‘Negligence among professionals is extremely alarming’
Mr. George Akinola is the National President of Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), an association advocating sanity in the built environment. He believes that codification of building materials by regulatory agency will help to eradicate the menace of building collapse. He also spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on plans to improve the industry and other issues.
You recently assumed office as the president of Building Collapse Protection Guild, what are your plans to move the association forward?
We have articulated our plans to move the guild forward in different fora and it is a three-leg approach. The first major thing we will be doing involves a lot of advocacy, talking to people through our presence offline and online, which involves publicity through the print and electronic media. We will let the public know and imbibe the message that building collapse does not just start when the building starts crumbling but begins with the negligence of the prospective building owners who does not employ the right professionals that would not use the right materials, technics to put up the structure. When building fails ultimately, it is traceable to the ignorance of the building owner. It is that ignorance that we want to attack through advocacy. The second leg is engagement, which comes into play when many people in their self-righteousness thinks that they are doing the right thing. For example, government comes up with laws, and statutory regulations and believed that they are right but the question is what gave them the sanctimonious right to prepare laws and lord it over the citizens?
When government comes up in such instances, it is the professionals in the industry that would stand up and fight. An example is the recent uproar in the state caused by the introduction of the Land Use charge, which touched on people’s right, and not in the public interest. It is the professionals that should give the government reasons why certain steps they are taking, is not professionally right. In this light, we do engage government officials, agencies like Standard Organization of Nigeria, the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory and other equivalent agencies in Lagos like the building control agency and planning permit authority even in other states.
We organise seminars, bilateral meetings and engage private agencies too like the real estate association. It is when we engage them that we discovered their problems and limitations and how we can assist and collaborate to succeed.
The third leg of our programme is called affirmative action which involves bringing together people that have attained appreciable height in the built sector to participate in conferences where we will do exhibition of building products, demonstrations on best practices in building and such meeting will bring together all the professionals in the building environment. We will also go round the states and enter alliances with government agencies in charge of building and the police.
We are not just whistle blowers.
Has your advocacy yielded any positive result so far?
Yes, it was as result of our advocacy that gave birth to Lagos State Building Control Agency (LABSCA). The people that pioneer BCPG were the same people that pioneered LABSCA. It has brought so many reforms and of course standards. There is a body called Standard Organisation of Nigeria, we are constantly engaging them. We advocate on what supposed to be the scientific ultimate strength for blocks. The same thing we have done in the steel industry, concrete, timber/wood. We have organised seminars on these and we will continue to do it and take it round the country. This is why we are expanding into states. Presently, we have solid presence in Lagos, some measure of presence in Ogun, Abuja, plans to take off in Rivers State and about 10 states are in the pipeline.
The non-enforcement of National Building Code has remained a big problem in the industry. What is the best way to address this challenge?
The national building code was promulgated in the first place by government but has not been passed by the national assembly. It is not yet a law and cannot be enforced. It remained a guide. Professionals in the industry are the ones that formed the national building code like Prof. Okedele of the University of Lagos, and others who participated in putting together the code and so ultimately that is the way to go. It is a code for materials, technics, processes, professionalism and every step of the building processes. Once the codes are followed, it is assumed that we will have properly built up buildings that would never fail. Nigeria needs to get its priority right in terms of things that project our survival, safety of life and property and correct living.
The country seems to have been spared the calamity of building collapse. What has been done to reduce such incidents? How best can Nigeria eradicate the problem?
Well, I would not be optimistic yet. There is a lot of under reporting with regards to collapse of building. We as a body are collating statistical evidence. In Lagos, buildings still collapse and people are buried without the knowledge of anybody. Everybody got to know of the Lekki Gardens building collapse because it was massive and in our faces. We just don’t have comprehensive statistical data to analyse the rate at which buildings are collapsing to know if they have reduced. Buildings collapse more during the rainy season. We will keep advocating for correct procedure and the use of professionals in building because we are the one trained but we are not being employed for the job. We have committee, which is set up to, compile data on building collapses and we expect that in the next five years, we would have something statistical enough for people to work with. Correctly, Lagos is experiencing the largest number of building collapses because over 60 per cent of buildings in Nigeria are in Lagos. The volume of production of buildings in Lagos is higher than that of any part of the country and the rate of negligence by professionals putting up the buildings is extremely alarming because of streams and Lagoons surrounding it. By the same token, you can have Abuja too but the regulation is a bit stricter from the beginning and other places like Kano, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu, Akure and other places. We also really need full enforcement through the collaboration of everybody.
The rate of influx of substandard building materials into Nigeria has remained alarming. How would you rate the roles of regulatory agencies like the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) in that regard?
They can never do enough but it is not because of lack of effort that they have not succeeded. We are engaging them massively. From the experience we had from steel, SON has really achieved a lot in sanitizing the steel sector and we expect them to improve on their achievements. We have engaged them too in block making.
We will keep engaging them and doing more of advocacy and a lot of affirmative action.
What do you think is the best option in regulating substandard building materials or equipment in the country?
We have to check our porous borders, monitor products in the market place and where they are going to be used. If the goods are able to escape the borders and get to the place where they are going to be sold, you have to police the place, continue to check the warehouses and factories and sites.
There is another scientific method, which we are advocating. We call it codification of building materials. Every product should have a trademark. Like the measure adopted by NAFDAC under late Prof. Dora Akunyili. This means that if you buy any product and you are not sure of the authenticity of the product, try the number code in your system and it will tell you, if it is a fake product or not. SON should adopt that same principle because their mandate is large. It could even be used for major products. We have to go scientific and we are advocating that the built environment should adopt it. We have submitted papers on the codification of buildings, streets, cars and professionals. When you codify professionals, they will know that there is a code to your name. The building designs that you have submitted as an architect for example, has a code by which the approval agency accept it. So if any building is coming down or showing stress, you just type in the code of the street of the building, it will bring out the coordinate and it will tell you the architect, the engineer and other information/details and by implication, all the materials that were used which were coded originally, would show because the building is captured in the system for eternity. Through these, you will be able analyse why the building failed without going out of your room.
Some reports have linked dearth of professionals in the industry to building collapse, what is your view on this?
Professionals are not respected not because government disrespected them but as a result of the fact that they are not taking charge of their profession. They are not defending their jurisdictions. The professionals are not doing enough through advocacy on projecting their profession.
Do you think jail term would be appropriate sanction against unprofessional conducts relating to building collapse?
I am advocating sanctions because everything does not have to end in jail. Sanctions could come in the form of suspension, expulsion or forfeiting of certain rights or in terms of fines. Jail should be the last option.
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