Adekemi Adekunle invested her studies at Tai Solarin University of Education in Ogun State in Nigeria. She worked hard. But on the first day of May this year, at around 10:45 p.m., her life came to an abrupt end when the apartment building she lived in in Lagos collapsed.
Adekunle and nine other people in the three-story building were killed and dozens were injured. Despite being marked for demolition and sealed off four times by state government officials, the building remained inhabited.
Its developer, who has yet to be publicly named, is said to be on the run after the incident. They circumvented the restrictions and allowed tenants back into the building, charging them exorbitantly for the privilege. Every time there was an order to seal the building, it was reopened.
A resident of the area, Lanre Shobaloju, said he suspected corruption was involved. “There is a possibility that government officials have received bribes,” he said. “The tragedy would have been avoided if the tenants had been evacuated.”
Government officials from the city’s planning agency declined to comment on the corruption allegations. But a worrying pattern has emerged, and it’s hard to ignore: There’s a long list of similar disasters in Nigeria’s major cities in recent years. And it is growing.
Local media have reported on at least 74 buildings that have collapsed in the last six years. More than 240 people have been killed and at least 260 seriously injured. Each incident displaces dozens of homes, as many involved multi-story residential buildings in urban areas.
In April, Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola, a visiting scientist at the Brookings Institution in the United States, published a study examining 167 building collapses in Lagos between 2000 and last year.
It found that at least 6,000 households had been displaced as a result. Lagos accounts for nearly four in 10 building collapses in Nigeria, according to 2019 data from the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, an advocacy group for building professionals.
Over the past 20 years, Nigeria’s economy and population have grown rapidly, creating a demand for housing. Local governments have failed to match this demand with government housing or adequate oversight of developers who have stepped in to fill the gap.
Developers seem to get away with constructing substandard buildings and drawing rental income from people desperate for housing, without the authorities noticing or looking the other way.
A year ago, on November 1, a luxury apartment block in the Ikoyi area of the city collapsed, killing 44 people, including the developer. It triggered a wave of outrage across the country, but it led to precisely zero prosecutions. Ten more buildings have since collapsed, most of them in Lagos.
Construction expert Emmanuel Oluwa-seyi says both the government and property developers are to blame. He said the buildings collapsed due to “bad design, overloading of load capacities; failure to obtain approved plans; the use of defective materials; poor workmanship and illegal conversion of existing structures.” And he added: “The regulation of the rules and the prosecution of defaulters is terrible.”
Kehinde Osinaike, general manager of the official agency that issues physical planning permits in Lagos, said the state was prepared to “wield the stick” against errant developers who put people’s lives at risk for selfish gain, saying that in the past officials had tried “civics”, to no avail.
“We are going to instruct our legal team to proceed to arrest these unrepentant developers,” he said.
A bold commitment but one that echoes the official but empty promises that have followed every building collapse in the last decade.
This article first appeared on The continent, the pan-African weekly produced in collaboration with Mail & Guardian. It is designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here