Farook Rasheed, a parent whose children attended the school which collapsed and killed many people in Lagos, has yet to come to terms with the reality on ground. It has been difficult for him to accept the fact that his first child and close friend, Taofiqat, is gone forever. Two weeks ago when they last saw each other, there was no reason to fear that it could be their last moments together.
A transport union member in the Badagry area of Lagos, Rasheed comes home once every fortnight to check on 11-year-old Taofiqat and her two siblings; Shukurat, seven and Lasba, four. But last Wednesday, that schedule was disrupted as he was forced to rush down to Ita Faaji after receiving news that the kids were trapped in the rubble of the collapsed building.
“I don’t know how I jumped from a bench I leaned my back on at our park upon receiving the sad news from my sister whom the children live with,” the heartbroken father told Saturday PUNCH.
The last time Rasheed saw his children, Taofiqat, a Primary Six pupil, had promised to make him proud by doing well in her oncoming Common Entrance examination. To further motivate her to do well in the examination, the man promised to lavish her with gifts if she kept her side of the bargain. They were both looking forward to that glorious moment when the tragedy crushed the little girl’s dream.
“When I got home that day, instead of finding my child, I was taken to a mortuary in Yaba where my daughter’s corpse was shown to me,” he said painfully. “I felt like collapsing on the ground,” he added quickly.
“Taofiqat and I were always together whenever I came home from Badagry. She knew how to persuade me to buy things for she and her siblings even when I didn’t have enough money to do so.
“Her death is a big loss to me and her siblings. She was a shining light that I had hoped would become something great in life. Now, death has taken her away from us, bringing darkness into our lives,” he lamented.
The grieving father told Saturday PUNCH that Shukrat and Lasba suffered injuries to the legs and head respectively and were currently receiving treatment at the hospital.
At the home of Mr and Mrs Sowetan, whose 10-year-old son named Malik, was among the dead, the grief of the family can be felt even from the narrow staircase leading to their flat. Once a happy home, Wednesday’s incident has entrenched an atmosphere of agony in their home, leaving gloom on the face of everyone around the place. A Primary Six pupil, Malik, was said to have died on his birthday, leaving his distraught mother, Adijat, inconsolable.
“My son was supposed to take a six-yard fabric to school that morning as his birthday gift to his class teacher but left it at home.
“Later on the day, he came back home to pick it up but after about 20 minutes, we heard that the school building had collapsed.
“My son is gone,” the distraught mother said tearfully while speaking with one of our correspondents at their home a few metres from the tragedy scene.
Apart from her own son, two of her relatives’ children, Fawaz and Taiye, both six years old, also lost their lives in the incident.
A businessman, Abideen Olawusi, is another parent, who is nursing the shock and pains that trailed the unfortunate incident. He had prepared his two daughters – Roqibat, seven and Qowiyat, three – for school that morning, buying biscuits for them to shore up the meal they were taking to class. About two hours later, the man, who lives on Ajisomo Street, a popular part of the neighbourhood, was jolted by the sad news that the school building had collapsed on his two kids and many others.
“I ran from home to the school like a mad man, everybody was looking at me,” he recalled. “It was Roqibat they rescued first; her legs were injured.
“After some minutes, Qowiyat was brought out but she could not move her hands and legs again. She was confirmed dead at the hospital. Words cannot quantify our loss,” he added.
For Alhaji Wasiu Togunde, it will take a long time before the wounds of Wednesday’s tragedy can fully heal. That morning, his 10-year-old daughter was buried alive with other pupils under the ruins of the collapsed building. By the time rescue workers got to her at about 2pm, it was already too late. She had died after suffering in the debris for hours.
“I got the news of the incident at about 10am and immediately rushed to the scene. Around 2pm, my daughter was brought out from under the collapsed building. She had died at the time. There was nothing I could do.
“I watched helplessly as her lifeless body was taken into an ambulance. I never expected this type of thing to happen to us. It is a very painful experience for us,” he said.
Funmilayo Hazoume, whose sister’s two children were also in the building when it collapsed, told Saturday PUNCH that the death of one of them has since thrown the entire family into mourning.
“One of the children died immediately while the other was taken to the hospital,” she said. “Instead of treating the surviving child, the doctors at General Hospital in Lagos Island asked us to bring N150,000 before anything could be done on her.
“Even though government had said that victims should be treated free of charge, people at the hospital are still demanding money from us. They have succeeded in adding salt to our injury,” she stated.
Another victim of the tragedy, Kazeem Lawal, was said to have returned home from a night duty at his workplace and was having some rest after taking drugs to cure a headache, when the building suddenly collapsed.
“He also lost his life,” a neighbour, who identified himself simply as Gafar, told Saturday PUNCH.