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Building collapse: Why government seems helpless

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The remnants of the building that collapsed on Thursday, where three persons lost their lives PHOTO: TOBI AWODIPE


Yesterday, another two-storey building collapsed in the Ebute-metta area of Lagos. This is three days after a three-storey building under construction came down in Ilasamaja. Though no life was lost in the Ebute-metta incident, by the time rescue operation ended at the Ilasamaja scene, three persons had lost their lives, while 19 other construction workers sustained degrees of injury. This incident is coming about two weeks after a similar occurrence in the Lekki area of the state, where part of a two-storey building, also under construction collapsed, killing Tasiu Tanko and Abdulai Usman, both construction workers.

Building collapse is gradually becoming a norm in Lagos State, and after most of these incidents, little or nothing is heard about investigations initiated.
Two major building collapses that happened in the state not too long ago occurred still at the Lekki end of the state (Lekki Gardens) and at the Synagogue Church of All Nations. These took place on March 8, 2016 and September 12, 2014 respectively.

The number of lives lost in these mishaps probably made them a reference point when issues of building collapse are discussed in the state. Despite the Lagos State government sacking the then General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LSBCA) and some officers in the Ministry of Physical Planning and Development, in the wake of the Lekki Gardens incident, over alleged complacency on their part, not much appears to have come out of that decision.

Also, with a number of regulatory agencies like the Lagos State Planning Permit Agency; Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency, and Lagos State Material Testing and Laboratory Agency in place, it appears their efforts towards stemming the tide are not just enough, as all these collapse involved buildings that are under construction.

A resident of the state, who pleaded anonymity, was stunned to find out that it was still business as usual at an agency controlling the physical planning and building construction within his locality.

The resident, who said he visited the agency to be briefed on requirements for approval for a structure he intends to erect, expressed shock when a female staff member told him that the process was cumbersome, but for a fee, he would be allowed to construct his building while the agency looks the other way.

He said the lady nonetheless listed all the documents he needed to present to secure approval. This scenario, no doubt, further gives credence to the fact that negligence on the part of regulatory agencies has played a significant role in building collapse in the state.

X-raying building collapse in the state, the Practice Chairman, Nigeria Institute of Architect, Lagos State chapter, Mrs. Ifeoma George-Ufot, implored government to tighten its rules.

On his part, National President of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Kunle Awobodu, argued that until government agencies like the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), institute an effective monitoring system, with professional builders managing building construction, cases of building caving in would continue to be a recurring decimal.

Also commenting, the President of Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Oreoluwa Fadayomi, said stopping cases of building collapse would not be an event, but a process that should involve many factors and people.

“For example, if one is involved in mixing poor concrete, it may or may not be his fault. It could even be that he does not understand the mechanism of concrete mixing. People who do not know how to lay blocks need time to be trained, even including carpenters because their lack of qualified training is part of the reasons buildings continue to cave in.”

According to him, there are times government took proactive measures to prevent many collapses in the past, with no attention paid by stakeholders and residents, but the one that makes news and gets the residents of the city’s attention are the ones that end up collapsing.

Fadayomi said there is need for advocacy and enlightenment of all stakeholders on the dangers of compromising building construction process.For Prof. Samuel Oloyode, of the Department of Estate Management, Covenant University, Ota, causes of building failure, from the public view can be summarised under improper design; incompetent contractor; faulty construction methodology; poor town planning approval and development monitoring process; non-compliance with specifications/standards by developers and contractors; use of substandard materials and equipment; inadequate supervision or inspection and monitoring; economic pressure; incompetent conversion; change of use of buildings, aged buildings and poor maintenance culture.

He further said that data analysis of these factors showed that non-compliance with specifications or standards by developers and contractors; employment of incompetent contractors and use of substandard materials and equipment, were the three prominent causes of building collapse witnessed in the country.

The university teacher added that the rise of inexperienced, stingy or over bearing building developers, who issue instructions concerning the way and manner building works, which sometimes may not be in the overall interest of the project, have also contributed to buildings caving in.

“The non-enforcement of existing laws by town planning authorities as a result of lack of political will by the various arms of government has been the number one factor. This is closely followed by the endemic poor work ethics among Nigerians as a result of the ever-increasing demand for more pay, in view of the ever-rising cost of living for the average Nigerian.”

He further listed lack of continuing professional development, bribery and corruption as factors contributing to building collapse in the state. Oloyode noted that building collapse cannot be totally eradicated but could be minimised if public emotions can be played down, while the press lay more emphasis on educating the public on the dangers of building collapse.

He also said that the public must be willing to alert government on buildings suspected of putting the lives of people living in and within the neighbourhood at risk, while the government must be ready to tackle the complicated problem of building neglect by the populace.

“The way to tackle the problem of building neglect should be multi-pronged, covering areas like legislation, enforcement, support and assistance, publicity and public education. To achieve this, government must provide and maintain a modernised, efficient and user-friendly statutory building control regime to meet the residential housing development needs of Nigerians.

“In addition, government should review enforcemnet policy against building problems that are of public concern, including the issue of sub-divided units and water seepage in order to enhance building safety.

“Government’s long term objective should be to foster a building safety culture amongst Nigerians so that all stakeholders, including building owners, occupants, building professionals, contractors and workers will posses the self-awareness to properly observe safety standards,” he said.

Oloyede continued, “Government must realise that for the oversight bodies to be effective, they have to be created in a political atmosphere, where leaders are honest, civil servants are insulated from political interference, and better incentives are provided to discourage corruption.”

When The Guardian contacted LASBCA, the public relations officer said the agency has no political head, so the agency has no information on what is responsible for frequent building collapses, as well as, the allegation of negligence against its officials.

The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowose, said that the state government is unhappy with the rate of illegal developments within the state.

According to him, despite deploying officers to monitor developments to prevent such ugly occurrences, some wicked, irresponsible and unscrupulous developers are still carrying out nefarious activities

“Once a building is sealed off, the seal should not be broken, but some developers would remove or break the seal, disobeying the stop work order. It is dangerous and a criminal offence punishable under the Building Control Law,” he said.
   
Anifowose, however, enjoined all property owners and developers to employ the services of qualified professionals before embarking on any form of development in the state.



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