One collapsed building too many
The collapse of the Reigners Bible Church building in Uyo that killed scores of worshippers and injured many more is one too many of such incident in recent times. But, as if it was not enough, nine days after, market stalls collapsed and reportedly killed two and injured about 17 others in the same state. The collapse of buildings is not limited to Akwa Ibom State. Indeed it has become a recurrent embarrassment all over the federation but especially in urban areas. In Kano this August, five persons reportedly escaped death when a three-storey building under construction in Kano State University of Technology gave way; in Abuja, a structure under construction for a private company collapsed, trapping some workers under the rubbles. And in Lagos, structures large and small so often collapse, the most remembered in recent times being a guest house owned by The Synagogue Church of All Nations that killed over 100 persons, most of whom were foreigners. The incident nearly provoked a diplomatic row between South Africa and Nigeria.
Besides those that are triggered by natural disasters of which Nigeria has very few incidents thereof, repeated events of collapsed building indicate glaringly the shoddiness of work done by just about everyone concerned with construction. It is evidence of non-adherence to the rules and standards of construction. At the first level of liability in varying degrees therefore, the developer, the contractor, the consultants in relevant professions must be held to account. Did the developer hire and was he prepared to pay for a sufficiently competent and experienced contractor for a work of the magnitude? Did the contractor hire competent and experienced soil, structural, electrical, mechanical and other relevant engineers? It is not unusual that some clients are ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ when confronted with the cost of, in some cases, their ego-driven, projects. It is axiomatic, however, that you pay for a short-cut in the long- run. But the burden upon true professionals is to insist on adherence to high standards, for the sake of their own reputation, as well as the safety of future users of the building.
On the second level of liability, government building inspectors are supposed to identify, inspect, and monitor the construction of buildings in their respective areas of jurisdiction. Ministries and departments of works at various tiers of government have professionals who are supposed to ensure that developers of buildings -large and small – adhere to rules and regulations, including the quantity and quality of construction materials.
It is difficult not to conclude, generally, that many persons are simply derelict in their respective duties for reasons that range from penny-pinching through greed to unprofessional compromise. The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) has observed that there is sufficient reason to believe that the trusses used for the roof of the Uyo church building were inadequate to support such span, and their anchorages to the columns and beams were also inadequate.
Egotism is sometimes the cause of hastily constructed buildings. It is not uncommon in this environment for clients to insist that contractors hurriedly put up a building to be ready for a birthday or a wedding anniversary. But, of course, all these are symptoms of a dysfunctional system where rules are observed in the breach and nearly everyone has his price, where the personal good overrides the public good.
The government of Akwa Ibom has promised to institute an inquiry into the cause of the collapse of Reigners Bible Church building. Very well. But this should be done with thoroughness and dispatch. The major reason these sad incidents recur is that hardly are culprits punished to deter others. The case of The Synagogue Church has dragged on for more than two years, professional bodies do not go tough enough on their members found wanting in the discharge of professional duties. COREN’s proposed committee to, in the words of its president Kashim Ali, ‘identify the consultants, designers, builders, and contractors that are involved in the project…’ is a helpful contribution in the state government’s inquiry. Other professional and or regulatory bodies should act similarly.
The Akwa Ibom State government commission of inquiry should also set new high standards by ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done in this matter regardless of whose ox is gored. It will serve to deter criminal negligence on the one hand, and save lives on the other.