By Ebuka Onyeji and Kunle Sanni
Rescue efforts were ongoing on Friday evening at the site of a building collapse in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Musa Bello, expressed sadness over the collapse of the four-storey building under construction in Jabi part of the Nigerian capital.
The minister visited the scene of the collapse few hours after the tragic event occurred. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo also later visited the scene.
“Obviously you all agree with me, that this is a very sad day for us in Abuja. We can see what has happened, a building under construction collapsed and we can see that government agencies are trying their very best to rescue our citizens who are trapped in the building,” Mr Bello said.
The reeling impact of Friday’s collapse has left many residents and victims demoralised.
For eyewitnesses, it was a memory they will reflect on for sometime. “It sounded like a bomb”, said Chinedu Ike, a witness.
There were reports of two deaths and their bodies evacuated earlier, but that is yet to be officially confirmed.
Between 1 and 2 p.m., the building situated within Jabi/Utako park, directly opposite Panda shopping mall, collapsed to the consternation of many residents and passersby.
Multiple witnesses said more than 10 people were trapped in the debris as at Friday evening when rescue efforts were still on.
“Before my eyes, the building just fell to the ground gboom”, a woman selling cooked food in the area exclaimed.
“I was trying to withdraw money from an ATM when I heard the sound of the collapse. I rushed to the scene and we brought six people out. Two of them were no longer breathing. The site engineer had a broken leg while the others where critically injured. We rushed them to Gwarimpa Hospital in Keke, I don’t really know their current condition at the moment,” Joel Joseph, a witness, explained.
Other witnesses corroborated Mr Joseph’s account.
Many government agencies, including National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Road Safety Corporation, police and other security agencies were still at the site trying to rescue the trapped victims at the time of filing this report.
When tractors brought were not sufficient, construction companies also joined the rescue mission.
“When we heard about it, the lead organisation in search and rescue on a collapse building is the fire service, we activated both the federal and the FCT fire service to the scene. And on arrival, there are some people that were not deeply trapped, so they were rescued by bystanders and taken to the hospital. The number of people in the hospital is not yet ascertained as the situation is not yet under control; but we will go round to all the hospitals soon”, said Leberan Aman, NEMA head of search and rescue in Abuja,
Another NEMA official at the scene, A. Eyamo, also said the number of casualties is yet to be confirmed. “The experts are still trying to put their reports together and when it is ready we would let Nigerians know. But for now, we are concentrating on the rescue efforts, so we would tell you letter.”
The Collapse – Who to Blame?
Many have blamed the collapse on poor construction of the building. They say the building was not just poorly constructed but also abandoned for many years and it all resulted to the collapse.
“It is really unfortunate, the building collapsed and people are trapped. To my observations one could see some compromise in use of materials”, Muthar Galadima, Director, Department of Development Control in Abuja said at the venue. He, however, noted that it was his personal viewswhich is subject to professional tests.
“The building has been abandoned for more than 15 years, and the owner of the building just mobilised contractors to continue with the project. I would like to go back and cross check whether an approval for them to resume work was granted and to find out if some integrity test was fully conducted which I cannot confirm at the moment.
“Further details and investigation on who is doing what and who has done what would be conducted soon.”
Abbas Idris, the Director General of FEMA, described the incident as unfortunate and blamed structural lapses for the collapse.
“We always tell builders to build according to the plan and within a defined time frame. It is not our fault because we always move around in search of abandoned buildings like this. And if you abandon a building for a while, you have to carry out an integrity test, get development control before you continue the work.”
He did not, however, specify if such conditions were met before work continued on the collapsed structure.
“This building has been abandoned for 15 years and work resumed not too long ago”, a building research officer of the Nigerian Building and Research Institute said. “There are many people trapped underneath. We are here for structural investigation and at the end of the day we will ascertain the course and prevent future occurrences.”
Umar Shuaibu, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council Coordinator, expressed shock over the incident. He said it has been long the nation’s capital experienced such a serious collapse of a building.
“For the past two years, we never had a serious building collapse like this. Whenever we inspect a building site, we make cement hammer test and if it is satisfactory, we give a go ahead and if its not we stop work. Recently , we have given notices to all abandoned buildings in Abuja. Work commenced here not long a go before this tragic incident occurred.”
When asked if its true that the building has been abandoned for 15 years, the FCT minister said, “our investigation on this would easily unravel what has happened but I think our priority at this point is to make sure that whoever is trapped comes out safely and we have already prepared adequate medical attention. “
“The hospitals have been made available, the ambulances are there. So now I think we should support our officers that are working on this site to bring out everyone trapped out safe and sound.”
An eyewitness said one of the workers trapped inside the rubble contacted him on phone, but “I could not hear him clearly.”
A worker who narrowly escaped the tragedy said over 50 people work there.
The owner of the building was yet to be identified as at the time of this report.
However, “YALIAM PRESS LIMITED plot No. 20 , SECTOR CENTRE B. (B16 DISTRICT) JABI, ABUJA”, was boldly written on a big signboard in front of the collapsed structure.