On Saturday, July 11, 2020, Idowu John, a young man in his 30s, woke up around 3:00 am to use the restroom.
Half-awake, he trudged to the toilet only to run back to the bedroom with his heart in his mouth.
Before heading to bed the night before, Idowu had suggested to his wife that they should pass the night at a nearby hotel after she informed him about a deep crack in their toilet’s wall, but his wife dispelled the idea, saying it was already late.
However, while relieving himself in the toilet, he heard a sound suggesting a crack somewhere in the house and the sound reminded him of the conversation with his wife about the crack in the toilet.
Idowu heard the sound again, and this time, he was dead sure nobody was throwing stones or rocks at their house at a time the whole of Lagos had gone to sleep during the lockdown-induced curfew.
For anyone living in the slums of Lagos Island, where building collapse incidents are alarmingly common, a pebble falling off the wall of a building is a serious warning suggesting an impending tragedy.
Idowu is fully aware of this. On hearing the ominous sound, he rushed back to the room to wake up his wife, his child and his sister-in-law, a police officer living with them in their mini flat.
Confused and disoriented, the family ran out of the building, but on getting to the main gate of the house, Idowu realised he didn’t take the gate key, which was on a table in their sitting room.
Determined to get his family out of danger, Idowu dashed back into the house, while his wife and her sister anxiously cried out to neighbours and co-tenants to wake up and leave their rooms because they sensed the house was about to crumble.
Idowu returned with the key, but as he struggled to open the gate, tragedy struck — the three storey-building he had been living in with his family for over three years crashed on all of them.
His sister-in-law died instantly, while he, his wife and their kid were buried under the rubble for four hours before a rescue team arrived at the scene at 7:00 am.
The father of two was rescued alive with his wife and their kid, all of them with varying degrees of injuries.
The only kid with them that night had bruises on the body but no fracture. While Idowu sustained injuries in his left arm and left leg, his wife complained about excruciating pains in her legs.
The family and other victims were all taken to the General Hospital in Lagos Island, but little did Idowu know that that tragic night would be the last time he would sleep under the same roof with his beloved woman.
he said, “At 3: am, I woke up to ease myself. At that time, I heard a sound in the building and I was sure nobody could be throwing stones at our house. Immediately, I woke my wife to tell her about the sound. She woke her sister who was a police officer and she carried our baby too.
“We were already out of our flat but I forgot to take the gate key. I asked them to stay at the gate and went back to take the key. I got the key and was about to open the gate when the house came down. My wife’s sister died instantly.
“My child sustained some injuries while I sustained injuries in my left arm and left leg. My wife complained about her leg.
“By the time we were rescued it was already some minutes past 7 am. We were under the rubble for four hours.
“You know it happened in the early hours of Saturday. By Tuesday, I was discharged from the General Hospital. They said there was no fracture. They however transferred my wife to a ward. Seven days after the incident, she gave up the ghost on the afternoon of Friday, July 17 around 3 pm.”
The moment he mentioned the time his wife passed on, Idowu’s lips momentarily went dead, his face giving way to a solemn look as memories of his injured child and dead wife ostensibly came flooding back.
For about a minute, the young widower went dead silent.
Apart from the Idowus, another family that occupied the topmost floor of the house also lost their child to the incident.
According to him, two people also died in the next house on which the building collapsed.
He said, “In the incident, a man who is a teacher also lost his child, his wife’s leg too broke, but I think she is okay now. Their own case isn’t so severe because they lived on the topmost floor.
“From what I heard, two people also died in the next house the building collapsed on.
“My wife’s sister died, a man called the professor in the next house lost his child. One other person died in the next house, two in our house including my wife who later died some days after. That’s about five people.”
Some hours before the house collapsed
Before the building crumbled on its sleeping occupants, the Idowus had informed the landlord, who lives in Ikeja, about the crack in their toilet. And when he arrived to inspect the building on the eve of the collapse, he told them he was going to carry out general renovation on the house.
“I was not around when the landlord came to check the crack. When I returned, they told me the man just left. However, he remarked that he was going to embark on a general renovation of the building, meaning all of us would have to vacate the house.
“Then, I was thinking vacating the house for him to renovate the house isn’t a bad idea so long as the house does not collapse on us. Meanwhile, my wife asked him about when the renovation would start, he said he would get back to us.”
But Idowu was suspicious of the landlord’s decision. He believed the landlord wouldn’t have decided to renovate the whole house just because of the crack in their toilet.
“That night, I actually thought that for the landlord to have talked about general renovation, he must have seen something that warrants it. I thought the landlord wouldn’t have decided to carry out a general renovation of the house only because of a crack in our toilet.
“I sensed he must have noticed some other issues with the building. Owing to this, I suggested that we leave the house and spend the night at a hotel, but my wife said it was already too late into the night.”
Before it collapsed on Saturday, July 11, 2020, Idowu’s residence was located at 20, Freeman Street, Lagos Island.
According to him, LASBCA officials arrived at their residence in 2019 to conduct a structural stability test on the house when a road project was going on on Freeman street, but they didn’t meet the landlord at home.
In his view, the expansion of the road affected the building in a way, because there was a need to construct a public drainage on both sides of the road.
He said, “You know everything has an expiry date, but what hastened the collapse of the house was the construction and expansion of the road and you know most houses in Lagos are very close to the road.
“While the road was being expanded, the foundation of the house was tampered with because the drainage that was constructed for the road is very close to the house.
“And during the construction of the road, I heard that LASBCA officials came to test the house.”
Landlord moved out of the house after meeting with LASBCA
Following LASBCA officials’ visit to his house in 2019, the landlord, whose name was given as Alhaji Wasiu Salvador, was said to have visited the agency’s office to inquire about their reason for the visit.
The tenants, including the Idowus, were not aware of the outcome of their landlord’s meeting with LASBCA. He only told them he had gone to see them in their office.
“When LASBCA officials came to the house last year, the landlord told us he had gone to see them. That’s what the landlord told my late wife because I am not always at home.
“You know in Lagos, if government officials visit your house and you go to see them later, that would be the end of whatever reason brought them to your house in the first place.
“The house actually belongs to one of the popular families on Lagos Island. Everyone knows the Salvador family in Lagos. The landlord is also a property developer and he has about four other properties that I know around the area of the collapsed one.”
This corroborates the claim that many houses that have been marked for demolition on Lagos Island may never be brought down because a lot of them are family homes of the Lagos political elite.
However, in 2019, after his meeting with LASBCA, Alhaji Salvador and his family moved out of the house and rented out the flat to another tenant, who according to Idowu had started converting the apartment to a brothel before it collapsed.
He said, “I moved into the house in 2017, and at that time, the first floor was occupied by the landlord, he moved out of the house in 2019. Immediately he moved out, he rented it out. In fact, the new tenant had not moved in when the building collapsed.
“In my opinion, the new tenant contributed to the collapse of the house, because his plan was to convert the flat to a brothel. Because of that, he had to break some walls in the flat and rebuild it.
“That shouldn’t have happened in the house in the first place. Since the landlord had gone to LASBCA, they must have told him about the condition of the house. I think the breaking of the walls to convert the first flat to a brothel contributed to the collapse of the house.
“I also think the landlord moved out of the house in 2019 because of the poor condition of the house. He hasn’t come to the Island since then, I don’t know where he lives now, but he may be in Lagos because he also has a house in Ikeja.”
According to report, residents of the area affirmed that the building had been marked for demolition two years ago, but the landlord renovated it and rented it out.
LASBCA stinks of bribery and corruption
The major culprit of building collapse incidents in Lagos is the management of the Lagos State Building Control Agency.
The agency has since its establishment been supervising building collapses, as it allows so many distressed buildings to remain, as long as landlords are ready to grease their palms.