In 1971, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, rattled by the war in Biafra, published a poem called ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ in his 1971 book, Beware, Soul Brother. The beauty of this poem lingers in our wretched world:
No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours
of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most
mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.
“E Choke” literally means “It Chokes”. However, in street lingo, it is an exclamatory remark for something overwhelming or extremely impressive. When Nigerians see something or someone that goes beyond expectation, this slang is a way of expressing their surprise though it may be a bit exaggerated.
When we as Nigerians see something or someone that goes beyond expectation, this slang is a way of saying that they were so surprised that they choked on air or on their saliva, though it may be a bit exaggerated.
However in this piece, I am not choking on saliva, and it is not exaggerated, it is the story of where we are, and exactly where we should not be. Let me take us back seven years ago.
On 12 September 2014, a guesthouse located within the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) premises around the Ikotun-Egbe area of Lagos State collapsed completely to the ground. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other emergency services were criticized for withholding information about the accident and much remained unclear about the number of deaths and their nationalities. Official figures put the death figures at 115.
The then governor of Lagos State Babatunde Fashola ordered all church workers away from the scene in-order to properly rescue trapped bodies. The government also claimed the church did not get government approval before construction. Journalist Nicholas Ibekwe had released an audio recording that allegedly captures now late T.B. Joshua offering bribes to journalists in return for reporting the incident in a way that portrayed the church favourably.
The senior pastor of the church, T. B. Joshua had linked the tragedy to a strange aircraft “hovering” above the building shortly before it fell. A video was released on YouTube that allegedly showed the plane hovering around the building before its collapse. However, the coroner’s report unequivocally found the cause to be due to structural failure. Three government agencies, (the Nigeria Building And Road Research Institute (NBBRI), the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG)) examined the site and found the following inadequacies:
Inadequate beams of 750mm by 225mm (should have been 900mm by 300mm)
Inadequately reinforced columns (should have been reinforced with 12 x Y25 bars or 20 x Y20mm bars. Instead they used 10 x Y20 bars (as seen in the video released by SCOAN).
Inadequate bearing pressure for the central column due to the 2m x 2m x 0.9m foundations.
Failure to introduce rigid zones for bracing the structure and did not design the frames as an unbraced structure.
Failure to provide movement joints that could have absorbed any movement due to creep, contraction, expansion and differential settlement etc.
8 out of the 12 main beams of the structure failed because they were undersized, under-reinforced (both in tension and shear), the tension bars were poorly anchored to the column supports and 8 x Y20 was used instead of 14 x Y20.
The ground floor columns were slender and readily gave in to buckling.
Meanwhile, T. B. Joshua had failed to appear at a November 2015 hearing and SCOAN’s lawyers have filed multiple applications to stay the proceedings. The Lagos state government has repeatedly insisted that this case receive trial.
Like the synagogue, like Lekki Gardens, T.B Joshua has gone, and like him, also a body believed to be the owner of the latest catastrophe “Ikoyi building collapse, Femi Osibona has been recovered with the death toll at the last count coming up to 36. It is the same bitter story of a nation, indeed very choking!
As in all of these tragedies, there are no manifest, no sense of urgency, several versions of the story, some bothering on the unthinkable, others beyond laughable and others a sad commentary of a people. Simply e choke!
I stand unequivocally to state that no one, as in NO ONE would be held liable. And like I often have told my friend and learned erudite law lord, Madaki Adams, a teacher of law at the University of Jos and practitioner. God simply is struck on the comedy that Nigeria is…just imagine if the Ikoyi building had been completed and was occupied before this happened?
Truth is that despite all, there must be a Nigerian god of some sorts, if not the many unexplainable things that we get away with remains mind boggling, that is why you can from selling shoes rise to become a real estate tycoon in Nigeria with a few celestial “hallelujahs and Allahu Akbar” break the law and choke the masses.
A nation that wants to make progress and we are not choking on the fact that almost 12m children are traumatised, and afraid to go to school, I did not say so, the President actually said so. The stats show that 1,436 pupils, 17 teachers were abducted from schools between Dec 2020 and Oct 2021. And the best we get are assurances that hold no water. Buildings are collapsing, the future of our children are equally collapsing.
It chokes me that Nigerians pay N5.7tr for darkness eight years after privatisation, the national grid has collapsed more than a 100 times in eight years. Nigerians still pay or contribute for transformers, wires, and poles and supply has never passed 5,000MW, not enough to power Christmas decorations in an American state. Load shedding, electricity rationing, and half current are common terms, while I do not want to go into the economics of pricing the commodity that is not available.
E choke say we never see Airline, we never see planes but on Nigeria Air: FG has disbursed N6.25 billion on consultancy, advisers. For an airline has seen N14.7b budgeted in three years including that largely critiqued logo contract which was awarded to a Bahraini company, From 6 Communications, despite the abundance of similar service providers in the country for an alleged $600,000 (N183 million) in 2018.
When all these terrible things happen, our powerful elite look at the homeless and hungry in the countryside and cities with revulsion. They would prefer to be shielded from that sight by high walls and armed guards. Basic human feeling – which saturates Achebe’s poem – is suffocated with great effort. It chokes, and we forget that the homeless and the hungry are our fellows, at one time held in the arms of their parents with tenderness, loved in the way we need to learn to love one another, something will give way if we continue like that—Only time will tell.