It was agonizing wailing that enveloped the ambience housing the residence of the Yusufs 11 days after 17-year-old Toheeb Yusuf left home for work at the 21-storey building on Gerrard road, Ikoyi, Lagos State and didn’t return.
The building collapsed on November 1, injuring some people and killing others including the owner, Mr Femi Osibona.
Yusuf was said to have been reluctant that day to go out. His mum, Rashidat, who was still in denial kept asking intermittently in a shaky voice ridden with anguish, “Have you heard anything about him? Do you know his whereabouts?”
Some neighbours told Sunday PUNCH that Yusuf was reluctant to go to work that day but his mother pleaded with him to go, so he could get some money for the family’s upkeep. Rashidat stated that she prayed for him when he was leaving home on the day of the tragedy.
She said, “I prayed for him that day as he prepared to leave. In the afternoon, I called him and his mobile was unreachable, I initially thought it was the network but soon I felt uneasy. It was on Tuesday morning that I heard about a building collapse. I still dialled his number, perhaps for him to pick and tell me he stepped out before the incident occurred.”
Yusuf’s mum said she had lost sleep and was unable to concentrate on anything else since the building collapsed.
“I haven’t been able to sleep. How can I sleep with all that is happening? I don’t know where my son is. What kind of mother would sleep in this kind of situation?,” she asked rhetorically as she broke into tears.
The heartbroken woman resided in an uncompleted building with about by about eight other women who had come to sympathise with her, obviously gripped by the intensity of Rashidat’s loss. A family member who spoke to our correspondents on condition of anonymity said that they had searched hospitals where survivors were rushed to but didn’t see him among them. The family has yet to have access to the morgue where the corpses were.
Kafayat Ajayi, wife of Temitayo Ajayi, popularly known as T-money, a bricklayer at the crash site, sat among elderly women, looking distressed as she stared at nothing yet looking at everything. She held a Bible close to her chest, praying for comfort.
“I have not been able to sleep since I heard of the incident on Monday,” she said as she finally found the strength and courage to talk to Sunday PUNCH.
She said they married 12 years ago, adding “He didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to his family.’’
Intermittently, she checked her phone as if she was expecting a call. According to her, it’s a behaviour she had developed since the incident occurred expecting her husband to call her on the phone.
Kafayat who is a mother of three said she could vividly recall her husband leaving the house that day.
She recalled, “He left home around 5:30 am on Monday, November 1, 2021. Last two weeks, he was working at Simawa, Ogun State, and he returned home. On a Tuesday, he said a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God who was an engineer called and told him that there was work at Ikoyi. That was why he returned home. He and some bricklayers which he contracted and the pastor went to the building site on Tuesday and returned on Saturday, He told me that they needed more workers as there were still many things to do at the site.
“On Sunday, he contacted the workers. On Monday, by 5:30am, he left and went to get the other workers at Jabutu with the bus he hired. He had been working as a bricklayer since 2005. So, that wasn’t the first time he and those guys worked together. But we didn’t know that it was the last time we would see some of them alive. I sell provisions at Jabutu. I called him after he got there. He promised to call back. I was still at my shop when the news got to me.’’
The building project which started in 2020 was billed for completion in 2022 with appreciable units of flats worth millions of naira said to have been sold to some potential homeowners whose dreams were shattered on Monday when the skyscraper crumbled.
As of Thursday, 42 corpses had been recovered from the site. Over 50 persons, including Osibona, his personal assistant, Onyinye Enekwe, and friend, Wale Bob-Oseni, and other bricklayers were trapped in the building.
Nine persons have been reported to have survived the tragedy with three of them treated and discharged from the hospital on Tuesday.
Crying profusely, Kafayat narrated that the reason her husband went for the job was because there were urgent family needs, particularly outstanding children’s school fees.
She added, “He went to work at Ikoyi because he needed money to pay the children’s school fees. The children recently changed schools and they’ve not paid their school fees. When he was going, he said he would send money for the school fees. My eldest child is in basic five, the second one is in basic three and the last one is in nursery 2. He also said once the fees had been paid, he would work towards completing our house project. My children have been asking for their dad, I told them he went to work and he would soon be back. ”
Like Kafayat, Ewatomi Akinleye was in a mournful mood. The 25-year-old became a widow after losing her husband, Sesan Akinleye, popularly known as Omo-Akin to the building collapse, after two years of marriage. She lay helplessly on their mattress in their one-room apartment with everything neatly arranged and Sesan’s clothes on a hanger at a corner behind the door.
The distraught Akinleye stated, “Last month, our marriage was two years but we have no child yet. Temitayo and my husband have been working together as bricklayers within this area for a long time; his wife’s shop is in our area and they usually went out together for jobs. My husband went out with him two weeks ago and they returned on Saturday. That week his mother was not feeling well. She stays in Ibadan. We called his mother on Saturday night, we apologised for not visiting her and promised to be with her the next day.”
Akinleye told Sunday PUNCH that her late husband was unwilling to go to the Ikoyi building site that day because they were still owed money from the previous job, adding that she and Temitayo prevailed on him that it was wrong to stay home idle.
She stated, “He called Temitayo on Saturday and said that he wouldn’t join him on Monday. He told Temitayo that it was because he had yet to be paid for a previous job. On Sunday morning, I talked to him to trust God as the provider irrespective of the circumstance. I dressed up for church and told him to let us go. He said he would meet me in church but he didn’t come. When I got home, I asked him why he did not come and he said he had body pains. He lamented that they were not paid for a week in the previous job he did.”
Akinyele disclosed that her husband visited many people, especially his friends a day preceding the incident.
She added, “He went out with a neighbour on his bike to see a friend. He sang Fuji too, so they went to a place to sing for a while. He also visited his boss who taught him bricklaying, he sang for a long time there before he left. When he returned that Sunday night, I had finished cooking. I called him to eat and when he was about to eat, Temitayo called him on the phone and said, ‘Akin, meet me outside now.’ He was leaving when I told him to eat before going but he said I should allow to quickly see Temitayo.’’
The hairdresser said when he returned, he told her to help him pack some clothes for the trip to Ikoyi building site because Temitayo told him that the engineer said money was ready.
She also said that an older friend in the area persuaded him not to go to the site but later reasoned with him when he said he had only N200 on him and couldn’t stay at home.
The woman said her husband slept off that Monday but was roused by Temitayo’s call.
She said, “He went to meet them on the road and I followed him to a pharmacy in our area before I went back home. Around 12pm on Monday, he called me on the phone and we talked. He begged me not to be angry, promising to send me some money once he got it. He was to call back after sending me money. Around 2pm that day, I tried his mobile but it didn’t connect. I tried it for a long time but it didn’t connect.’’
On how she heard of the incident, Kafayat stated that at night, two of the four Hausa who went with them to the site returned into the community with injuries.
She stated, “When they got home, they told their townsmen that the building where they went to work collapsed. One of them said he escaped being trapped because he went to carry some mixed cement downstairs when the building collapsed. I called my husband’s family members immediately and they started going to the site on Tuesday. On Thursday, I told them I want to follow them to the site.’’
Akinleye who wept profusely said her husband lost a younger sibling about four months ago and his aged parents were greeted by the news of the tragedy.
She said, “I don’t have any choice. What can I do? I’m trying to cope. His parents are alive. The family head and some elderly ones went to their place on Monday broke the news to them.’’
The four Hausa are identified as Nafiu Dafiru, Atiku Bala, Mikailu Hassan and Aminu Yale. The first two are alive but sustained injuries but the bodies of the last two had yet to be recovered.
One of the quartet’s townsmen, Bashir, said he was the one who connected them to work with Temitayo because he came to him to recommend those who could work well.
He said, “I recommended them to work at the site. I didn’t know that it would bring pain to their family members. They are my townsmen, I was the one Temitayo came to meet and said he would need some of my brothers for a job. I willingly recommended four of them because they are hardworking.
“It was on Monday evening when two of them showed up badly injured and told us what happened. We took them to Sokoto where they are from for treatment.”
The Chairman of Hausa residing in Ibafo, Ogun State, Abacha Maisule, said that Hassan and Yale aged 20 and 23 respectively were still missing.
He said, “Hassan and Yale are the ones we are looking for and we’ve not seen them. Bala and Nasiru are alive and they are in Sokoto receiving treatment. We have gone to the site of the building collapse in Ikoyi many times but we neither saw them nor their bodies.’’
Access to corpses herculean task
Though the state government assured families that they would be allowed to identify corpses of their loved ones on Thursday after completion of autopsies, many of them have yet to be granted access to see the corpses of their loved ones.
Yusuf’s mother said his father was trying to access the Lagos Mainland Hospital morgue to identify his corpse without success.
She said, “The dad told me that after visiting the Ikoyi site many times without a headway, he was referred to a hospital in Yaba but every day he keeps telling me they didn’t allow them to see their corpses.
“He has been going there since last week. It was on Monday that they told him to do a test. He submitted the sample but we have yet to hear anything from them. They should tell us what is happening.”
Also, Kafayat said, “Since the incident, I have not gone to Ikoyi, my family members, friends and my husband’s advised me not to go. After searching for some time, we then took his picture to the Mainland Hospital Morgue, Yaba, they finally told us that his body was there but we have yet to be allowed to see him. They told us we will do a test to ascertain if it was him or not. A blood sample of his first son was collected to verify if he was among the rescued victims.”
Like the Ajayis, the Akinyeles lamented the trouble they passed through to see the remains of their loved one.
Akinyele narrated, “I went with my husband’s sisters last Thursday and Saturday. On Saturday, we were given a card to go to a hospital in Yaba. When we got there, we gave them with a picture of both of us. But the woman there said we should bring his personal picture. He didn’t have any personal picture except the one we took together. A woman asked us if it was his picture and I said yes.
“The woman said we wouldn’t recognise his body if I saw it. We felt it was because we are ladies. She later asked if a male came with us but we said no male was with us. His sisters pleaded with her to let me see my husband’s body but she maintained that I wouldn’t recognise it even if I saw it.
“I knelt down and begged her to let me see my husband’s corpse but she refused. She said there’s no help she could render. The woman asked if I had a voter card or a National ID card. I told her I didn’t have any. They asked us to go and get any of the identification cards. I sat down there begging her to help us in any way she could. After some time, I concluded that he might not be among the corpses. We cried as we left.”
She added that her husband’s siblings returned to the place for a DNA test, stating that they had yet to fully brief her about the development.
On his part, Maisule said they also visited the morgue in Yaba but weren’t allowed to go in to check the bodies of his two kinsmen.
He said, “We went to the medical facility in Yaba but I wasn’t allowed to see the bodies, so we cannot even tell if their bodies have been recovered or not. We were told to come with family members for an autopsy. I suggested to their family members in Sokoto that at least two of them, perhaps the siblings or father, should come to Lagos. They replied that we should let the dead rest because there was no point travelling to Lagos to identify the bodies.’’
Most bodies unrecognisable, says Lagos
Speaking about the development, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said that the state government was not deliberately preventing the families from seeing their dead. He noted that the bodies were brought in, in a state where they were unidentifiable.
He said, “You know the government won’t eat the bodies. I have spoken to the morticians. We had to put some of the bodies together and many of them were crushed. The ones that are in good condition are not more than three or four.
“Imagine those that were just brought out a couple of days ago. What would one expect of those and there is a state where you can put them before you can ask anybody to come and look at them. They are taking many samples for DNA because most of them will start an argument.
“Some are so clear that you can still see their faces but honestly, they are not more than three. It’s not all bodies that we can say people should come and see. Some people have seen the bodies of their loved ones there, but I’m telling you 90 per cent of them can’t be recognised.”
He added that some people who came to see their loved ones had identified them with the items on their bodies.
He said, “There some that were recognised with the items on their bodies. You can imagine people being identified with the items on their bodies and then we’ve found a case of two to three different people laying claim to one body that was why they said they should do DNA. At least, the test will be conducted using their brothers or sisters, or any family member and not just anybody.
“It’s a process that they don’t understand. I do not know if those people explained to them why they were not allowed to see the bodies. The problem there is that during the rescue operation, they found a leg there, a limb somewhere else and they will try to put them together, so you don’t want people to see their loved ones in such a state. They need to sort them together.
“You know, a 21-storey building came crashing down on the people. The people will not be recognised. It takes only the Grace of God for them to still be recognised. If you see some of the survivors, then you will know what we are talking about.”
Source: The PUNCH