Of Nyayo House and lifts that can’t stop falling

By Alex Kiprotich

Imagine you are on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building, the lift jams and it starts hurtling down. This happened in Dubai on Wednesday, last week.

Well, you don’t have to be in Dubai to experience this. With time ticking away, the queue at the Nyayo House gets longer as people file into various Government offices in the building.

At the ground floor, people wait patiently in the now frustrating queues as they glue their eyes on the lifts that serve the 26 floors.

A creaky sound of a lift coming down very fast brightens the faces of the impatient lot.

But as soon as the door of the lift opens, frightened people with sweat trickling down their faces come out cursing and thanking God.

Despite the frustration of the long wait, no one wants to take the lift. Those who were queuing head to the stairs while those with frail legs abandon their pursuit altogether.

"The lift failed to open on ninth floor then climbed down very fast," a shocked Mr Omari Hussein says.

Hussein, who was going to the Ministry of Immigration’s 18th floor, says it is by sheer luck that the fall was not fatal.

"This is terrible and it is not the first time these lifts are coming down with people inside and no one seems to bother," added Ms Jedida Karuna, who works in the building.

Karuna says it is a daily scare in the building and just two days ago, she was stuck in the lift for almost 10 minutes before the doors finally opened.

"It is an every day occurrence. It is only by the grace of God that no fatal fall has occurred yet," she says, taking the stairs to the 22nd floor.

She adds: "It is rare to have an uninterrupted journey. Workers have resorted to using the stairs."

Mr Joseph Kimeu claims the lifts have a technical problem.

"These lifts are unpredictable. When everything is okay and the lift moves smoothly towards your destination, you never know at what point it would come tumbling down," he said.

Kimeu says spending five minutes in the lift, which is usually crammed with people and lacks air conditioners, is like eternity.

People stuck in the lifts cannot even get help from the National Disaster operations office on the third floor of the building.

"You cannot even get help of the disaster team as they have been victims too," adds Kimeu.

And when the lifts work, users have to guess whether they have reached their destination as most of the neon signs that indicate the landing are not working.

It is common to find those visiting Government offices wandering on the corridors after alighting on the wrong floor.

"You would not know the floor you are on unless you stepped out and asked for direction," says Ms Esther Atieno.

Atieno, who was going to Immigration offices on 18th floor, had to alight on the 24th floor then walk down.

"At times you get angry but whom do you direct your anger to?" she posed.

With lifts causing nightmares, it seems the incidences complement the House’s very sinister history.

It housed the Nyayo torture chambers where Kenyans who refused to toe the Government line were tortured into confession in the 1980s.

Built in the 1980s, the high-rise building houses Government offices.

The ministries of Energy, Immigration, Trade and Planning are housed here.

However, VIPs, as usual, are spared the agony of the creaky, squeaky lifts by having their own separate from those looking for Government services. Most people are forced to take the torturous stairs.

"I no longer use the lifts. I walk up to the 24th floor where my workstation is," said an official from the National Environment Management Authority.

He said getting to the office is tiring but better than risking his life with the lifts.

Those who cannot take the stairs, especially old people, are most inconvenienced. Many have ended their trip on the ground floor.

Even at the most unlikely place – the Office of the President – the only lifts that work properly are those meant for VIPs. Those serving ordinary Kenyans are as creaky and squeaky as the Nyayo House shuttles.

At Ardhi House, where this writer took a lift, the passengers were scared and panicky. After what seemed an eternity, the lift groaned on to the first floor, and first time users panicked, and their tummies rumbled.

"Thank God, I have reached my destination," sighed Mr Henry Boswony as he disappeared into the winding corridors.