Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi and Sunday Ehigiator in Lagos
President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday expressed sadness over the collapse of a three-storey residential building housing Baden Private Primary School at No. 14 Massey Street, Ita-Faji area of Lagos Island, which killed nine people, injured 64 and trapped several others.
The president sympathised with the families of the victims, saying he was extremely saddened by the accident and wishing them God’s comfort.
Buhari made his feeling known in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, in Abuja.
He also wished those injured speedy and complete recovery.
President Buhari commiserated with the government and people of Lagos State and pledged assistance of the federal government as may be required by the state.
“It touches one to lose precious lives in any kind of mishap, particularly, those so young and tender,” he said, adding: “May God grant everyone affected by this sad incident fortitude and succour.’’
The president charged the Lagos State Government to do “all that is needful, so that such tragic developments do not recur in future’.’
The three-storey residential building with the primary school on its pent house, caved in about 10 a.m. when some of the pupils were observing their Physical Exercises (PE) in batches, while others were in the class waiting for their turn.
When the building collapsed, the first responders at the scene had initially rescued some of the pupils and rushed them to the Marina General Hospital.
As at press time, eight persons have been confirmed dead, while 64 were rescued, with scores still trapped underneath the rubble.
However, while operatives of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) were carrying out rescue operations, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode arrived at the scene and was taken round for an on-the-spot assessment by the General Manager, Adesina Tiamiyu.
Ambode had decried the fact that most of the buildings in the area had previously been marked for demolition but were not demolished because of stiff resistance from the residents, adding that the school was operating illegally.
While commiserating with the families of the victims, he said although the government would foot the hospital bills of the victims, a full scale investigation of the cause of the building collapse would still be carried out.
He said: “Most of the buildings in the area had been marked for demolition, but some property owners in the area defy such notices. Going forward, structurally defective buildings would be demolished.
“The first observation is that this is an old building and it is only the Pent House and the other floors that we have been able to use to rescue people. The building is not technically a school, it is a residential building that was actually accommodating an illegal school so to speak on the second floor.
“Like we have said, we have been carrying out a lot of integrity tests on the buildings in this neighbourhood and as you can see, some of them have been marked for demolition but we get resistance from landlords.
“But we must continue to save lives and we would intensify our efforts to see that those that have failed our integrity test, we would ensure that they are quickly evacuated and we bring the structures down.”
Ambode also said that a full scale investigation would be carried out immediately rescue operations are concluded, vowing that those found culpable would be severely dealt with in accordance with the relevant laws.
While assuring residents that the rescue operations would continue until all victims are rescued, he said all illegal schools in the area would be closed down.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Oluranti Adebule, who also visited the hospitals where some of the victims rescued had been taken to, assured them that the state government would immediately take over their treatment and foot their entire bill.
Among those rescued alive were a teacher, the landlord of the building and eight tenants of the three-story building.
The school occupied the third floor while tenants occupied the second floor and block of shops on the ground floor.
The casualty rate was on the high side because the building has over 20 rooms with about eight persons living in a room.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the cause of the collapse could be traced to the ongoing construction of a drainage around the old building, which they had just recently dug round the building few days ago and might have likely weakened the foundation.
As at press time, it was confirmed that the owner of the school, who was simply identified as Aunty Esther, had died at the general hospital from the serious head injury she sustained.
In an interview with journalists, LASEMA boss said: “We are still very busy with the rescue work. It’s been a tough one but we are gradually getting towards reaching the bed of the building.
“The environment here does not allow for much space to bring in bigger equipment. We have been able to manage to bring in a crane to help us lift the wrecks so as to be able to access the underneath of this building.
“But so far, over 40 people have been rescued out of this building. We want to put on record the efforts of this community. Majority of what we have done here today has been through their help. They were here before us and have rescued people before we came in here.
“Yes, we have lost some of the children; the account of which we will not be able to give properly now. But I am sure that there are still more of them that would be rescued alive.
“We have provided oxygen for those who are weak. We have also been able to drill a hole so we can be able to reach them. Our escalator has created a safe place from the side to be able to enter.
On when the rescue operation will end, Tiamiyu said: “Ordinarily, in situations like this, until we get to what we call ‘ground zero’. We must get to the bottom of this building and we must account for everybody that is in this building as claimed.
Speaking on the move by the government regarding distressed buildings, the Lagos Island Local Government Chairman, Mr. Samau Bashua said: “The primary thing now is to save more lives and that is what everyone here is concerned about now. Legislation as to illegal private schools and distress building – that would definitely come in afterwards.
“We have the state government agency, which is the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), which is actually working on that. We will also want to identify that at the local government level, we made submission to the state government and we are also collaborating with them to identify more of these buildings as we have been doing.