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Building sector is unregulated in standards, technologies, says Izam

By Victor Gbonegun
27 December 2021   |   1:41 am
Let me thank you for the valid observation about the increasing menace of building collapse in the country. The recent survey on building collapse undertaken by the institute revealed that every category ....

Yohana Izam

Prof. Yohana Izam is the Vice Chancellor, Plateau State University and new President, Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on how to prevent building collapse, ensure self-sufficiency in construction workforce and enhance performance of the construction sector.

Collapse of structures has become a recurring incident in major cities of Nigeria. What’s the institute’s blueprint to eradicate such disaster in the industry?
Let me thank you for the valid observation about the increasing menace of building collapse in the country. The recent survey on building collapse undertaken by the institute revealed that every category of building types are involved. We have had buildings under construction, completed building collapse, high and low-rise as well as public and private sector, residential, religious, school buildings and the likes, collapsing under very embarrassing and unacceptable circumstances.

Before we can delve into proposals for eradicating this menace, it is important to underscore the important causes of building collapse, which in my view can be broadly classified into three.

There’s collapse due to faulty designs and this include alterations to initial designs through vertical and lateral extensions to existing structures. The second categories arise from poor construction methods on site due largely to the activities of quacks, which could easily use substandard materials in addition to poor knowledge of building production. The third category belongs to the acts of God, where unanticipated loads and natural disasters can cause an existing building or one under construction to collapse.

The position of major stakeholders in the industry including builders is that the practice of building production has to be rescued from under regulation and activities of quacks.

Government needs to renew legislations and empower control agencies to ensure that all buildings under construction have approved designs, construction permits and stage certifications until final certificate of fitness for occupancy. We have also noted the pathetic situation, where the role of builders as production managers on project sites have been upturned by an all comers syndrome contrary to benchmarks set out by the National Building Code (NBC).

The NBC needs to be backed by an enforcement law to enthrone minimum standards of pre-design, design, construction and occupancy to ensure sanity in the country’s housing development sector.

There are concerns about the dearth of local artisans and importation of foreign artisans in the construction sector. How has this affected building production and what can authorities do to ensure self-sufficiency in construction workforce?
Over the past years, the dearth of local artisans in the country’s construction sector has given rise to a situation where workers from neighboring countries such as Ghana, Togo, and Senegal among others fill the skills gap. The escalation of this tendency in recent years has had great impact on the economic and social life of the nation. But the dearth of artisans must be understood in two critical dimensions. One is quantitative, while the second is loss in quality.

The second malady arises from the great mobility of Nigerian artisans across vocations and the failure of the traditional apprenticeship system to maintain currency with emerging technologies.

On the other hand, loss of interest in skills among youths, most whom prefer white collar certificates continue to escalate the skills gap with some skills dying off gradually where there were no replacements.

The solution in my view is a follow through with the existing national skills qualification framework, which holds the promise of restoring the dignity of skills through appropriate recognition and reward systems.

More youths should be provided with training opportunities to acquire employable skills as was done through the National Social Investment Programme where the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) played a prominent role as an awarding body for the building skills sector.

State government initiatives at mobilising and training artisans should also complement the Federal Government initiatives. NIOB has also in recent years gone into partnership with the Lagos State Government to train over 4,000 youths, thereafter purchase tools for them and attach them to contractors and housing corporations. This initiative known as the Lagos State Master Craftsman Project should be sustained with adequate budgetary provision.

As an expert in construction management, what is your assessment of the sector in the last five years, regarding management of projects, schedule, cost, quality, safety, scope and function? Has Nigeria really advanced in line with global best practices?
The building and construction sector is the barometer for measuring the economic health of any nation. The building infrastructure constitute over half of fixed capital formation and a significant contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) owing to its backward and forward linkages. Currently, I see a great decline in building construction activities with a number of layoffs by some construction giants. This will turn around as soon as the economy regains momentum. I have advocated diversification strategy as coping mechanisms for construction companies to weather the storms.

With respect to time and cost performance of projects, the overruns in Nigeria rank among the highest; this might result from inadequate handling of the front ends of project management where questions about project scope definition, funding and procurement strategies ought to have been duly resolved. There are still cases of project abandonment across the length and breadth of the country.

Of great concern is the infiltration of the sector by quacks. Construction is being seen as an all comer affair, particularly private developers, who might want to operate outside the recognised building regulations.

The building sector in Nigeria is probably among the most unregulated in terms of standards and technologies. The professionals should be allowed to play their respective roles on building construction.

The case of site management of building production is the most pathetic; while the architectural and engineering drawings are preconditions to approval and commencement of projects, builder and his production management tools to wit, construction methodology, quality management plan, health and safety plan.

Construction programme are completely absent on most building sites across the country. Yet, the builder is the production manager on site trained to interpret production information and ensure quality control on materials and processes.

Once we have our regulations right and professional inputs enforced, the built environment automatically will generate required functionality for the prosperity and welfare of the citizenry. It is also important that we develop the indigenous capacity of the industry towards reducing capital flight and achieving sustainability.

The Senate recently passed a bill for the establishment of the Real Estate Regulatory Council. How would this impact on your major roles to maintain high standard of competence and conduct of those engaged in the practice?
The council has two important domains. One is the business domain having to do with the efficient and transparent administration of the business of real estate. I think the council will regulate the conduct of transactions, which will address issues about funding so as to free the space from money launderers.

My expectation would be that the professionalisation of real estate development might significantly impact on housing provision, where real estates will emerge for occupancy at appropriate rental values.

The second concern of the council about real estates development complying with National Building Code (NBC) is commendable towards ensuring quality, which was grossly deficient in current estate developments across the country. The building code being a minimum standard in predesign, design and construction of buildings should lead to better quality of housing estates in Nigeria.

Recently, the revision of the code to include gas piping standards means enhanced quality of housing. We are very worried about the poor quality of housing estates across the country, which appear to be hurriedly put up to recover investment within the shortest possible time. But the NBC enforcement law currently in the National Assembly has to be passed urgently to support sanity in the housing sector.

Nigeria’s real estate sector has witnessed high cost of building materials leading to increasing cost of construction. What solutions is your institute offering to mitigate the problem towards ensuring affordable housing?
With respect to high cost of building components, we must admit that most of the components are imported directly through raw materials or indirectly through equipment and processes. Most of our key construction materials have foreign ingredients it their composition.

NIOB has been at the forefront of campaign for the use of local materials through advocacy and research engagements. We have in the past, devoted annual conferences to discussing discovery and innovations in the use of local materials of construction.

But these have to be standardised, incorporated in designs and eventually put to use in buildings. We are supporting researches in indigenous materials and hope for a cement and concrete conference in 2023. Manufacturers of local components need encouragement and patronage; we will continue to think and act local materials in line with sustainability goals. Government being a major client can also lead by example.

You were recently elected as NIOB new president, what new ideas are you bringing on board?
The institute started as the first overseas chapter of the UK Institute of Building in 1967. It gained its autonomy in 1970 and thereafter statutory backing of decree 45 of 1989, popularly called builders decree. The major function of the institute is to provide a professional umbrella for those aspiring to be and those who are already builders.

The emphasis of the council in the next two years will be to mobilise Nigerian builders towards contributing solutions to the national housing needs. Having sufficiently mobilised internally, we will leverage on our synergy with sister built environment professionals to enthrone effective housing delivery in the country.

The Federal Government plans to spend N481.964 billion on Works and Housing in the budget of 2022. Do you consider the amount sufficient for infrastructure needs? What other option should government deplorein case there are funding gaps?
The framework of 2022 expenditure in relation to Works and Housing has not shifted from that of the preceding year as much of the expenditure will go to completing major projects in the roads and rail sector, some of which were mentioned in the budget.

There is no doubt that the social housing sector may be in for serious shock as the housing deficit will be nowhere close to being decimated, except if government strengthens the frameworks for the private sector participation as expressly stated in the budget statement.

Nonetheless, a significant proportion of the education budget includes building projects, particularly through its organs notably Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

There will also be projects in the health sector, where the pandemic has thrown up demands for healthcare centres in the geopolitical zones, which need to be completed. On the whole, though not adequate but the budget if fully implemented will make significant impact in the sector and give professionals an avenue to showcase their competencies in the arena of nation building.

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