Lekki Building Collapse: More Questions than Answers

By Olabode Samuels

These are certainly not the best of times for Lekki Worldwide Estates Limited, promoters of the hugely popular Lekki Gardens. The tragedy that has befallen the company is proof of the vicissitudes of life; proof that the pendulum of life can swing in different directions at different times. It could be fortune today and misfortune tomorrow. It also shows that disasters can occur, from the most unexpected quarters.

Before the tragedy that struck last week in form of a building collapse that claimed the lives of 35 people, what came to mind at the mention of Lekki Gardens was a foremost player in the burgeoning real sector of the Nigerian economy and arguably the country’s fastest growing residential property developer.

The company, which is synonymous with provision of high quality and luxurious homes for the middle and upper class has, in just four years of coming into existence, redefined the concept of housing in a country with a huge housing deficit of more than 17 million. By the beginning of 2015, the company had delivered 2,500 housing units at affordable prices to owners who are not known to have issues with the houses.

The question should therefore arise as to why the tragedy of March 8, 2016 occurred. What happened to a structure that was only one of the many in the area, some of which have been occupied for more than one year without complaint? How did a company that places premium on quality and standard find itself in a situation in which it has to provide answers to the whys and wherefores of an occurrence it could not possibly have envisaged? Could the incidence that has tainted an otherwise unblemished record have been averted?

These and several other questions become pertinent when it is considered that there hasn’t been any report of untoward developments in any of the estates developed by the same company in Ogun and Rivers states, as well as the federal capital territory. The answers to these and other questions will only be provided after a thorough investigation of the Lekki tragedy by relevant agencies of government.

We are used to stories of building collapse in areas like Idumota, Isale Eko and other thickly populated areas where old and dilapidated structures can no longer bear the weight increasingly exerted on them by the number of occupants that rise by the day. We are by now familiar with reports of buildings that collapse under construction in areas where unqualified contractors use sub-standard materials to minimize cost. But Lekki? And within an estate being developed by an organization that is not a new entrant?

But while we wait for investigations to reveal what went wrong, perhaps it is worthwhile to attempt to answer an important question that may arise from the unfortunate incidence. There is, immediately, the question as to whether there was greed on the part of the owners of Lekki Gardens. This would seem far fetched, if information on the company’s operations is anything to go by.

Despite the increased attention that is being paid to provision of houses in the country today, especially by the federal and state governments, in response to demand that has been difficult to satisfy, real estate is still a sector that is waiting to be tapped. With a population that is growing out of control, provision of houses will not be adequate in the foreseeable future. There is, therefore, no reason for greed on the part of a housing provider, certainly, not one that has built a reputation for meticulousness, as well as safety of customers and clients, within the short period of its existence.

Allegation of greed has come as fallout of the story in the public domain to the effect that the collapsed building was marked for demolition, not having met required standards, yet the company still went ahead with its construction, ostensibly looking more at profit making than safety. A comment on this aspect of the incidence is hampered by the fact of the matter being in court, which would make it sub judicial. But it bears mentioning that at times like this, public comments are mostly coloured by emotion than reason, perhaps understandably so, especially as there has been loss of lives.

We regularly see this type of reaction when there is a crash involving an aircraft, with attendant loss of life. The government toes the familiar path and responds impulsively by suspending the operating license of the beleaguered airline, while the court of public opinion finds the airline guilty of operating flights with obsolete aircraft. It doesn’t matter that at the end of the day, the airline’s operating license will be restored and the company will resume operations with the same obsolete aircraft. And the same public will fly on the obsolete aircraft.

The high casualty figure in the Lekki building collapse makes dispassionate conversation on the incidence extremely difficult. But suffice it to say that a company that is clearly ahead of its peers in terms of housing delivery does not need to cut corners to achieve success.

While we grieve with the families that lost loved ones and sympathize with the injured, it makes sense for us to await result of investigations into the incidence, as it may not go the way opinions are going already.

Olabode is a professional liscened agent with over a decade's experience in Real Estate.

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