By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the terrible day, Monday, November 1, 2021, started for me like all of my regular days. It was very quickly to become the stuff of permanent nightmares. Just the day before, I had departed Abuja after the PDP National Convention. My Sunday evening was spent at the birthday dinner cum book launch of television star, Ms Kikelomo Atanda-Owo. I left the classy party looking forward to a long blissful night as I planned to be in bed till minimum 12 noon on Monday before attending the climate change event at the Italian Consulate on Victoria Island. Unknown to me, this meticulously planned schedule was not to be.
I was getting ready to go out when a massive explosion, like a fiendish hurricane raised to the power of thousands, suddenly occurred. This evil explosion was so thunderous that it shook our six-storey building to its foundation and seemed to reverberate forever. To say that I was scared is to put it very mildly. I dialogued with my feet and started galloping away like an antelope. I kept screaming at my wife: “Bolaji, earthquake, earthquake, let’s move before the building collapses on all of us.” My wife, who seems to be of much stronger stock than I in these conditions, was already by the window scanning our compound. “Ajani (her pet name for me) our residents are out of their apartments…” Then she looked skyward and straight across the most imposing edifice in our neighbourhood, a gargantuan edifice that bestrides the landscape of the busy Gerrard Road, that we normally see from our windows, but it was nowhere to be found. “Ajani, Fourscore’s building has disappeared!” my wife screamed… “What is this woman saying?” I soliloquized? Then fearfully and with great trepidation, I peeped out myself and saw the void. I screamed and started speeding out of the building. Plenty questions but no answers.
My wife was already way ahead of me as I waited for my younger friend, Gbenga Olunloyo to join me. Gbenga immediately made a call to a structural Engineer to come and check if the “earthquake” had damaged or weakened our building. Along the streets, we ran into my neighbour, Mr Olu Akpata, the affable President of the Nigerian Bar Association. He was busy working the phone making calls to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and all The Who is Who in Lagos State. He was truly effective and impressive. We also saw Mrs Olukemi Aderemi, and her daughter, Adekepemi, whose maternal grandfather, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (SAN), hailed from the same township of Ikenne, in Ogun State, as Mr Femi Osibona, the owner of the collapsed skyscraper on Gerrard Road, Ikoyi. It was Femi or Fourscore, as myself and many others called him, who had sold our Penthouse Flats to Myself and my best friend, Damola Aderemi, whilst he lived across us in another of the four penthouses in the mini-Estate. Mrs Aderemi kept us fully apprised of the situation with the updates.
The Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, was soon sighted and I walked up to him. He looked visibly shaken and rattled. Suddenly, a young driver joined us from seemingly out of nowhere and he gave us the rudest shocker of our lives. Looking straight into my eyes, the young man said “Sir, I brought your son, Wale Bob (Wale Bob Oseni) here some minutes ago on our way to the airport and now I can’t find him. He was in the building when it collapsed. “Holy Jesus!”, I screamed, helplessly. The crowd of spectators, first responders, security personnel and others were swelling up in a jiffy. I told the Deputy Governor he would have to seek more security and get a rescue team on to the site immediately. However, in his haste, he had left his phones in the car. He hurriedly left to make some quick calls. We waited with bated breath for excavators to arrive. We were soon told one had been located not too far away. But the minutes were ticking away, and we were all getting agitated and crestfallen.
We were told the Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was also coordinating things from yonder and he had immediately promised to return home to supervise things himself. I’ve always known Governor Sanwo-Olu to be hands on contrary to what critics were saying. He had ordered the closure of the premises once, and even got Femi Osibona arrested during an altercation with the agents of the State. Before Femi was released, the Governor sought guarantees from Femi and his friends that Femi will henceforth cooperate fully with agencies of government in the monitoring and supervision of the massive construction and Femi did so till the very end. I will return to this shortly.
After what seemed an eternity, one excavator rolled and roared in like a Russian tank. First the gate leading to the monumental edifice had to be mowed down. In no time, this was achieved. But some brave and energetic guys with hefty muscles had taken charge of rescuing some of those in the rubbles. Some of the victims were either dead or alive with various degrees of bruises or burns. More police and soldiers soon joined. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, came fully ready to ensure maximum security. The crowd was getting restive as darkness fell. Too many stories of heroism, and good fortune to be told, like the two fortunate employees who went to buy water for one of the engineers only to return to see the building crumpling before their very eyes or Fourscore’s young lawyer, Seun, who missed being in the building by a heartbeat because he needed to replace tyres on his car and arrived just as the building collapsed in a heap.
Then sadly and most distressingly, the gossip writers took over the cyberspace spinning all manner of tales by moonlight. One of them said authoritatively and categorically that my wife, Mrs Mobolaji Momodu was seen on the top floor with Femi just before the collapse and reached the conclusion that she might be under the ruins. An irresponsible man wrote in a WhatsApp group that Dele Momodu won’t speak up because Femi had gifted me the penthouse in which we live in Ikoyi, such arrant nonsense. This man who I’m told lives in America would have been more useful to society if he was writing novels. My best friend, Adedamola Aderemi, and I had bought our separate apartments from Femi over four years ago and we spent many months renovating the penthouses. The Prince of Ile-Ife had told me about the property and once I heard it was owned by Femi Fourscore, I was more than pleased and comfortable to buy.
I had known Femi for over 20 years in London as an extremely gifted marketer. Femi’s tongue was honey-coated, and it was impossible not to like him. He used to fly to America to bring in Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren shirts and suits and was ever willing to sell on credit to special clients like me. He was such a charming gentleman who adopted me as his big Brother. “Egbon mi, Olorun Oba ngbo, I’m selling these shirts to you much cheaper to you but please don’t tell anyone o!” We even went to Germany on April 22, 1998, with Damola Aderemi and a few other friends to watch the Green Eagles play an International Friendly against Germany in preparation for the World Cup. We became almost inseparable while I was in exile under the Abacha military junta.
We lost touch after I ended exile and returned to Africa, but he soon traced me to Ghana, and he came visiting. He was so happy to reunite with me. He told me how God had blessed him mightily and had made him veer into real estate in London. Femi was a genius who made stupendous gains from regenerating ghetto neighbourhoods in East London. He regaled me with tales of his exploits in the property business: “Egbon mi, Olorun ngbo bi eni pe Eniyan n s’eso ni (My Senior Brother, God hears me and knows, the property business is like voodoo money). He was extremely prayerful and belonged to the Celestial arm of white garment churches. His knowledge of the Bible was outstandingly remarkable. He was a great preacher who was well sort after.
He told Prince Damola Aderemi and I most of his big dreams and confided more in my friend, being a very brilliant Lawyer who advised him and did some legal work on this Gerrard Project. Fourscore used some of the best legal brains in the business including his Ikenne kinsman, Segun Odubela SAN of blessed memory, Lawal Pedro SAN and A. U. Mustapha SAN. When he bought the Gerrard Road land, he was over the moon. He promised to build the classiest residential apartments in Africa. He said he was out to prove there was nothing the multinational construction companies were doing that his company can’t do. I have never seen such level of audacity, determination and tenacity. Fourscore was a visionary and a missionary when it came to seeking to excel and do as well as his international counterparts at home and abroad. He had competed in their space in their countries before, with moderate successes and did not see any reason why he could not replicate the same and attain loftier heights in his home country. If he made any mistakes, it was probably that he overstretched himself, but he was such an ambitious man, full of faith. And certainly not the greedy avaricious person that his traducers now suggest he is. In our country, mistakes are never excused, forgiven or forgotten. When you fail, you’re a villain and outcast. When you succeed, you’re a hero, genius and superstar. As I told Uncle Fola Adeola when he called me days ago: “Failure is a learning process. When the Americans started going to the moon, they failed spectacularly and lost many lives. They were described as being reckless and seeking to challenge the work of God but one day, it all changed and the dream of landing on the moon was achieved.” Out of the failing of Femi Fourscore would arise a Nigerian Neil Armstrong who will make building on the Sea seem like strolling to the next street. That I believe is Femi Fourscore’s legacy, challenging us to believe that what may seem impossible is indeed possible by dint of hard work and if at first you do not succeed, keep trying, because your time will come.
I will never give excuses for Femi. He tried but he couldn’t unfortunately deliver on the tall and tough target he set for himself. I am pretty sure that it was not because he was cutting corners or taking risks. The Block that fell was the one he intended to live in. No man would be prepared to be a kamikaze pilot in such a situation.
It is not in my place to second guess the outcome of the Inquest and the Investigation which has been ordered. These must be done diligently. It must not be hurried. It must be painstaking and thorough. Such investigations cannot last thirty days as being directed by the government. I foresee that any credible inquiry must take months of arduous diligent work. Various possibilities including negligence, sabotage and even natural or human causes such as the over-dredging occurring in that vicinity must be considered. Dead men tell no tales. They cannot defend themselves, but records and logic abound. Those making claims and allegations which are easily rumpled will soon be exposed. I’d known that In February 2020 the third block was at the beginning of the Foundation stage and the other two blocks were merely a few storeys gone. It is interesting that nobody who had any misgivings reported such to the Regulators. I say no more, other than that it is always convenient to cast aspersions when it seems there is no potential for reply.
What I know is Fourscore was a self-made man who depended on no godfather. Despite being a cousin of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, he was too proud and self-reliant to approach the Vice President or anybody else for favours of that kind. He never sought for, or got, any government contracts. He relied on his own ability, marketing skills and funds. It has been most painful reading how some people reduced Femi’s epic struggles and vision to fronting for the Vice President. For me, this is one of the tragedies of this unfortunate saga. The worst of them would be the number of innocent casualties buried in the debris with Femi. The young ladies, Nifemi, his PA, Oyinye and Oyin, Corpers and others on IT who wanted to be part of a transformational project. The story of Wale Bob-Oseni, my dear beloved Ile-Ife born protégé, would haunt all those who knew him for the rest of our lives, undoubtedly. He was on his way back home to America to celebrate his 50th Birthday. A surprise party awaited him on 24 November. What about Samuel “Sammy” Iwelu, Femi’s young friend who had come from England to attend a wedding in Abuja and was returning later that day? It is my hope and expectation that we as observers, participants and government learn immense lessons from this tragedy including how to respond to large scale calamities like this. I commend Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in this regard. He has shown again that he is a Star. He listened and reacted positively to the complaints and wishes of relatives. A truly compassionate leader.
The ultimate tragedy is the fact that we may never be able resolve the jigsaw of this extraordinary disaster since the main man who might have been able tell us what went wrong is no longer with us. Even that might have been a daunting task for him.
I pray for swift healing for the survivors. They and their families must be comforted and counselled lest this traumatic experience become a mental health challenge for them.
Iku d’oro o mu awon eni ire lo. Death has consumed too many good people. May we not be found on the road the day it is famished. May we not be eaten alive while looking for what to eat. May all the souls of the victims rest in peace. I pray that God consoles and comforts the families, loved ones and friends they left behind.