Matters arising on collapsed buildings
Without a doubt, the collapse of a seven-storey building on Victoria Island, Lagos and another three-storey building at the Beirut GSM market in the Kano metropolis, have added to the avoidable waste of human lives and property, besides increasing the agony of Nigerians affected directly and otherwise. But beyond lamentation, it is important to key into emerging facts on the incidents, in order to find a lasting solution to the collapse of buildings.
One is the resignation of the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Idris Okanla Salako, which is being seen as worthy precedence necessary to encourage public servants in charge of the safety of buildings to perform their job diligently or lose it.
The second significant development, of stubborn developers or building owners who circumvent regulations and insist on going ahead with unapproved construction, is not exactly new; but it is being entrenched as a major cause of building tragedy. Government and regulatory agencies must further interrogate these developments to minimise incidents of building collapse.
While six persons had their lives terminated at the Palace Estate, Oba Abiodun Oniru Road in the Iru/Victoria Island, Lagos incident, at least two persons died and several more were injured in the Kano incident, further jolting Nigerians who for a long time have been confronted with many incidents of building collapse, particularly in Lagos. The two buildings were under construction. It is sad that such tragedies keep occurring in a manner suggesting that no lessons have been learnt. Too regularly, lives are lost and properties worth billions of naira are destroyed.
The Lagos catastrophe could have been averted or reduced if the authorities had strictly adhered to laid down rules and regulations for the building industry, notwithstanding the fact that the building owner reportedly proved uncooperative and even used his personal security personnel to chase away government officials seeking compliance with regulations. While his action is not acceptable, even violated the law, no one should be above the law or be portrayed as more powerful than the government.
If government agencies performed their job with due diligence and the care required, the developer would have had no choice but to comply. That might have saved the country the pathetic loss of innocent lives, huge investments, as well as national embarrassment. The collapsed building reportedly fell on another building implying that there was no adequate space in between thereby compounding the problem.
Before he resigned, Salako had blamed the developer for the disaster and ordered his arrest with the other professionals. His resignation should send a signal to all public officials that excuses are not tenable for failure to perform their job, and the least expected of them is to leave as a mark of taking responsibility and allow competent people to do the job.
Salako’s decision to resign is exemplary. Lamenting, he had said: “We have a developer, who is hostile and who contravenes the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning law, 2019, as amended. He did not get the necessary planning permit that will allow him to do that; he did not have the prerequisite authorisation to commence construction on the site.
“Severally, LABSCA officials have visited the site and the attitude of the contractor has been that of hostility; he has been using his personal security to stop them from carrying out their lawful duty…We have sealed the site three times and he kept breaking the seal.”
The home truth is that the developer cannot be bigger than the state and its law, no matter how wealthy or influential he may be. The law should be no respecter of persons, and until that basic principle is fully imbibed by both the building public and government officials, the country will not be rid of building tragedies.
Why should a developer be a law unto himself, with his own security outfit to prevent the government from doing its work? Why was he not taken to court for justice to take its course. Were the officials compromised or simply too timid to carry out their duty?
The incident signposts that the official attitude towards building regulations is still largely carefree, riddled with sharp practices on the part of the regulators, which have given room for developers to cut corners with resultant frequent building collapse disasters wrecking the society.
In this instance, the burden of checkmating recurrent collapse of structures is on the Lagos State Government, which should enforce its building regulations. Any compromise is fraught with disaster as the current calamity has shown.
Though the state commissioner promptly resigned, the matter goes beyond that and should not be handled in a typical Nigerian fire brigade manner, which has been employed in previous buildings disasters without preventing recurrence.
The resignation is medicine after death; as the crux of the matter, which is in enforcing building regulations, remains untouched. While Salako’s resignation is significant, it will be more expedient for the government to ensure that ugly incidents of this nature are permanently avoided.
The latest disaster has added to the long string of ugly building collapse incidents that now define Nigeria, particularly Lagos. A news report indicates that about 84 persons have lost their lives in 18 building collapses in Lagos State in the last two years alone, with three recorded in 2020, six in 2021, and nine so far this year. The rampant collapses are a reflection of impunity, greed, the arrogance of power and sheer lawlessness manifested and condoned by the authorities.
For instance, in 2016, a list of 40 buildings identified as distressed and or abandoned in different parts of Lagos was published for demolition. To date, most of those buildings are still standing precariously as if waiting for disaster to occur. The state government has not been able to muster the needed political will to pull down the buildings in order to prevent unnecessary loss of lives. What is at play is the failure of governance.
It is saddening that every now and then, the country is confronted with the recurring issue of building collapse. The time has come for the Lagos State Government and indeed all governments nationwide to rise up to the challenge and find a lasting solution to a monster that is wreaking havoc on the people. The authorities cannot run a modern Lagos mega-city in a manner devoid of diligence.
Both the Lagos and Kano state governments should investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the buildings, which should form the basis for action. The states should weigh their actions and ensure that they are rational, scientific and sustainable. A well-thought-out systematic approach is what is needed to stem the tide of building collapses.