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Building collapse symbolises governance failure

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Recent data compiled by the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), an advocacy group, which revealed that Nigeria had 43 building collapses in 2019 should not be ignored at this time. The study shows that there has been an increase in the number of collapsed buildings in the country and specifically, Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos, saw the highest number of incidents, with 17 cases, just under 40 per cent of the year’s total, a recurring decimal in the city. Anambra State, with six collapsed buildings is second to Lagos.
 
Although, building collapse occurs in many parts of the world, the rate at which it happens in Nigeria, particularly Lagos State demands an urgent attention, because in recent times, the collapse of buildings in the state has claimed the lives of many citizens and residents, billions of naira worth of property damaged, not discounting the unimaginable trauma each time a building collapses.
 
Some of the recently reported cases in the country’s economic capital include a storey building in the Ogudu area, which collapsed on Wednesday, June 17; a three storey building in the Lagos Island on Saturday, July 11 and a three-storey building located at Ebute Metta on Friday, July 24. These cases, which have caused avoidable deaths amidst wanton loses are just a tip of the iceberg; and they raise professional, ethical, social and moral questions.  

 
This newspaper is worried about the increasing incidence and unending cases of collapsed building leading to loss of lives and property. It is symptomatic of the absence of good governance in the lives of the citizens. This goes beyond the issue of fake building plan approvals by a cartel, which the Lagos State government recently vowed to unravel and ensure their prosecution in line with the extant laws. 

So, what is responsible for this upsurge in collapsed building?  The causes may either be due to natural disasters resulting from earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or man-made factors also known as human errors as a result of poor design and construction methods. 
 
In the case of Lagos State, it may not be unconnected with human errors and carelessness as most cases of collapsed buildings were found to be constructed with low quality building materials and by incompetent craftsmen rather than professionals. Other critical factors include poverty and the need to unwittingly economise on the building cost starting from the moulding of rickety blocks. In addition, some of the incidents have been linked to the old age of the buildings, and even with signs of imminent collapse. Owners and occupants of such buildings are sometimes forewarned, but they ignore such warnings, and trust in divine authority.  Furthermore, some buildings had poor structural design and building codes meant to guide builders have been rendered ineffective because of lack of political will to enforce the appropriate building regulations. 

Essentially, buildings collapse in Lagos, because of the flagrant disobedience to the rules and regulations guiding the building industry. This suggests that every aspect of building planning process from the architectural designs through the electrical, structural, mechanical engineering and construction. Building maintenance requires proper supervision and quality input by professionals in the building industry; because no matter how small a building is, there is a possibility of failure.

Therefore, focusing on fake building plan approvals is merely scratching the issue. Hence, while it is unacceptable that most buildings in the state were being constructed without approval, it’s important that the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development goes beyond the ‘‘surface structure’’ of fake building plan approvals to the ‘‘deeper structure’’ by taking a holistic look at illegal construction and building collapse in the state – to combat building collapse in the state. This requires preventive and reactive measures. 
 
The preventive measures should focus on creating quality control to regulate the quality of building constructed. Quality control ensures that buildings are designed by qualified professional architects and engineers.  Architects should restrict their activities to the preparation of drawings and verification visits to sites, without insisting on the supervision of building: That is not their remit. Meanwhile, the owners and contractors should fully involve certified builders and other professionals in the construction of buildings – to save lives and property, despite the perceived high cost of hiring professionals. A stitch in time saves nine. Also, soil test, Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) and structural analysis should be made mandatory and submitted with the building plans to Town Planning Authorities.
 
Furthermore, qualified town planners should always inspect and approve building plans appropriately. There should be mutual respect among professionals. So, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, (COREN), the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON) and  Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) should adhere to the Nigerian code of practice, rather than foreign based ones. The code of practice should be periodically revised in line with current developments. 

Achieving these recommendations requires the enlightenment of foremen, engineers, builders, architects and other stakeholders to avoid a misunderstanding of good intentions. Hence, regulatory professional bodies such as the Engineering Regulatory and Monitoring (ERM) unit of COREN and their corresponding associations on a regular basis should organise workshops for stakeholders in the building industry to update their knowledge and highlight the dangers and penalties associated with collapsed buildings. In addition, the government through COREN, CORBON and NSE should ensure compulsory health and safety certification of developers and builders.

Also, for reduction in the number of mortality and morbidity resulting from collapsed building, government should build more housing estates for low-income earners to reduce their jostling for poor quality houses. While on the use of quality materials for construction, government should intervene via subsidising the materials, reducing port charges and promoting the use of local materials for building. Again, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) should ensure that substandard building materials are not sold in the market and that only certified building materials are allowed in the market.

As a reactive intervention, the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) and BCPG should step up advocacy seeking the demolition of distressed structures in the state. There are some low handing fruits, in this regard, relevant government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) should monitor buildings more cautiously by doing periodic checks and making necessary recommendations for renovation, integrity tests and demolition where necessary. 

Finally, the general public should always report suspected cases of insecure and dangerous property and structure around them to prevent such disasters. All told, containing building collapse is our collective responsibility.


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