Onitsha Building collapse: shocks as Govt approved plan,  other requirements tendered as State panel begins sitting

…biased members refuse to quit

The adhoc panel set up by the Anambra State Governor, Chukwuma Soludo in the wake of the collapse of a gigantic 5-storey Centenary Building at the premises of the very popular Dennis Memorial Grammar School, in Onitsha has commenced sitting amidst more surprises.

The controversial panel kicked off in the face of intense protestations by the Anglican Diocese on the Niger, owners of the unfortunate project for Prof Soludo to drop or change two panelists including the chairman, Engr Victor Meju

Menu and Prof Akaolisa Ezeagu were accused of making scathing unprecedented unverified and unprofessional remarks concerning why the building crashed. The unfortunate remarks, the Church claimed had portrayed the two officers as already biased even when the cause/s for the collapse of the building was yet to be investigated or subjected under scrutiny. 

It was therefore shocking that Soludo maintained an unyielding stance by retaining them and even made one of them chairman of the panel.

More shocking to the public was the tendering of copy of the approved building plan ref ANSPPB/BP/123/2022.

Tendering the plan to the panel yesterday at the commencement of sitting, the panel was told by a member Church team, that “a detailed technical assessment with a clear plan will be required to determine the cause of the collapse .”

The panel was also told that the wide and inaccurate conjectures, baseless insinuations and premature conclusions no matter the attributions do not explain the cause of the collapse.

The controversial chairman of yhe panel, Engr Meju, is also the Chairman of the Anambra State Chapter of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).

The Church had made strong protest against his appointment and that of one other member of the panel for their inclusion in the assignment on the heels of their alleged prejudiced comments on the ill-fated building.

The protest not withstanding, the State Government retained him as one of the panelists and in fact its Chairman.

It commenced sitting at Awka, the state capital, on Tuesday, June 25,2024.

During the proceeding, four persons involved in the construction of the building testified before the panel.

The first was the Consultant Structural Engineer, Engr Dr Chris Oyeka, (BEng, MEng, PhD), a widely acknowledged professional of many years standing in the building industry as one of the foremost structural engineers in Nigeria. He has held academic positions at both the University of Benin and Igbinedion University and currently holding an expansive portfolio of consultancy projects.

He tendered his curriculum vitae for the confirmation of his professional bona fides and his status as a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and a COREN registered engineer in current and good standing.

While testifying on the approval documents, Dr Oyeka confirmed that he was a member of the DMGS Centenary team that submitted the approval application at the Anambra State Physical Planning Board (ANSPPB).

He had, also while explaining the comment that the approval document was labelled “provisional approval”, unequivocally stated that, that had been a longstanding and verifiable custom and practice of the planning approval bodies, and consequently invited the panel to contact the Anambra State Physical Planning Board (ANSPPB) on the issue.

Oyeka also used the opportunity to professionally explain issues raised by the panel on Expansion Joint and Base Size of the Columns.

On questions concerning the supervision of the construction, he confirmed that he usually visited the site twice a week and in the course, carried out regular inspections with Engr Nweke whose professional competence he said he respected.

However, concerning the thorny issue of the actual cause of the collapse, Dr Oyeka informed the panel that he was, himself,  professionally inquisitive to know as what happened was an aberration.

He told the panel that a detailed, difficult, technical assessment with a clear plan would be required to determine the cause of the collapse.

On his own, the Contractor, Engr Chinedu Ibeabuchi, the Director of Optimum Works Ltd, the second person questioned, explained to the panel that he was both a registered engineer with COREN and a registered builder.

He also testified that he had worked professionally and effectively with the technical team and had always cross checked details with Engr Nweke, the supervising engineer, saying that he had always implemented with scrupulous diligence the engineering and architectural drawings.

The third person to address the panel was Engr Davidson Nweke (BEng), a former Chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Onitsha Chapter and a retired seasoned engineer who had worked for the Anambra State Government.

Though he provided detailed professional answers to all the technical questions put to him by the panel, he confirmed he had not yet renewed his COREN registration.

The fourth and the last person questioned by the panel during the maiden sitting was Arc Chidubem Olisa (BSc, MSc), the Project Architect.

He explained his drawings and on the issue of the placement of columns, he said that the architect positioned the columns and the structural engineer had the authority on the size of the columns.

The Chairman of the panel, Meju, had while adjourning the proceeding for the day, thanked all for coming and told the technical team that they would be re-invited if needed.

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