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On building materials

By Editorial Board
31 July 2016   |   4:17 am
The plan announced by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology, to have Nigeria do away with mud houses in a not-too-distant future invites serious reflection and interrogation.


The plan announced by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology, to have Nigeria do away with mud houses in a not-too-distant future invites serious reflection and interrogation. He announced a draft action plan for phasing out mud houses, according to him, as a result of research to be carried out to bring about cheaper building materials, for affordable housing and living conditions. The Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) was given the task to come up with findings that will benefit the people and enhance employment opportunities. This is good. But pronouncements are not sufficient. They should be backed up by a concrete and sustained action plan.

The NBRRI was part of the West Africa Building and Road Research Institute, jointly established in 1952 by building professionals in Ghana and Nigeria. When Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the Nigerian members pulled out while their Ghanaian counterparts formed the Building and Road Research Institute linked with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science. In 1978 the NBRRI became a Department in the Ministry of Works and Housing

Over the years, the NBRRI has conducted research into materials for constructing roads and houses. Under President Shehu Shagari, the institute acquired a site and built its headquarters on the Ota-Idiroko Federal Highway. The need to be close to the seat of power necessitated relocation to Abuja, and the establishment of Zonal Offices in each geo-political Zone. The sprawling complex in Ota was then designated National Laboratory and Production Complex.

The institute has also done much work on the use of cement for road construction in Nigeria. This is essential as it is known that the world reserves of heavy crude (which yields the bitumen base for asphalt) is dwindling. Limestone is abundant in Nigeria and the cement manufacturers have recently come out to promote road the use of cement for road construction.

Governance is a continuum; demanding due recognition for achievements from preceding administrations. This is a culture Nigerians are yet to cultivate in place of the penchant for policy somersaults. Could this therefore explain why the minister did not request the catalogue of achievements by the institute since inception? In 2011, the Federal Government announced its decision to empower the institute to set up a Material Testing laboratory in Abuja; as an educational resource centre for tertiary institutions and the constructing industry.

In March that year, the institute announced its successful development of new technology for moulding bricks by a mixture of cement and fine-grained laterite which is abundant all over the country. The outcome has been poached by others outside Nigeria and developed into commercial quantity advertised on global media. The moulds are now sold back to users in Nigeria.

Nigeria has much to learn from Ghana, even in this area. The institute in Ghana progressed and linked with academia, while Nigeria’s was brought under the government. The erstwhile Ministry of Works and Housing has had its functions split into separate ministries and agencies. This dictates the need for synergy and inter-ministerial consultation. Housing has now been placed in an unwieldy behemoth consisting roads, federal surveys and power. Over the years, the housing policy of successive federal administrations has revealed the clear need for true federalism. A central government cannot dictate to the federating states with their varying housing needs in both urban and rural areas. This wobbly and unreasonable arrangement is why there are estates developed by the federal government in states and which are now covered by bush and inhabited by rodents.

There is an urgent need for the transformation of Nigeria’s urban areas. In the nation’s urban areas, such is the housing shortage that it is common for a family of five to seven sleeping in each room of a twelve-room room house without water but with only one bathroom, one toilet and one kitchen.

These are the problems that require a bold programme of action, utilizing professionals in the relevant areas, of urban planning, architecture, engineering and utilities. Nigerians have achieved great success in other climes. It is high time the government created the enabling environment for utilizing available skills to achieve decent living in this great country.