Saturday, 3rd June 2023

Candidates canvassing for votes must place housing on front burner, says Opaluwah

By Victor Gbonegun
02 January 2023   |   4:04 am
Thank you very much for this question. Housing is critical to human existence. In fact, after food, shelter which housing represents is the next most important need of man. It is therefore imperative for any society to take housing delivery very seriously as development cannot be said to be achieved without addressing this important need of man.
Dr. Samson Opaluwah


Dr. Samson Opaluwah is the Chairman, Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on way out of Nigeria’s housing crisis, National Building Code (NBC), and efforts to mitigate incessant building collapse in the country.

A pointer to the housing crisis in the country is the scarcity of affordable housing especially, for low-income earners. How do government and other stakeholders solve the problem?
Thank you very much for this question. Housing is critical to human existence. In fact, after food, shelter which housing represents is the next most important need of man. It is therefore imperative for any society to take housing delivery very seriously as development cannot be said to be achieved without addressing this important need of man.

In Nigeria, housing has not been given the primacy that it deserves, simply because over the years, housing policies that governments routinely rolled out are out of touch with the realities of the need of the ordinary Nigerian and are poorly implemented. Provision of an appropriate housing ought to be a constitutional matter in our country. And competent professionals should be at the fulcrum of delivery.

Our country has the resources and the expertise to ensure that every citizen access appropriate housing for their status. An imaginative and deft arrangement can be put in place for vulnerable groups by providing social housing for them. I call upon the candidates canvassing for votes in the forthcoming elections in 2023 to place housing on the front burner of their agenda.

A national policy, keyed on the utilization of professionals, as agents of implementation with a nationwide reach will go a long way to address the challenge of housing. Governments at all levels should also take housing for the vulnerable segment of our society as a social responsibility. Embarking on urban renewal of our city slums will dramatically improve the quality of life.

Finally, the housing finance sector must be compelled to promote the provision of housing and not cash profits as their indices of success. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other regulatory agencies must see housing not only in terms of the cash disbursed but in terms of the actual buildings produced and occupied.

The national policy on housing should be such that will target specific segments of the society with products targeted at their need. A cursory look at housing provision in our urban centers indicate a neglect of two very important segments of our population, those starting out life after graduating from tertiary institutions and the artisanal tradesmen.

Those starting out cannot afford the huge rents for spaces they do not need and the artisanal groups are the major occupants of our cities, unplanned, unregulated urban slums. The challenge posed by the neglect of housing provision for these segments of our population on security, health, transportation and other systems cannot be over emphasised.

After many years, the National Building Code (NBC) has not been domesticated by many states. What is responsible for this inertia? Why do CORBON need amendment to the NBC?
The National Building Code (NBC) is a document produced by the professionals in the built environment as the standard of practice to be adopted in Nigeria. This was embarked upon and approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria. It contains guidelines and standards for the efficient and effective construction and management of buildings.

However, housing is a concurrent issue, therefore states of the federation have to domesticate the code and enact enabling laws to enforce it in the states. Some States have done so and a number are at various stages of domesticating the code. The reason for the slow rate of action by some state may be due to ignorance or low level of advocacy by those who should push for it. Our governments are yet to appreciate the multiplier effect of construction activities on the economy of the country.

The construction industry is the largest employer of labour. And when manufacturing picks up, production of building materials will also be the largest economic block. Things are however changing for the better in that regards. CORBON is not seeking for the amendment of the NBC but for the amendment of its law (the Builders Registration Act, Cap B13LFN).

The amendment sought is to enable the Council to regulate the practices on the building construction sites and place specific responsibilities on every practitioner on the site. It is meant to professionalise the building process. The spate of building collapses recently is partly traceable to this omission in the subsisting Act. The amendment will see a drastic reduction in this unwanted occurrence.

The NBC already has in its provisions, guidelines for periodic reviews. These reviews will take care of advances in technology, methodology and production techniques. It would also address the emergence of new expertise in the industry.

The professionals in the built environment are however seeking for the enactment of an Act of the National Assembly to give legal backing to the implementation of the NBC. When that is done, it will become an offense to build contrary to the NBC. Until the law is passed, the NBC remains a convention and a document stating good and acceptable practice but without the force of law.

Can you rate the performance of CORBON since inception? What are the challenges?
CORBON is thirty-three years old (1989-2022). And that for a professional regulatory body, it is still young but CORBON is finding its space among earlier established ones to contribute its quota to national development. I must however, say that the advent of the Council has dramatically changed things for the building sector by increasing the national stock of experts in building in addition to promoting the economy in the area of construction management.

Close to thirty Universities and close to forty Polytechnics are turning out trained building practitioners annually. Building sites, both major and minor construction projects, are gradually being managed by homegrown indigenous professionals. The National Occupational Standards (NOS) produced by CORBON is the instrument of training and certifying the practice of building trades in the informal sector of the economy. CORBON is an invaluable partner of the National Universities Commission (NUC & NBTE) in the accreditation and reaccreditation of the country’s Universities and Polytechnics programmes. CORBON registered builders are associated with the construction of the largest church auditorium building in the world and presently head two Universities in Nigeria as Vice Chancellors in addition to numerous deputy vice chancellors and Rectors of Polytechnics.

We are successfully taking over building construction in our country from foreigners. In the political sphere, we have produced deputy-governors, ministers, commissioners & legislators at all levels. I believe our track record speaks for itself. We can however do more if given more opportunities. At such, I will say, we need more challenges from government and the private sector. We can deliver! Our Builders can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best anywhere in the world.

Following incessant building collapse, CORBON set up the Project Monitoring Units (PMU) across the 36 states. Why did the Council embark on this scheme?
CORBON set up PEMU a few months ago as a professional response to the incessant building collapse, which peaked recently by occurring all over the country. Also, in inaugurating the current Council of CORBON in August this year (2022), President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR gave us the charge to immediately address the challenge of building collapse in our nation. PEMU is an acronym for Projects Monitoring &Evaluation Unit of CORBON. These are Registered Builders who will visit building sites and evaluate the practice of building that it is in accordance with the NBC, the relevant laws & approvals of the state governments and good practice. Any infractions are reported to the relevant government agency for further action. It is a public service outreach by registered builders in Nigeria to save lives/investments that are lost in the event of a building collapse and our nation from the international embarrassment that these collapses bring upon us.

According to statistics available, over four hundred and sixty-one buildings have collapsed in Nigeria, with more than 1,090 deaths recorded and many injured from 1974 to July 2021. This development cannot be allowed to continue in a country, which is blessed with trained and competent experts in this area.

CORBON therefore considered it an incumbent responsibility to promote good building construction practice, advocate adherence to relevant laws and extant regulations at building construction sites. This is the least that a professional body must do to promote nationalism and pride of country. Buildings collapse lowers the esteem of the country’s professionals in the building sector and is a disincentive to visitors to our country. Building collapse all over the world but it is rather an exception than the norm.

A situation where the country was confronted with multiple incidences of building collapse in various parts of the country and in an instance, almost collapsing on a State Governor demanded urgent and responsive action. And this is what CORBON has done. When buildings collapse, the question on people’s lips is “who is the builder?” Now the builders have arisen to occupy their space.

For a state like Lagos, where there are several building control agencies such as Lagos State Building Control Agency, Lagos State Planning Permit Authority, and others. How are you going to ensure that the PEMU of CORBON does not conflict with those agencies in playing its roles?
There is no conflict at all. Our activities are complementary. In fact, we are assisting these agencies to carry out their mandates. Our desire is to see good building construction practice in accordance with the law, which these agencies are set up to enforce. Their laws are public laws and where we observe infractions, we inform them accordingly to do what they are set up to do. There can be no conflict. We are rather deepening the enforcement of their law and expanding their visibility, but as informed professional regulatory bodies. I trust that Lagos and other state governments will in no distant future congratulates and even support CORBON with logistics for our free offer of help to address the national challenge of building collapse. Lagos is a mega city, it requires all the good hands it can get to keep the city growing and developing in an orderly manner. In spite of all the efforts of the agencies of the State Government building collapse has persisted, there must be missing gaps, which needs to be filled. Every effort must therefore not be spared in addressing this national malaise.

Investigations into past collapses have indicated a preponderance of quacks masquerading as professionals on the nations building sites, thus propagating these collapses.

PEMU officials’ visit will expose quacks and ensure that developers’ investment are protected by exposing quacks on building sites. The country’s building industry is a huge employer of labour but these personnel should endeavour to be properly trained and certified for the work they carry out on the sites. CORBON has provided avenue to acquire these competences through both the formal and informal sectors. In the formal sector, CORBON collaborates with the NUC and the NBTE. In informal sector, a similar arrangement with National Board for Technical Education under the NSQF to provide skills training for the unschooled through the use of the NOS. There is therefore no more room to tolerate quackery, which has done so much harm.

A major challenge in the built environment is the dearth of trained artisans for building production. How is CORBON addressing this skills gap in the sector?
Yes! The dearth of competent artisans is a huge national challenge. Nigeria has artisans but few competent ones. Our challenge is the production of competent artisans and their quality assurance. To address this, in conjunction with the NBTE which is charged with regulating technical education in Nigeria, CORBON developed the National Occupational Standards {NOS} for six construction trades such as masonry, carpentry, iron bending, tiling, plumbing, painting etc. from levels 1-3. These have been deployed nationally and under the N-Power scheme of the Federal Government and a few other donor agencies; we have trained close to one hundred thousand of these artisans nationwide. We are currently deepening our implementation structures nationwide with a target of at least one training center per local government. We have embarked on the aggressive training of Technical Instructors, Master Artisans and Assessors for these training Centres.

Our aim is to provide a platform for governments and others to challenge us with the training of one million construction artisans nationwide within a short time. Our youth possess the zeal and innate intelligence to be given construction skills. Our experience above have shown that unemployment and criminality can be dramatically reduced by giving our young people productive skills that they can practice and gain a livelihood without migrating from their environment. It will not only address unemployment, but also stem rural to urban migration, as construction business is available even in the most remote villages of our nation.

One of the initiatives of CORBON is the development of the national occupational standards for building professionals. What necessitated this move and how has it been implemented?
The National Occupational Standard is a game changer. When government realised the lack of competency of artisans in spite of the huge construction market occasioned by the economy and large population, it mandated the NBTE to find a solution. The NBTE came up with a new National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF), which was approved by the Federal Executive Council. The NSQF, which was formally called National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) is system for the development and classification of skills, knowledge, understanding and competencies required by individuals irrespective of where and how the training or skill was acquired. It is an outcome-based framework aimed at promoting lifelong learning and providing quality assurance as well as recognition.

This solution led to a revolutionary change in direction for skills acquisition in Nigeria especially in the informal sector. There are six levels in the NSQ, which begins with level one, the equivalent of trade test three and level six the equivalent of a postgraduate degree from the University. The National Skills Council & the Sector Skills Councils were established to manage skills development in the country. CORBON was given the responsibility of the Sector Skills Council (SSC) on construction. As is the habit of Builders, we ran with the vision and thus have produced the National Occupational Standards and are still seeking support to produce more both in the skills-set and the levels in the various construction trades.

The National Occupational Standards (NOS) are statements of performance or competences that an individual must demonstrate when carrying out functions in the workplace together with the specifications of the underpinning knowledge and understanding. They are national and they can be used in every part of the country where are carried out. They cover the technical requirements but also embrace the wider dimensions that employers and clients value such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, communication, customer service and others.

NOS are dynamic in nature especially as it relates to hard skills and consequently are constantly being reviewed to take advantage of advances in science, technology and management. CORBON fully endorses government’s new direction on technical skills acquisition and will do all it can to promote it.

Furthermore, as Builders, we are better placed to value the need for competent artisans because our quality of work cannot be appreciated until we work with competent artisans to translate our expertise to reality thus earning the respect and admiration of our clients.