Nigeria’s loss to defective building code

The attention of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing has been drawn to a front page publication of The Guardian newspaper on 3rd September 2019 with the above headline.
PHOTO: Architecture Lab
PHOTO: Architecture Lab

The attention of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing has been drawn to a front page publication of The Guardian newspaper on 3rd September 2019 with the above headline. In view of the obvious misleading import of the headline and parts of the report, it has become necessary to set the records straight for the purposes of public enlightenment. The Ministry appreciates your esteemed newspaper for the interest in the Housing Sector which is one of the critical sectors to the economic growth agenda of the present Administration. However, in order to collaborate with the Ministry in finding a lasting solution to this problem of incessant building collapse, it is necessary to put the issues in the right perspective. In view of this, I wish to say that the headline of the publication was misleading in two respects.

(i) It creates the wrong impression that Nigeria has a defective building code. The National Building Code, launched in 2006, prescribes minimum standards to be adhered to by would-be developers, modalities for its implementation by Development Control Units in every State and sanctions for violation. As a dynamic document open to periodic review based on exigencies of experiences and the peculiarities of the built environment, it was last reviewed in 2017.
It cannot be said to be defective even if violations of the prescribed requirements therein by non-compliant developers may have led to some collapse of buildings.

(ii) It creates an impression that loss of lives and properties to the tune of N1tr are directly the result of a defective building code. The truth is that even before the Nigerian Building Code was launched, large and small buildings have been successfully developed that are still standing today, because there were building regulations as well as technical and professional guidelines used by competent developers to carry out their building operations.  It is worthy to mention that, some of the indicative reports from incidents of collapsed Buildings point to quackery and non-compliance of building regulations as well as the use of substandard materials and unqualified personnel which are matters of enforcement for the professional Bodies concerned and law enforcement departments at State and Federal levels.
For the avoidance of doubt, the main objective of the National Building Code is to set minimum standards for designs, construction, occupation, maintenance and demolition of buildings with a view to ensuring quality, safety and proficiency in the built industry.  One of the fundamental requirements enshrined in the Building Code under the “Control of Building Works” section is that no building activity should be carried out without duly approved drawings which must have been prepared by registered building industry professionals. Another is that all building operations should be carried out under the supervision and management of relevant registered building professionals supervising the execution of the works in line with their respective inputs.

Flagrant abuse of the building process and non-adherence to the stipulations of the Code are, therefore, responsible for the ugly incidents of building collapse and not a defective code as The Guardian report tends to portray. The newspaper report suggests that the Code lacks the legal instrument needed to prosecute cases of violation but it failed to highlight the provisions for violations and sanctions in Section 13.3 which, among other things, state that:
“Any act that is performed, caused or permitted by any person, firm or corporation that is in conflict with, or not in compliance with any of the provisions of this Code shall be a violation. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to erect, construct, alter, extend, repair, remove, demolish, use or occupy any building or structure violating the provisions of this Code; Any person who shall violate a provision of this Code or shall fail to comply with any of the requirements thereof or who shall erect, construct, alter or repair a building or structure in violation of an approved plan or directive of the Code Enforcement Division/Section/Unit, or of a permit or certificate issued under the provisions of this Code, shall be guilty of an offence punishable under the existing law.” (National Building Code, 2006)

The Relevant Laws for sanctioning non-compliance are mostly State Laws enacted to control building development and urban planning which is a matter within the legislative competence of State Governments as decided by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The Building Code is not a law but a prescriptive set of requirements and minimum standards and it is up to the States to adopt or domesticate the provisions and prescribe the sanctions for violation under their own legal system. It is in order for the Guardian Newspaper or any other Organisation to conduct and publish research findings on how many buildings have failed and how much has been lost in terms of life and property in order to underscore the value of adherence to the building code. In doing so, we must however avoid the sensationalism of attributing these losses to a defective code. That is far from the truth and this impression must be corrected. Reporting that the Code is enmeshed in controversies and uncertainties is also far from the truth.

One fact which the publication reported right, however, is the perspective that many States have failed to recognise, adopt or domesticate the National Building Code in their development control operations, whereas they were part of the pre-2006 development and launch of the code.

Another fact is that many states are overwhelmed by the task of monitoring and controlling building works within their respective jurisdictions and have not yet optimized the possibility and opportunities inherent in collaborating with private building professionals to undertake this herculean task on their behalf, as is the case in other advanced climes. This is the kind of advocacy that The Guardian or any other concerned news media can patriotically undertake as a solution to the problem.

Although building development control is independently under the control of State Governments, being on the Concurrent Legislative List in the Nigerian Constitution, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing is the de facto headquarters of the National Building Code and supervises the role of the Building Code Advisory Committee set up for the periodic review of the Code. Facts concerning the National Building Code can, therefore, be cross-checked with this Ministry before inaccurate publications are made. The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing wishes to enjoin all States of the Federation to fully domesticate the National Building Code, ensure full enforcement and compliance with sanctions for its violation adequately spelt out, emphasised and implemented within their respective legal and judicial systems.

Similarly, we call on the media to help create awareness on the need for prospective building owners to engage the services of professionals and ensure all the necessary approvals from the relevant agencies in the States are sought for and obtained before embarking on construction.

Bukar, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.

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