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Experts urge caution, want emergency provision for owners/residents of demolished buildings

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Rescued schoolgirl at Ita-Faaji (Photo by SEGUN OGUNFEYITIMI / AFP)

It appears building collapse in the country has come to stay, especially in Lagos State where a year rarely passes without structures caving in and wasting innocent lives and destroying property in the process.

After the Wednesday, March 13, 2019 incident at Ita-Faaji, where a three-storey building housing Ohen Private Nursery and Primary School, collapsed killing 20 persons, including many school children, while more than 40 people sustained injuries, relevant government agencies were suddenly roused from their slumber.

And in a jiffy, the government invoked Section 47 of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law (LSURPDL) 2010 (as amended), which empowers the Lagos State Building Control Agency, to identify and remove distressed buildings to prevent their collapse. By the last count, about 149 structures were penciled for demolition and over 40 of them are located in the Lagos Island corridor.

As the government demolition team embarked on the hurried assignment, another distressed three-storey residential building along Kakawa Street, Campos, Lagos Island, also caved in, but without a casualty.

This happened, as the state government was urging occupants of marked distressed buildings across the state to immediately vacate them pending the arrival of the demolition team from the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA).

Thus far, residents of identified distressed buildings, according to the state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Rotimi Ogunleye have been served all the necessary statutory notices, and over 25 of such compromised buildings have already been demolished.

Even though government’s knee-jerk demolition of these buildings is a direct consequence of the resurgence of building collapse in the state, the development has thrown up immense concerns, which yearn for serious and sustainable government intervention.

According to a town planner and member of Lagos Island Chapter, Building Collapse and Prevention Guild (BCPG), Hakeem Bishi, government could only be held responsible for building collapse if it has been negligent, or failed to take necessary steps to keep people safe, especially, in monitoring construction process.

He also added that individuals and developers could also be held liable if they fail to follow due construction procedures put in place in a state or country.

He said, “If people cut corners as they erect their buildings, you may find it difficult to blame, or hold government responsible if it was not consulted for building approvals. Government can also be held responsible on humanitarian grounds, or a provision of the law, (which gives government certain responsibilities like security of lives and properties), which is a fundamental right of the people, but this is also subject to legal interpretation.”

He insisted that swinging into action and bringing down failing buildings after every structure collapse is not the issue

Distressed building marked for demolition PHOTO: BY SUNDAY AKINLOLU

Said he: “The solution to building collapse is not just an ad-hoc response like bringing down buildings that have been identified for many years just in response to a current collapse structure. This is just a reactive measure to save face. But there should be a much more comprehensive approaches to solving the problem.”

According to Bishi, a town planner, there are social costs to the demolitions, which may not be quantifiable in monetary value, especially as it concerns people living in these houses whose lives are being risked.

“Anybody that is living in a distressed building is just as good as a person who wants to commit suicide, and government must make sure that this does not happen. The other side is, where would the people to go to? Is there provision for re-housing them whether temporarily or permanently? We have seen several examples where people were not given notices, only for officials to just swoop on them and demolish the structures with their furniture and personal effects still in such structures. Whether it is the responsibility of government to resettle them is very debatable. In law, government would say that anybody that doesn’t have an approved building plan is not qualified for any form of compensations. So, if government does, it is going to be on a compassionate ground and that may be the scenario in this kind of situation.

“This type of demolition is not a regular one that government does during regular urban re-generation, it is an ad-hoc thing.”

Bishi therefore called for emergency provisions for those whose building would be affected in the form financial assistance.

“But does government have a list of everyone that is affected? That is another issue that must be evaluated. We are a people who do not cherish data and government will not have data of all those affected…”

The Chief Executive Officer, Tetramanor Nigeria Limited, a Lagos-based property development company, Mr. Femi Beecroft attributed building collapse to structural defects, which were in place from the beginning of the project, and not as a result of lack of maintenance in the course of the life of buildings.

“There are four stages in the life of a building, which are structural designs, building stage, maintain and operate and finally demolishing stage, which is when you are done with the building. I think the most critical are the first two stages, which when once you get it wrong, a building would collapse in the nearest future. Concrete generally gets stronger as it ages. So, buildings should get stronger as they age. So, it is doubtful that lack of maintenance could cause a collapse. It could make it look bad, but not to collapse,” he stated.

He said building collapse should instead be blamed on the failure of the designer of the structure to factor in the kind of load and maximum number of people that the structure would carry.

“The number of fridges, television, furniture and many other loads are the kind of things that the structural engineer must factor in when coming up with a building design. The dead load (permanent loads like fridges etc.) and the dynamic loads (people coming in and out) must also be factored in. A good engineer will take into account all of these. But in some cases, as time rolls by, the building gets transformed to a store or warehouse, and this increases the dead weight of the structure permanently, and thus pressure on building. If you fail to get what the building would be used for from the design stage, there is no doubt that the building will collapse. When you convert a building from residential to commercial, it could lead to collapse because pressure/load would also be increased on the building,” he said.

Beecroft, an engineer, who stressed that at the construction stage of buildings, good engineers and builders are needed, added that many developers prefer “to save money because of the harsh economy and so use less quality reinforcement bar/rod etc. This happens a lot. For instance, instead of mixing concrete in the ratio of 2-4 for cement and sand, some may reduce cement and increase sand.”

Maintaining that there is no standard anywhere in the world as to when a building should be due for renovation because each building is unique in terms of the equipment in it, Beecroft stated that building owners have to decide based on what they have in the building to determine when their structures should be renovated.

“For things like sewage and water treatment, there are guides, like renovating or servicing them every three months.”

Commenting on the cost of demolishing over 100 buildings by government, he noted that even though the ongoing exercise was a very big loss to owners of the structures, it represents bold and difficult step by government to prevent further loss of lives.

He stressed that even though residents/owner have been complaining bitterly about their losses, in the final analysis, the lives preserved are more important than the value of any property.

“Demolishing distressed buildings won’t cost government anything in terms of compensation. Government only compensates you when it is taking over your land. Also, bringing down a storey building with the use of non-craft persons costs maybe N500, 000. 00, but if the government is using a bulldozer, in one day it would pull down up to five houses and the cost of renting a bulldozer for a day is minimal. So, I would advise that people should build right by deploying proper and adequate materials and professionals. In addition to this, government needs to do more enforcement,” he said.

However, as some of the confounded survivors of the Ita-Faaji tragedy ponder their next line of action, an organisation, Lagos Anti-Demolition Movement, led by legal practitioners Dotun Hassan and Ayo Ademiliyu, recently countered the casualty figure made public by the government, and insisted that about 61 pupils perished in the tragedy due to government’s negligence, that is its failure to demolish the building before it collapsed.

When The Guardian visited the area recently, discontentment, hopelessness and fear of the unknown was the lot of the victims, even as many of them claim not to have alternative places to stay. Consequently, even with the ongoing demolition, some affected persons are still living in some of the yet to be demolished houses.

Conscious of the trauma the demolition is causing some families, SheWritesWoman, a not-for-profit, non-governmental mental health organisation, is already on ground trying to cushion the effect.

Speaking on the need to give psychological support to pupils and victims of the Ita-Faaji collapsed building, a spokesperson of the group Adebola Salami, said there is need for government to offer mental support to the victims because they need such now.

“We are here to provide psychosocial support to the community and to those directly and indirectly affected. There are other organisations here also that are giving out food, medical support and counseling as well. There is need for the government to come in to offer support, especially as most children rescued now have phobia for going back to school. About 85 per cent of them are saying they will not go back to school. They took the sound made by the collapsed building for bomb explosion and we had to explain to them the difference between a bomb explosion and a building collapse.

“We need to do this now to avert tomorrow’s troubles. Imagine, what it would be like if all the children stay off school, imagine the effect on the economy, society and even the polity. We all need to act and rehabilitate them,” she said.


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