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Professional bodies identify how to tackle prevalence of building collapse

By Victor Gbonegun
26 September 2022   |   4:06 am
Operatives within the building industry have called for review of current approaches to curbing structural failures, most of which result in collapse of buildings, loss of lives and properties.

Building that collapsed in Oniru Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos

Operatives within the building industry have called for review of current approaches to curbing structural failures, most of which result in collapse of buildings, loss of lives and properties.

They urged all stakeholders – private and public institutions, individuals and governments to muster political will, while developers and investors should collaborate towards tackling the menace.

Currently, many have lost count incidents of building collapse in the country. For instance, between 1974 to July 2021, over 461 buildings have collapsed with over 1,090 deaths recorded and many injured. Over the years, Lagos recorded over 295 cases, Abuja (16), Oyo (16), Anambra (15), Kano (nine), Ondo (10), Abia (nine), Kwara (eight), Rivers (eight), Delta (eight), Enugu (seven), Ogun (seven), Plateau (six), Kaduna (six), Edo (six), Imo (five), Osun (five), Benue (three), Adamawa (three) and Ebonyi (three).

Others are Niger (two), Kebbi (two), Ekiti (two), Cross River (two), Sokoto (one), Bauchi (one), Akwa-Ibom (one), Kogi (one) and Katsina (one).

Lagos accounts for 60 per cent of reported cases of building collapse in Nigeria. From 2005 to date, “at least 152 buildings have collapsed” in Lagos, with most of the structures being residential, while over 34 cases have been recorded between January and September, 2022, according to statistics from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA). Majority of the incidents in recent months are buildings under construction.

Despite several committees, panels and tribunals established in different parts of the country to probe some of these cases, most of the findings have not been made public, while culprits have not been punished or subscribers getting justice for their investments. Disturbed by such, professional bodies have pleaded with government to implement those panel reports and bring to book all offenders.

They attributed some of the cases to quackery, failure to carry out soil test, substandard materials, failure of regulatory agencies in monitoring and enforcement, sharp practices by representatives of regulators, inability of professional bodies to fulfill oversight functions, failure of government at different levels to prosecute offenders and non-domestication, as well as adoption of the provisions of the National Building Code.

The First Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), Mr. Ewa Alderton, told The Guardian that the best approach to tackling incessant structural failure is to ensure that all professionals in building production process are engaged.

He said certain parameters like soil testing must be mandatory for all sites where building construction will take place, adding that professionals must also be involved in production right from the building approval stage, to design and on the site of construction.

Alderton stressed that all professionals involved in building production must agree to a building code guiding activities at every stage of building production, while professionals involved must endorse documents certifying that due process was followed during the building production process.

Those involved in building production, he said must not compromise in terms of quality of materials such as sands, cement and reinforcement.

He said: “The moment you sideline certain people and doing what you ought not to be done, we will be having incidents of building colcommencing a building, there is what is called concrete testing, you get samples of every component that you need and ensure they are cured. If we are doing the right thing, we won’t have these incidents of collapsed building occuring almost every month. Unfortunately, it is going to continue because there have been lapses all along. We have allowed people to do what they feel like doing for too long and now we are seeing the result.”

On what government should do to hold people accountable for structural failures, he said, the government couldn’t do that because those who can be liable are not often assigned the job.

“In building, the person that has to be in charge of the construction site is the builder. If you go to a building site during construction and ask who is in charge, somebody will show up but when the building collapses, nobody will present the builder or the engineer that worked on the site. We hide things, thereby losing both materials and lives, “ he said.

The President, Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Mr. Enyi Ben-Eboh, explained that the bulk of collapses witnessed in recent past, have mainly been associated with procurement process. He said a detailed investigation will reveal dearth of qualified professional involvement even though the initial design could have been done or certified by professionals.

“The capacity of agencies of government saddled with the responsibility is quite low, coupled with brazen impunity and lack of cooperation by property developers to submit themselves to the scrutiny of these agencies. Consequently, we at NIA have always advocated a partnership between the public and private sector through the relevant professional bodies in the built environment sector, encouraging their members to undergo training as certified professional checkers/inspectors to fill the capacity gaps; who can be professionally held liable in the event of a collapse to serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous developers.”

According to him, there must also be consequences for bad judgment or negligence on the part of anyone involved in the collapse of a building, especially where lives are lost.

He said cause of mere structural failure are myriad but topping the list is greed, non-domestication and adoption of the provisions of the National Building Code as it relates to compliance forms certification.

“There is also the issue of informed foundation choice based on the outcome of proper soil investigation to recommend the best type of foundation to deploy, taking into consideration a combination of the bearing capacity of the soil and the anticipated load. Under no circumstance must the anticipated load exceed the bearing capacity of the soil as this becomes a recipe for disaster.”

The NIA boss advised government to urgently address capacity issues in terms of engaging more inspectors, with a view to stopping developers before the building gets to a stage where it poses a threat to lives in the event of a collapse.

He said, the government also needs to partner with relevant professional bodies within the building industry to use their members as watch-dogs and partners in regulating and sanctioning non-compliance with extant laws as this is more effective than prosecuting through the regular courts, which are already overburdened.

“Government must, therefore, muster the political will to sanitise the system by ensuring that only registered professionals engage in the erection of buildings irrespective of whose ‘ox is gored,” he said.

The President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Toyin Ayinde, said when structural collapses persist, there is need to ask if there has been any positive response to the various recommendations made by panels, committees and tribunals of inquiry into past incidents.

Ayinde, who was the Chairman, Panel of Inquiry into the 21-floor Gerrard Road incident, said there has not been adherence to those recommendations, adding that many of the buildings that have collapsed were due to human errors, refusal to use the right professionals and consultants.

“There has been the assumption that everybody knows about buildings and refusal to understand that building construction is a science and that there are people, who have been specifically trained in each arm of that science. That is why there is division of labour, there is the work of the sub-soil engineers, structural engineers, architects, builders and building engineers,” he said.

Ayinde, who was Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, called for regular monitoring of the processes of construction to ensure quality control.

“All of these have come in one form or the other in reports. It has also been discovered that government does not have and will never have enough personnel to monitor the amount of construction going on. Apart from this, the whims and caprices of the people, their devices to construct at night and by morning, they already have a floor up is a problem. Government is not programmed to work like that; this is why other professionals in the private sector should be engaged as accredited certifiers, working as agents on behalf of the government,” he added

He further explained that everywhere in the world, sustenance of quality doesn’t rest only with professionals in the industry, but also members of the public, hence they should be aware of what goes on in their environment and be ready to alert government and respective professionals to focus attention on what has been discovered.

Also, a past president, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Akinola George, lamented the circulation of sub-standard materials, which permeate the building industry. According to him, it has remained an issue contributing to building failure.

He observed that getting quality materials is a difficult task as building materials market is riddled with fake varieties of standards.

“When a building is under construction, the government has to exercise a supervisory role on how the building is built, whether the officials at building agencies are intimidated or co-opted in terms of the systemic corruption that we have, ” he said.