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Panacea to perennial building collapses in Lagos Islands

By Christian Okwori
24 April 2023   |   3:01 am
Since the tragic 1974 Mokola building collapse incidence In Ibadan that claimed 30 lives, there have been about 550 building collapses in Nigeria in upward trends to date with over a thousand lives lost of which Lagos alone, having just 10% of Nigeria’s population, accounts for about 61% of cases with Lagos Island suburbs including Lekki, Victoria, Eko, and Ikoyi recording about 75% of cases in the state.


Since the tragic 1974 Mokola building collapse incidence In Ibadan that claimed 30 lives, there have been about 550 building collapses in Nigeria in upward trends to date with over a thousand lives lost of which Lagos alone, having just 10% of Nigeria’s population, accounts for about 61% of cases with Lagos Island suburbs including Lekki, Victoria, Eko, and Ikoyi recording about 75% of cases in the state.

These figures do not include several cases that did not make it to the press or enter official records, especially before the advent of smartphones in the country and sites where the contractors and project owners were able to quickly bury their mistakes or kill the news before it made it to the mainstream media else the actual figures would have been around 15% and 60% higher than quoted according to expert consensus,

A saving grace in the consequences of building collapse is the fact that the majority of incidence in the last 20 years tend to occur during construction or near commissioning knowing that over 81% of these failed structures were built for residential purposes else the casualty figures would have been more heart-wrenching.

Very disturbing and annoying to most concerned experts and interested persons is the tendency for relevant government ministries, departments, and agencies at various levels as well as professional bodies in the built sector to spiritedly set up investigative panels, various manner of committees, workshops, seminars, and symposia after every incidence of building collapse only for everything and all the enthusiasm ending with the fading of the news from the public opinion space within a few weeks rendering all the brilliant ideas generated from such engagements as nothing but useless print and dumps in shelves and archives till the next breaking news of building collapse only to suddenly jump up again and repeat the vicious cycle pandering to the press and probably delighting in the media exposures.

As I mentioned at the last stakeholders meeting organized by the Lagos State Government at Protea Hotel in Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, this incident is certainly not the last, and such occurrence will continue to be a recurrent decimal unless enough political will is summoned and obvious necessary actions taken because the fact remains that every experienced engineer in the construction sector knows the solution to this issue and someone is always aware before a building collapse occurs.

According to George Santayana, “Those who fail to remember history are condemned to repeat it”. It begins by simply telling ourselves the truth and pointing at the underlying issues driving this failure.

On the surface, the key causes of structural failures from investigation reports by The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Victoria Island Branch as well as sister bodies like the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers (NICE), and of course the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) are the use of quacks or disregard for professional advice, sub-standard materials, wrong material mixture ratio and choice for design and rationing, lack of compliance by contractors to professional standards and regulatory procedures, cutting corners to reduce construction costs, especially in the face of wide price variations during projects, wrong construction methods, wrong building use, inadequate expert supervision, disregard for geotechnical peculiarities, and environmental problems like erosion, vibration, neighboring building collapses among other things.

Looking deeply, the culture of impunity in Nigeria especially concerning the affluent and influential is the big devil no government in the country has so far been able to grow enough ball to confront given that most of these properties especially multi-story buildings are owned by billionaire investors and property developers or their fronts who are definitely connected to the powers that be in high places from Round House to Aso Rock and virtually all the elite security agencies in the country with most of these big shots even guarded by the police as escorts hence they are considered untouchable and no regulatory agent or independent professional dare try to touch them without a regrettable consequence.

The inertia of getting away with and getting used to doing wrong without consequence in the past is a silent fundamental issue driving deadly sharp practices in the construction industry. Contrary to popular thinking, not all wrong-built structures will collapse either during construction or shortly after. Many wrongly built houses are still standing even after 20 years until the day of reckoning.

It is not uncommon for fresh young engineering graduates supervising projects to be ignored or chided by experienced foremen and masons during construction works when the former try to correct them or keep them on track with standards practices by saying “We have been doing it like this for many years and no house has fallen while you are yet to learn practical and only knows theory”. This is further corroborated by a BCPG report that about 40,000 structures in Nigeria are waiting to collapse.

Why is the Lagos Island area suffering the worse in building collapse cases? There are several reasons. First, the soil conditions, physical developments, low water table, and general drainage system make Lagos Island less tolerant of most of the bad construction practices that are marginally gotten away with in the main lands and harder tablelands like in most Nigerian states.

Secondly, due to the pressure in market housing demand occasioned by the rising cost of rents,  the fast pace of development occasioned by 22 million housing deficits in Nigeria makes many property developers and landlords desperate to put structures in place that are as cheap as possible and hence cannot afford proper professionals or the right material mixes and qualities. Matter – of – factly, if due standards were to be followed for housing development in Nigeria, less than 30% of structures will be standing. This creates a difficult scenario between bridging the huge housing deficit in the country and addressing construction standards with cost implications in mind.

As a panacea, perennial building collapses in Lagos can only be addressed from three angles of which the first is for the Lagos State Government to squarely punish the big violators in highbrow areas where these collapses have happened including naming and shaming both the owners and their fronts no matter how highly placed or connected. Until justice is seen to be done without any secret cow, no amount of regulatory policies, enforcement moves, stakeholder meetings, workshops, or seminars will yield desired results.

Secondly, like the case of market fires, the people benefiting from building collapses both within and outside the government circle need to be verified and vetted. Yes! Some people are definitely benefiting from building collapses from those who are handed the lands taken over by the government whenever collapse happens to the contractors that are hired to demolish the structures and those who scavenge the demolished materials such as reinforcement rods and concretes etc. which are themselves very expensive.

While no one is accusing these people and other beneficiaries of causing collapses, it is important to ascertain their alibi, especially with respect to the lethargy of concerned government agencies towards due diligence in carrying out regulatory duties and the lack of punishment for officials at various levels under whose purview the incidences occur.

Finally, and very importantly, the government needs to engage professional bodies like the Nigerian Society of Engineers given their local Branch presence in every suburb with registered members practically in every construction company and street.

These engineering bodies can be accorded the power of agency to routinely send a team of specialists to survey their catchment areas and report wrong practices or given the right to visit sites and check the profile and compliance level of key personnel of construction works within their locality and report periodically to relevant  Lagos State Government Agency for proper action.  This makes it much easier as these engineering bodies have members in government services that do regularly collaborate.

The solution is not complicated and does not exceed the above-prescribed measures if objectivity is followed and the culture of impunity is finally put to rest with a strong political will without which the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Engr.Okwori is the vice chairman of The Nigerian Society of Engineers, Victoria Island Branch.
And Former General Manager of Energy and  Infrastructure Investment at CRCCII Africa and the Middle East.
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