Many thought the most idiotic statement a President could make was to say, “Corruption is not stealing.” That statement was credited to Goodluck Jonathan. Each time something tragic happens in Nigeria, the hysteria often covers finding the cause, offering solutions and making necessary laws to prevent it from happening again. We usually find an alibi to explain away preventable situations. That building that collapsed in Lagos is a tragedy that should make us reflect on our national psyche when it comes to the value we place on our own lives. The government and the political elite could care less about how the poor live their life. Those children don’t deserve to die, and no parent should bury their children.
That building may have collapsed because of three bags of cement, a bundle of iron rod, insufficient loads of sand, gravel and other building materials, poor reading of the building plan and not paying a civil engineer to confirm the integrity of the building at completion. Someone somewhere may have collected enough money for the project, yet they will take their cut, and “manage” with fewer building materials to complete the project. Some of the bricklayers may have also diverted the blocks, cement and other things to their private projects or sell them for extra cash. Some will even inflate the quantity of items or buy inferior materials to cut corners. They may charge less money for labor because they know they will make more money from selling the materials. The bricklayers and building contractors already know that they don’t have to live in the buildings. These practices are not uncommon to notice and tackle if you’ve ever done a building project in Nigeria. Everyone is out to get whatever they can from the project. Although there are honest people in the business, one is bound to end up with the dishonest ones. A lot of these builders rationalize their corruption with, “na wia man dey work, na im e dey chop, that na why dem call am work-chop” (meaning, where you work is where you eat). This statement should explain how some of the practices I described are not considered corruption or even stealing. They come with the business.
The property developers are just glad to see that the building completed. They can’t wait to fill them with tenants! For school buildings, some of the owners will not even wait for the premises to be completed before they stuff it with children. They will make money to finish them as soon as the parents pay to keep their kids in a hazardous situation. Those government workers who should inspect and ascertain the integrity of the said buildings will use any defect they find to extort the owners instead of getting them to rebuild or correct the error. They will come again and again to demand money in exchange for not bringing the owners to book. I heard the school that collapsed at Ita-faji in Lagos had been marked for demolition three times. The government allowed children to be housed in that death trap. From what I have learned, even the owner of the building was trapped in it. Well, it is not new to leave the security of lives and properties in the hands of God instead of using our God-given brain to prevent such mishaps.
An uncompleted church collapsed not too long ago. Many worshippers died. I’m sure the government has forgotten about that. Nobody has been brought to justice. A building collapsed in Abuja sometime last year. Nothing came out of it. No thorough investigation and no one is paying for the lives lost and those permanently damaged. Now this inexcusable tragedy. What we get is the hysteria, news reports, people eager to share videos and pictures of dead and wounded bodies on social media and politicians doing the usual rounds and then, we move on. After all, corruption is stealing. Anything else is not corruption. Those who built the three-storey contraption, the government workers who neglected their jobs, the school owner, who in spite of seeing the impending collapse, decided to keep other people’s children in it have questions to answer. The parents who have seen the sign that government has marked the house for demolition and yet continue to send their children without questioning should have questions to answer now and in the hereafter for endangering the lives of those children.
For some of us reading this right now, how many times have we taken chances with our lives without counting the cost? Most of those yellow buses in Lagos are potential moving coffins. You saw that video where a bus driver uses a spanner in place of the steering wheel. There are people in those buses including the person that did the video. All over the country, there are absolutely no real policies to safeguard lives and properties in meaningful ways. We have those agencies, but like everything in Nigeria, they don’t function as they should. For anything public—transportation, health, education and so on—you can rest assured that they are below global safety standards. If they do, they are more of an exception than the norm. Even, in our private lives, we rely on God for protection and all while we ignore our God-given ability to sense danger and prevent it. Some of us live in our uncompleted buildings to save rent. The list of unsafe living in different spheres of our national life are well known to us and often ignored.
I may be exaggerating these things I have mentioned, but I have lived in Nigeria long enough to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The tragedy in this whole collapsed building situation is that there will be no consequences. We will shout, cry, mourn, move on and wait for another disaster to strike and the hysteria will continue. May the soul of the departed rest in peace. I pray for the survivors to heal. I hope and pray that we will get it right as a nation someday down the road