matter the position the person occupies in the society.

The panel must not only be seen to be just and fair in its deliberations, it must show a total resolve on equity and justice. It must be composed of people of legendary excellence and high integrity.

At this juncture, let me submit that I strongly believe that to unravel the truth and ensure that the innocent did not perish in vain, the following are the possible lines of enquiries amid all kinds of innuendos and denials from many angles:

Fact: The land upon which the collapsed building was erected belonged to NITEL.
Who bought this land?
If the land was resold, who is the final beneficiary?
If the Fourscore management was given approval for 8-storey structure, who changed it to 15 and then to 21?
Who are the structural engineers?
Which engineers conducted the soil test?
What kind of foundation was the structure erected upon?
Is it shallow foundation or strip footing, raft or mat footing?
Is it deep foundation that will involve piling and drift shaft?
What kind of experts were assembled for this project?
Who ordered the sealing up of the building earlier?
And who ordered its reopening and why?
There is a need to establish the structural integrity of the two subsisting buildings lest we risk another disaster.

These and more are the issues that must be probed vigorously by a Technical Committee of builders, engineers, architects and jurists of impeccable distinctions. The Six -man committee hurriedly set up by the Lagos state government does not fit the billing. It is at best a gestural, patch up, calm them down affair. It will not work. It lacks the necessary tools of effectiveness that will bring answers to the festering questions that disturb us all.

This is one disaster too many. It cannot be swept under the carpet. Those who compromised their offices and abetted this monumental loss of lives must face the full wrath of the law no matter their positions. It is only then that some kind of sanity will be brought to bear on the damaged profile of our increasingly distorted environment and that the innocent who perished in the tragic incident would not have died in vain.

May God grant those who lost their lives in this sordid incident eternal rest in His bosom.

Chief Bode George, CON
Atona Oodua of Yorubaland.

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