Way out of building collapse challenge
‘‘Engineering geologists are not usually involved in the building foundation studies and estate development beyond simple soil tests. Yet many of the buildings are located on the poor, faulty ground; those with expansive soils, sulphate soils, collapsing soils and weak rocks.’’ -Prof. Siyan Malomo (then Director-General, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency).
The poignant and thought-provoking statement, posted above was made when the respected civil engineer was the guest lecturer at the Maiden Edition of the annual lecture series of the College of Engineering, Bells University of Technology, Ota on May 2, 2012. It is, therefore, painful to note that years after the warnings were given about the menace of building collapse, they are yet to be heeded by policymakers and even some professionals.
Beyond the blame game, what is critical has to do more with the value we place on human life and the full protection thereof. And it is all because life is precious, priceless and irreplaceable. We must, therefore, do everything possible by taking proactive and pragmatic actions to reduce its wanton waste by the agents of greed.
The recurring ugly decimal of building collapse was brought to the public sphere again on the black Monday of November 1, 2021, at about 3 p.m. with the collapse of the 21-storey building at Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos State. Ever since, it has been tales of sorrows, tears and blood.
Perhaps, the lost souls would all have been still alive but for the stiff deafness to heed the voice of reason by the construction firm, Prowess Engineering Limited. It had allegedly warned the owner of the facility, Fourscore Heights Limited of the dangers ahead. That was in February 2020.
Of critical importance here are the lasting lessons we all should learn from the clearly avoidable tragedy, the best strategies to be adopted to reduce the recurrence of such mishaps since issues such as this have happened before. According to Prof. Malomo, the scourge of the collapse of buildings and bridges in the country could have been long prevented if geologists in the universities, who are actively involved in soil research are called upon before such projects were embarked upon.
Quoting reports carried out by NGSA for over a decade – between June 16, 1990, and January 29, 2012 – about 500 avoidable deaths were recorded while over 1,000 victims sustained injuries of various degrees within the period under review. Between then and now, a series of similar mishaps have claimed more lives with many more sustaining serious injuries at different places across the country. This simply means that we have said more than we have done towards stemming the tide of the menace of building collapse.
Some other factors responsible for it are poor construction practice and choice of building materials, including the quality of cement, iron rods and laterite. But it does not take rocket science for one to understand that soil texture plays a significant role in all of this. For instance, Lagos being an aquatic environment with sandy soil would definitely require more solid building materials than for similar structures in the rocky hinterland. We must learn from history.
What is of utmost importance is for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to ensure, as he has promised the families of the victims, that the full wrath of the law would be brought on anyone found to have compromised. This will certainly serve as deterrence to others with a similar inclination to bend the rules for material gains.
Ayo Oyoze Baje.