Taming monster of building collapse in Nigeria
It has been described as the poison in the cup. Others say it is a monster that wrecks the ethics in the construction industry. And to the professionals, it is yet another evidence of government’s lip service and lack of political will to regulate the sector.
It is the collapse of buildings. Of late, it has occurred so often and with such intensity that it has been a perennial source of worry to Nigerians.
But if the collapse of buildings is a dreaded monster, managing the planning permit and development control process appears to pose even a greater problem as corruption within the approval process has become another cankerworm in the fabrics of the society.
For now, there seem to be no official statistics. But a survey of collapse of buildings showed that an average of 27 buildings collapsed in 2015. Out of these, 175 deaths occurred while 427 others were injured.
The Southwest zone of the country recorded the highest number in the last eight years, with Lagos accounting for about 134 deaths and 159 injuries.
A further breakdown of the survey showed that 17 of the incidents of collapsed buildings involved residential areas where an estimated death toll of 44 were recorded with over 60 victims injured while six occurred on church buildings with an estimated death toll of 134 and about 176 survivors injured. The remaining affected projects include; plazas and other uncompleted buildings.
In 2016, the incidence continued with the collapse of the Lekki Gardens’ property, which killed over 30 people and more others afterward particularly in 2017, with some cases recorded in Alaba market, Ebute- Metta, Lagos Island, Agege, Isolo and Abesan areas of Lagos State.
Recently, the nation was thrown into an avoidable mourning following the collapse of a three-storey building at Ita-Faaji area in Lagos Island killing about 20 people including primary school pupils.
In a space of four days, other scores of victims were trapped in a three-storey building that collapsed in Sogoye area of Molete, Ibadan, Oyo State capital.
The incident rekindled the blame game among professionals in the built environment, who often blamed the reoccurrence on encroachment of their professional callings referred to as quackery.
With an average of five deaths recorded yearly in Nigeria as a result of the collapse of buildings, the incidence is becoming a major clog in the wheel of efforts at reducing the nation’s housing deficits.
Professional bodies speak
In a reaction to the current wave collapse of buildings, professional groups are making a fresh recommendation to arrest the problem.
For instance, the President of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NistructE), Eddy Atumonyogo urged governments at various levels, to enforce building regulations, staff building approval and control agencies with the experienced professionals, and ensure that only structural drawings prepared and sealed by registered structural engineers are approved for construction.
He stressed the need for the enactment of necessary legislations both at state and federal levels to back these measures to prevent more collapse.
The institution, according to him, strives to ensure reduction in the incidence of the collapse of structures in the country.
“We use this medium to again emphasise the need to use the services of registered structural engineers in all building projects, as this is the only way to curb the incidence of collapse of buildings in Lagos and other parts of the country,” he said.
The President of Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Mr. George Akinola said authorities should embark on the registration and codification of lands and buildings while professionals should promote open access, curb quackery and foreign domination, promote synergy among professionals as well as build reliable data bank for the industry.
Akinola bemoaned the modality being deployed by the Lagos State Building Control Agency in demolishing identified distressed buildings stating that before removing buildings that do not comply with the urban renewal master plan, the buildings should be valued and assessed for purpose of compensating owners in the attempt to prevent collapse.
“Building owners and tenants should be compensated with cash or permanent buildings. They should be decently resettled temporarily in government resettlement centres for a period until they could get their lives back,” he said.
He declared that professionals found culpable in any collapse of buildings should be punished according to the law while appropriate core built environment professionals should conduct investigation in the case of building collapse .
“In the absence of specialised building collapse courts, any court handling such cases should be given a time frame to finish and should not linger endlessly. Government should empower more professionals from BCPG to augment its efforts in building control and monitoring and educate the public to use only qualified registered professionals to handle building procurement process,” he said.
He charged government to commence an annual training for code of enforcement officers to effect guidelines stated in the national building code, stressing that there was also the need to train 800 professionals from the housing sector through the University of Lagos.
For him, long-term loan through the Construction Development Bank should be made available to professionals in the housing sector so that consortiums involving the seven professionals could develop quality buildings for Nigerians.
He stated that to eradicate unlawful constructions especially those without approval, night construction and illegal conversion of buildings, the association asked the government to provide vehicles for weekly joint inspection by police, media, BCPG and the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA).
Expounding on solutions to the malaise, the president of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Mr. Rowland Abonta asked the Federal Government to establish a national task force on collapse of buildings, across major cities of Nigeria.
He maintained that the task force should comprise groups of construction professionals like structural and civil engineers, estate surveyors, builders and town planners, quantity surveyors and others who will conduct a survey of aging structures that have existed for more than 20 years.
Abonta said the task force should be saddled to carry out an integrity test on structures including public and private buildings.
“Such a move will determine the stability of buildings and their ability to continuously provide service. This should be done urgently if the government has any form of concerns for the lives and property of the citizens,” he stated.
The President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), Kenneth Nduka, pointed out that buildings do not collapse on paper as drawings or designs rather it occurs whenever building production processes are denied the skillful and experienced attention, supervision, and control by dedicated building production managers.
According to Nduka, builders are the professional building production managers, who are trained to translate the designs, drawings and specifications by engineers and architects into good quality, structurally stable, and safely delivered building projects within the definitive tri-podal paradigms of quality, time, and cost.
For him, it is when the built environment is saved from the damaging consequences of quacks and interlopers that the journey for the situation of orderly, aesthetic, functional, safe, structurally stable, cost effective and collapse free setting must have commenced.
“We all need to come together, to respect, uphold, and actualise our reconciled, unique and peculiar roles. When we positively close ranks, we will be sufficiently equipping ourselves towards recovering the built environment industry from the vice grip of greedy politicians and voluptuous quacks.
“Above all, we need not condemn the built environment to avoidable economic wastage traceable to abandoned and failed project deliveries, losses of valuable lives and property as a result of inevitable collapses, situation of unsafe environments due to the multiplicity of sick buildings and urban blights, and sad enough, an incoherent league of discordant built environment industry professionals that fall flat before the manipulative plots and intrigues of profiteers, opportunists, and politicians,” he said.
The President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Lekwa Ezutah called for a massive urban renewal of Nigerian cities. He observed that some cities have very old areas where the buildings may be older than Nigeria as a sovereign state.
Ezutah stressed that government, as a matter of urgent necessity should commission professional planners to carry out in-depth studies of cities with a view to recommending sustainable policies and plans to address the matter.
He drew the attention to the fact that cities are the engines of growth in any society; hence matters that affect their viability and livability should be priorities to government and all stakeholders.
He also tasked the professionals who either build or undertake to supervise buildings on the need to verify the brand, quality, and quantity of materials used for buildings, adding that no aspect or details should be treated with levity.
NITP president, called on professional bodies to step up in their responsibilities to sanction members who do compromise standards. “All legislative provisions must be reviewed by the National Assembly and strictly observed failing which appropriate sanctions must be meted out to defaulters,” he added.
Also, the immediate past leader of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Tonye Braide regretted that each time a building collapses, professionals rush to put the blame on quacks. “However, in pointing one finger at the so-called quack three fingers point back at the professional,” he said
According to him, the construction of a building has a value chain. “This is an administrative process where all work in tandem to save lives. Now, if some professionals in the building industry decide that the critical linkage in the construction value chain is not necessary and chide government for spending billions in annual budgets to continue training of professionals in this critical cadre, then the country should get ready for a continuum of the building collapse of buildings.
“Buildings do not collapse overnight except during the construction stage. There will be tell-tale signs of the disaster pending. Every architect is armed with the knowledge to see early warning signs but the architectural technologist is best equipped with the requisite knowledge to sound alarm bells and call engineers to conduct integrity tests, recommend evacuation and possible demolition or reinforcement.
“A country that does not recognise and build up the critical linkage in the construction value chain is seeking the total collapse of its entire building infrastructure. And that will happen unless we have the will to put a stop to it.
“The governance structure of the building industry in Nigeria will open a floodgate in the immediate future to more collapse of buildings across the country. It is unfortunate that many lives will be lost until we can have the act of will to get it right,” he said.
Braide stressed that the totality of putting buildings together and administration of an appropriate urban planning architecture starts from the design stage, approval process, selection of the technical team to execute the project, interim approvals as the work progresses, certification of fitness for human habitation and periodic evaluation of the performance of the totality of the urban space.
“Government should develop a governance framework to support the regeneration of our cities. Goal 11 of the SDG seeks to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. As the cities continue to grow, issues of poor housing and poor infrastructure must be addressed in inner city precincts.
“The benefits of urbanisation are supposed to give a higher standard of living, therefore areas suffering degradation should be upgraded to increase city revenues and new communities set up to encourage relocation. In order to preserve the agnate claim to land, items of cultural identity could be restored and preserved for use during periods of rites and homage.
“Special land administration templates will allow for local royalties accruable from increased urban revenue while developers could enjoy tax holidays as incentives to invest.
“In addition government must bring to book the entire line of command in sectorial urban planning architecture. This will serve as a deterrent to the continuing practice of random contraventions. If a building has failed, evacuate and pull down or be charged as appropriate if failure results in total collapse”, he added.
A past president, the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria, Moses Ogunleye told The Guardian that one fundamental dimension to collapse building is the issue of sick buildings due to age or weak maintenance.
He explained: “The building that collapsed in Ita faji, Lagos, is a good example but there are buildings that are older than that one yet remain strong. He said another scenario is the building that is neither aged but are structurally defective, stating that a critical challenge is who are those that are involved in the design and construction of buildings. If non-professionals are the ones involved, there will always be a problem. Soil in Lagos Island including Lekki, Ibeju lekki, Ajah, Sangotedo and all those area around the lagoon has a peculiar terrain vis-a-viz the soil and so if a developer is not ready to spend money on an extensive foundation, there will be a problem.”
Ogunleye lamented that government has not done enough in addressing the menace. According to him, a report in 2003 identified 339 buildings as structurally defective in the entire state. He disclosed that the buildings were marked for demolition and one would expect that government would take action but didn’t.
To curtail the spate of collapsed buildings in Lagos, the state government on May 20, 2015, set up a Tribunal of Enquiry on Building Collapse headed by Mrs. Abimbola Ajayi, an architect. The tribunal in its eight-volume report noted that 130 cases were recorded before the tribunal was inaugurated while about five buildings collapsed after it was set up. The membership of the tribunal included all the professionals in the built environment.
The report also berated the passive stance of law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Justice to arrest and prosecute violators of building control laws.
“Despite the provision for summary trial of violators and offenders in the laws examined by the tribunal, there is no record of persons prosecuted or sanctioned for incidents of the collapse of buildings by the Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Police and any other known organ,” it said.
Although, the Lagos State government pledged a strict implementation of the committee’s recommendations, which led to the engagement of the services of additional 115 certified engineers and other relevant professionals in the built sector, the collapse of buildings has continued to be a recurring decimal in various parts of the state.
Following the collapse of a three-storey building, that killed 20 children and adults, the Lagos State Government embarked on the demolition of 80 distressed buildings on Lagos Island.
The General Manager of the agency, Nurudeen Shodeinde, told The Guardian that the state has adopted a number of strategies to ensure a zero collapse in the year and in future.
According to him, one of the strategies is the introduction of the whistle blowing policy, where residents are encouraged to alert the agency to any defective or distressed building through a dedicated telephone number, demolishing of buildings belonging to recalcitrant developers, prosecutions, publication of names of recalcitrant contravenors to show examples of government’s resolve to solve the problem.
He said government is going to come hard on contravenor to caution people who prefer to live in comfort zone of illegalities.
“ Sometimes, government is slow in enforcing its policy, but, we are coming out heavily on recalcitrant developers. We will give them enough time but if they continue in illegality, we will bring down the building. We cannot continue to waste resources to make people think straight, enforcement is going to be heavy; we want developers to build safe structures. We are tired of being blamed on what is not our concern so we will be bringing down buildings before they collapse”, he stated.
The new vigour, he said, is anchored on the fact that the collapse of buildings is not a normal occurrence and should not happen if all stakeholders in the built environment do their jobs.
“Buildings collapse when the necessary steps are not followed, when quacks are used as workmen and professionals, and substandard materials used in order to save a few nairas and when the chips are down, the developers lose ultimately, leading to the loss of lives at times. If developers get professional consultants, seek permits and work with relevant agencies like LASBCA before they start their construction, the collapse of buildings will not occur”, Shodeinde noted.
LASBCA, he said, has a duty to work with developers in the state through all stages of building to ensure that they test the quality of their materials periodically, ensure safe, sound, sustainable and durable delivery of projects. He stressed that the final procedure should be the issuance of certificate of completion, which gives the sign that the building is built for purpose, secure, sustainable and livable.
“LASBCA duty is to monitor the state especially anywhere there is ongoing construction, to serve notices, ask discerning questions, and encourage the use of professionals and integrity test on new and structurally defective buildings”.
“ We are poised to bring recalcitrant developers into compliance. If you got approval for two floors and you have resources to build a ground floor, you need to revalidate the approval before you can build the upper floors and test should be done to see if your existing building can carry extra loads”, he said.
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