She wiped her tears repeatedly in the space of seconds, but she kept sobbing. Mrs. Suliat Kaffo, 46, has remained inconsolable since she lost her husband, 49-year-old Babatunde, to the building that collapsed on Carrera Street in Lagos Island on Tuesday.
Even though surrounded by relatives, neighbours, friends and other sympathisers who had come to console her for her loss, Suliat, a mother of three, still could not put the events of that day behind her.
Perhaps, one of the things that made the event particularly painful for her was that her husband was sick and was in bed when the incident happened. Even if he were to escape, his ill health was a barrier, thus, he was crushed to death.
When our correspondent visited the area on Friday morning, one of her immediate concerns at the moment now transcends mourning her late husband, to include how to make her three children accept the fact that they would never see their father again.
“They keep asking the whereabouts of their father. One of them has been saying I should take him to his dad,” she said amidst tears.
She continued, “My children keep asking for their father. They are aged 12, 10 and five respectively, but they all stood vigilant and were praying that their father should be brought out alive, but he didn’t make it. Till now, I’m grateful my children went for lesson that day, else, they would have been with him because he was fond of them. What would have become of me?”
In a soft tone, she recalled that her late husband, was planning to mark his next birthday when he would have clocked 50 if he were alive.
She narrated how the incident happened, “The previous night; that was between Monday night and Tuesday morning, in the midnight, I woke up around 2am to give him his drugs and ensure he was okay, because he was sick. Shortly after, I was about going back to bed, I heard rubbles and the house shook.
“All of us woke up, because that was the first time such was happening. We started praying and then we went back to sleep. It was later we got to know that people on the ground floor also felt it.”
If they had known what lay ahead for them, perhaps they would have vacated the premises, but they didn’t, and so they went about their activities.
She said, “On the day of the incident, which was the following morning, I was in the shop, which is not far from the house. Given that he was sick, I went home to prepare food for him around 12pm. He asked after his children and I told him they had gone for extra lesson.
“I went to pray, and after that, I wanted to go and have my bath upstairs, but my younger sister who was around advised me to finish cooking before I did that, so I stayed. Shortly after, my first child came back from lesson and said he was hungry, so I told him to go and buy gas. As he left, few metres away, the building came down. It happened at exactly 1:37pm.”
Even though the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency said eight people lost their lives to the incident and that 15 were rescued alive, the sympathisers said they believed that some persons were still trapped under the rubbles. The 24-year-old building had 22 rooms.
They said people were in the canteen on the ground floor of the house, eating when the building collapsed. “There was also another Igbo man who used to sell food items. He survived but we heard one of his legs had been amputated,” one of them said.
Giving an insight into what led to the collapse of the three-storeyed building, Suliat said the building was built by a developer, who was expected to transfer the property to her father-in-law who resides abroad.
She said the house had shown signs of dilapidation and that the situation got worse when a mini-mast was installed on the pent house. Thus, the building caved in two weeks after.
She explained, “He shouldn’t have died, because he fought for the renovation of that house. If he were alive, we would have a better story to share, but now he’s gone. The matter was previously in court and the court ruled that they should renovate the house, but no major renovation was done.
“When my husband saw that nothing significant was done, he went to report at the Lagos Island East Local Government Area. They promised to come and shut the house because it was evident that the house was distressed but they never came.
“In spite of the state of the building, the representative of the developer, Mr. Balogun aka Coaster, brought people who installed the mini-mast on the building. Now that the tragedy happened, we learnt he has run to Ghana and his number is no longer available.”
She said even though her late husband made efforts to stop them, Coaster allegedly went to Lion Building to report, which led to the arrest and detention of her brother-in-law, who was instructed to sign an undertaking never to interfere with whatever the developer wanted to do in the house.
She said, “When they began erecting the supporting base for the mini-mast, they lied that it was to erect borehole. People went to complain to the lawyer in charge of the property, but he told them to calm down. They even brought a white man. It collapsed just two weeks after they finished the installation. If government does nothing about this incident, by arresting and prosecuting Coaster, my husband would die in vain.”
Suliat recalled that her late husband and his brother, who had come to visit the deceased on the sick bed, were seen holding each other’s hand when they were found under the rubbles. The brother survived and is in the hospital, while Babatunde couldn’t make it. “If government fails to act, my husband would rise to fight for himself,” she added.
She lamented that she had lost everything but for her children. “As I’m speaking to you, all the clothes I’m putting on were donations from people. Same thing for my children,” she added.
She equally pointed out that they were able to retrieve his mobile phone which he held in his hand when he was found under the rubbles, and that people had been calling him to find out from him what happened, not knowing he was also a victim.
She added, “My husband was patiently waiting for the agreement to lapse next year so he could manage the property very well. We were planning his 50th birthday. We never knew he wouldn’t be alive to celebrate it. The children have been crying and we have not been able to sleep.”
As of the time of filing this report, Suliat and her three children squat in the neighbourhood, with no idea of where help could come from. “All I’m wearing is all I have, government should help us,” she added.