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Tuesday, 28 August 2012 00:00
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‘Government responsible for collapsed buildings’

 Pastor Charles Taiwo Babalola is the chief executive officer Charles & May Nigeria Ltd., a consultancy firm with bias in education development. He is also a stakeholder in the housing sector. In this interview with Johnson Fagbamila, the Lagos State Eko Project award winner talks about the issue of insecurity, building collapse and demolition of inhabitable houses in Lagos.

The issue of insecurity is becoming too embarrassing to every Nigeria. This is also telling on the housing sector.  What in your view could be done to checkmate the situation?
The issue of insecurity is becoming too worrisome. It is a national problem. As I am talking to you now, I am weeping inside me. Some days ago, some hoodlums invaded a branch of a Church in Kogi State and killed more than 20 people. Innocent people who just wanted to worship their God.

These people (hoodlums) also say they are Muslims and are serving their God. I don’t know why people who believe in God also believe that their God is so weak that He cannot fight for himself. I have not come across an arrangement where men will now be fighting for their God in my life. Can you imagine in this 21st century some people are still threatening the president to convert to Muslim or else they would make the country ungovernable.

The federal Government is not doing enough in curbing these hoodlums. I don’t know what the police are doing. They are earning salaries for doing nothing. The government should put in place a water tight security arrangement and rout out these hoodlums within two months. The statement the president made in Trinida and Tobago recently that these hoodlums are our brothers, therefore we cannot start killing them is very unfortunate  because these people  do not consider whether they have brothers or sisters. They just  kill without regards to any sense of decency.

Killing innocent people that went to church to worship God! I don’t know what the the churches have done to them. I have read the Quran before and I know that Prophet Mohammed was a man of peace and I know he will never allow anybody to take the live of innocent person. Through out his life, Prophet Mohammed did not kill a single innocent man. I don’t know why in Nigeria we think we know the Pope more than the Romans. The government should come out of its shell.

This idea of issuing statement upon statements after an incident has occurred is uncalled for. I think it is time something is done about this. A government that cannot protect the masses is not a good government. You cannot kill an American without the American army invading the place. Look at how the Americans eventually got Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. But over hear you cannot open the page of a newspaper without reading about killing as if this is no longer a nation, as if we are an anarchy. It is terrible, it is condemnable, it is bad. The government should do something decisively to make sure we are secure in this country.

Flooding is gradually becoming a big problem in Nigeria. What is the solution?
Flooding is becoming a national problem as well. Anytime there are electioneering campaign politicians don’t take flooding as part of their manifestos. They only talk about making live comfortable for the masses. Now look at Lagos. Everybody knows Lagos State is sitting on water. What has governor Babatunde Fashola done to curb the situation? Look at Ajengunle in Ikorodu area. It is inside water and people build houses inside the water. Look at Ijora Badia, Look at Aboru. Look at Maryland and others .

I don’t think the government is doing much to fight this menace. Forecasters had already warned that there would be much rain this year. Both the state and the federal governments have not done enough. Look at the Bar Beach. Every year they are doing something to disallow flooding. Is it possible? We have countries like the United States, Japan etc. There are flooding there as well. They even have Tsunami and earthquakes and all that.

Yet these government have plans and programmes to help their citizens. Here in Nigeria we have the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) What do they do? It is after flooding (or other disasters) that you see them distributing their mattresses, food and what have you. That is what NEMA does. You will not see it working to ward off or prevent disaster. The dry season is coming now. This is the time for us to plan against flooding next year. But the moment the dry season is over, we forget about rain or no rain until next year.

Flooding has done a lot of damage to both the economy and people’s lives. The story of a banker and his wife is still fresh in memory. It wasn’t long they got married and the flood just swept them away as it did many houses. When Ajegunle overshot its boundaries sometimes last year and destroyed many houses, one saw all sorts of wild animals, sea creatures, sea lions and other wild other sea creatures came out. It was horrible. The government should look at the ways to help the masses. That is the way I look at the whole matter.

Let us look at the issue of building collapse. What in your view is the way out?
It still boils down to the government not doing enough for the people; inspecting the way we construct houses, granting the permission for building construction and approving land for building purposes. They are suppose to follow these up to make sure that people are doing the right things. But what do we find? We find out that the moment those people take  bribe, they are not bordered about the type of structure erected.

Imagine people building houses in a swampy area without adequate supervision. Because the officials  have taken money from builders, people can erect four or five storey buildings in those areas without the soil being tested. As I said earlier Lagos is sitting on top of water. Any house that is going to be built in Lagos must be sanctified by experts.

Unfortunately, it is like people are just doing what they like. People will just come up with any decision and start building without any approval. Government will look the other way as if people can do what they like. Many people have been killed, and many incalculable properties destroyed through this process.

I am using this forum to appeal to the government to be alive to its responsibility. Those corrupt officials should be shown the way out. We should not allow people to commit suicide any longer. By the time people build houses with materials that are substandard, eventually the building will collapse, and be killing people. It has happened in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Ibadan and virtually all the cities in the country. And again, engineers should go to those old houses to test them whether they are habitable or not. Go to Ebute-metta and the core Lagos Island.

Some houses there have been erected a century or more ago, and people are still leaving in those houses today. How do you expect such houses not to collapse?  Then there are houses which original plans have been altered. A house which original plan was a bungalow, after some years, they will raise it up to a two or more storey buildings.
How will the house not collapse? Engineers should be alive to their responsibilities so that people do not die untimely.

The Lagos state government is pulling down some house without alternative plan for the owners. How justified are they?
They are justified. The long time effect will justify the action. When an illiterate or ignorant man does something that he doesn’t know the effect of (what he has done). A lot of people do things ignorantly. When they do such things, they may not know the long time effect of what they have done and at the end of the day when the effect starts  manifesting, people will be talking or witches and wizards without knowing that they were the architects of their misfortune. Experts should go round to inspect houses that are being built, even randomly. Look at Makoko.

The government went there and saw that people were sitting on top of gunpowder while romancing with fire. If the government has gone there to nip the looming danger in the bud, I don’t think it is wrong. Look at ketu (Ajelogo) area where so many houses where pulled down because they where erected on illegal ground. Look at so many weapons that were discovered there. So, I want to align myself with the government if the is decision taken is to save lives. They are justified.

There is this general belief that when such actions are taken, government are wont to assigning such lands their cronies What do you say to this?
That is the area I think I don’t like. It is against the will of God. If somebody takes something from the rightful owner,he have God to contend with. If they collect something from the rightful owner and give it to their cronies, relations or affiliates, it is against the will of God. Your advice to both the government and the people.

My advice to the government is that they should try as much as possible to make the people happy. Our people are not happy at all. There is too much poverty in the land. Our people are too poor. Some people cannot afford three square meals a day. We have lost our priority, our first love which is agriculture. People are no longer interested in farming again. We are importing rice and virtually all food items from abroad. This is spelling doom for the country. All we are waiting for is fuel money. There is no employment everywhere. The most vibrant of our work force have taken to okada riding.

People are fed up. We keep an approving universities. The graduates of these university, where are they working or going to work? There are no jobs. I am appealing to the government  to step down on their high horses. People are dying silently. Families are collapsing. Some are mentally sick. Many have turned to armed robbery. I am appealing to the government to support the commoners. People are ready to support the government.

The government should support the masses by coming out with policies that will alleviate their suffering. The masses also should be praying to God for the government. Some people say they cannot pray for the government anymore. This is not right. The bible tells us to pray for the people in authority, so keep on praying for them. By the grace of God we will get there very soon.