Lagos and burden of recurring collapse of structures
Experts Urge Enforcement Of National Building Code In States
Lagos is often referred to as the commercial nerve centre of the country, rightly so because of the sheer volume of commerce taking place daily in the bustling city. In like manner, the city is often referred to as a construction site given the volume of building projects progressively taking place at various sites across the megacity.
However, the rate at which some of the structures, some under construction, have been failing has become a great source of concern. Year-in year-out, building collapse is now a recurring phenomenon in Lagos, resulting in loss of lives and billions of Naira in investments. The collapse, on Monday, of a 21-storey building in Ikoyi, Lagos, followed by the collapse of another storey building in the Lekki-Ajah axis of the state the next day brought to the fore, again, the recurring, but the disturbing issue of building and structural collapse in the country.
The collapsed Ikoyi building, located on Gerald Road in the city’s affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood, was a construction site for luxury apartments. The two-storey building, which caved in in Osapa London in the Lekki area of Lagos State on Tuesday, was also under construction and was reportedly meant for residential purposes.
While residents, the state government, and other stakeholders continue to rue the losses and accompanying pain from the collapse, there have been claims and counter-claims as to the cause of the Ikoyi building collapse, which has taken the spotlight of the two incidents. A number of reasons have been adduced for the recurrence. Some of them include failure of regulatory agencies in monitoring and enforcement, alleged sharp practices by representatives of regulators, the inability of professional bodies to fulfil oversight functions, failure of government at different levels to prosecute offenders conclusively which is believed to help perpetuate impunity, and preponderance of substandard building materials in the country, among others.
In the aftermath, the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr Gbolahan Oki, while speaking from the site of the collapse, had said that the owner of the failed 21-storey building, was given the approval to construct only 15 floors.
“He got approval for a 15-storey building and he exceeded his limit. I am on the ground here and the materials he used are so inferior and terrible…the reinforcement, are so terrible,” he had said.
In a swift reaction, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu ordered an indefinite suspension of Oki, as part of the first steps towards finding out what went wrong with the collapsed structure.
In a statement by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, the governor announced the setting up of an independent panel to probe the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the building. He disclosed that the investigation is not part of the internal probe already being conducted by the government.
Members of the panel were drawn from the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA), Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) and other professional bodies. The panel is to independently investigate the remote and immediate causes of the incident and make recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences.
Laxity In Regulation, Enforcement Of Building Codes
THE state government is expected to make critical changes to the construction sector as it concerns building inspections, approvals and enforcement. Most of the time, builders disappear in the aftermath of collapses, leaving much to say about the commitment of the government in enforcing sanctions.
The collapsed 21-storey building was a wing of a three-tower estate designed by Femi Osibona, an estate developer. The estate, which was supposed to be the first of its kind in Nigeria, was essentially designed to include residential facilities maisonettes, flats, duplex and penthouses, open recreation area with outdoor television, gym and swimming pool, and was slated for completion in 2022.
However, there have been disturbing revelations that the construction site had at a point been ordered sealed off. This was complied with for about four months before it was reopened for construction.
There are also reports that the structural engineer had pulled out of the project due to the inability to guarantee the integrity of the high-rise allegedly due to sudden change and deviation from its initial design.
Several other factors have been fingered as the cause of the collapse, among them the failure of the supervisory and regulatory role of the state’s Building Control Agency (LASBCA) and other agencies such as the Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory saddled with laboratory tests and services on soil, concrete, steel, chemical, calibration, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), and geo-technics for buildings.
Experts have also attributed the causes of incessant collapse to substandard building materials, pilfering, faulty non-adherence to designs, lack of comprehensive subsoil investigation before designs are done, illegal conversion or alterations to existing structures, and use of quacks or unskilled builders. They faulted government’s agencies such as the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority, Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory, Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), and Lagos State Safety Commission, among others for not taking handling the issue with the seriousness it deserves.
In March 2016, a list of about 40 buildings identified as distressed and or abandoned was published by the government. The buildings, spread across Ikoyi, Arowojobe, Maryland, Ikorodu, Oke-Alo, Lekki, and Ilubirin Lagos Island, Oworoshoki/Bariga, Somolu, Ebute-Meta, Mushin, Ajegunle, and Surulere, among others, still stand precariously.
Experts attribute the reason for this as lack of political will, ineffective monitoring of building development, lack of manpower and corruption among officials in charge of building approval in some of the agencies.
Chapter 59 Section 74 of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of Lagos state 2010, which was signed by former Governor, Mr. Raji Fashola, although now amended, states that in the event of the collapse of any property or structure due to negligence on the part of the owner, or the developer, such property shall be forfeited to the state government after due investigation and or publication in the state official gazette.
But till today, nobody has been prosecuted for building collapse or the building sites taken over by the government in accordance with the established position of law. As such, the law, according to experts, has not been serving as a deterrent to anyone. They stressed the need for government to be assertive in protecting residents.
Failure Of Prosecution
Following the collapse at the Synagogue, the Lagos state government initiated a court case against the Synagogues Church of All Nations in a case that is still yet to be concluded to date.
Perhaps the only time the state government has shown real commitment towards bringing erring builders to book is the Lekki Gardens building collapse case. Richard Nyong, the former Managing Director of Lekki Gardens Limited, was arraigned with four directors and three companies on multiple charges of involuntary manslaughter and failure to obtain necessary building permits in a collapsed building case.
Lagos State government, in charge number LD/3808c/2017 filed before the court, alleged that the defendants failed to obtain building permits and other building approvals, contrary to section 75(1) of the Urban and Regional Planning And Development Law, CH. U2, Vol. 10 of Lagos State, 2015, when between August 2014 and March 2016, at house H15, Horizon 1 Extension, Ikate Elegunshi, in Lagos, they commenced construction and completion of a six-storey building.
In addition to this, Governor Ambode sacked the then General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Engr. Adeigbe Olushola. The Governor also approved the dismissal of the Head of Inspection and Quality Control in the Agency, Adeoye Thomas Adeyemi, the Zonal District Officer in the Agency, Dosunmu Gbadebo, while the Zonal Head of Eti-Osa West of the Agency, Mrs. Akinde Adenike Sherifat was compulsorily retired from the Civil Service. But all this did not stop more buildings from collapsing.
However, the cases of the Synagogue church and Lekki Gardens have remained some of the worst cases with attendant time and years spent on litigation.
Curtailing Recurring Structural Failures
When Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited the site of the latest collapsed building in Ikoyi to inspect the level of work being done in the ongoing rescue operations, he announced the setting up of an independent panel to probe and investigate the remote and immediate causes of the incident and to also make recommendations on how to prevent future occurrence.
Sanwo-Olu promised that there wouldn’t be any cover-up in the search for truth, adding that anyone indicted would face the law.
He said: “This is an event that could be described clearly as a national disaster. Mistakes were made from all angles,” adding that such an event “really should not be happening in a modern-day city like Lagos.”
Speaking on how to prevent incessant building collapse in the country, President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Akinola George, an architect, stated that there was a need to establish the Lagos state building code enforcement officers who would enforce the National building code.
To him, the ways in which sub-standard materials permeate the building industry in Nigeria has remained an issue contributing to building failures. Specifically, he observed that getting quality materials is a difficult task as the building materials market is riddled with fake varieties of standards.
The regulatory agencies like the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the apex regularisation body in Nigeria established under Act No. 14, 2015, said hasn’t demonstrated enough capacity to halt the circulation of fake and substandard materials like reinforcements, corrugated iron roofs, nails and other related products. Sometimes, the BCPG President said, the organisation blames their inefficiency on the lack of sufficient manpower and finance to carry out their mandates.
The BCPG president lamented that many of the building materials in the market are gradually being compromised because of rising costs.
He said: “A clear example is the iron rod in the market. The standard 12mm in diameter, has now been replaced with 10mm and the length is not of standard. You have these compromises and the result can only be a failure. A lot of people don’t patronise people trained to build. Professionals are not preparing most of the buildings in Lagos state.”
George said it was high time stakeholders, including the government, addressed the compromises and loopholes in the building development process.
He advised the Lagos state government to, through LASBCA, immediately establish a database for new and ongoing building works for more effective monitoring and planning.
“When you get to town planning offices and you need to get approvals, the system itself is corrupt and you might have gratification here and there to approve buildings that are not of standard. 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 system corruption that we have. One way or the other, developers in town escape with murder,” he said.
A building expert based in Lagos, Mr. Emeka Okoronkwo said two factors could trigger building failure, namely; weakness of the materials used and instability of building especially, when the stability of the building is not firm.
He called for forensic engineering investigation on what made the 21-storey building fail, noting that there is enough information on the site to determine why the structure failed.
According to him, the first professional to hold liable is the architect who is supposed to be an agent of the government at the site.
Okoronkwo said: “It is under the name of the architect that the approval was obtained. The second person is the structural engineers and other engineers because they sent the drawings to the government for approval and because they are under oath as professionals to make sure that the government approves what is done and protects the society.
He added what happened on the project was a failure of ‘professional integrity,’ adding that the ultimate client in a development site is the end-user who most times are not represented adequately by estate surveyors and valuers, hence the need to include them as in-between to educate home buyers, to beware of buildings they buy.
“The public must know that the developer is a businessman who cares only about his profits. The only way the society can be protected is if the government would insist that for every development, they include a professional valuer to be the sales agent and give information to the end-users”, he said.
The president of, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors And Valuers (NIESV), Emmanuel Wike called for thorough investigation and prosecution of offenders.
He said like its counterparts in other climes, especially the advanced countries, the institution has often advised and engaged the Federal and State Governments on the need to engage professionals and the relevant (Certified Stakeholders) in the industry for quality service delivery and standard operation in building and related projects.
The NIESV president encouraged the Lagos state government to stand firm in its investigation and evaluation of the building collapse to bring those guilty to book and avoid further occurrence.
Immediate past president, Nigerian Institute of Building, (NIOB), Mr. Kunle Awobodu called for improvement in the operations of LASBCA and boosting their capacity. He said the increasing cost of building materials in the country should be reviewed as developers may cut corners in the face of rising construction costs to maximise profit.
A past chairman, Nigerian Society Engineers (NSE), Apapa Branch, Dr. Ombugadu Garba said a major way to limit the recurring building collapse is for government to strengthen its monitoring process of building production, adding that there was a need for setting up of independent monitoring group consisting of professionals in the built sector to monitor the sector.
Garba said there was an urgent need to carry out an integrity test on all high-rise buildings both those under construction and the ones being inhabited to determine their structural integrity and stability in order to save the country from attendant loss of lives and investment due to building collapse.
He said: “We also need standardisation of building materials, constant soil test investigation before buildings are constructed and independent assessors to monitor projects particularly storey-buildings at every stage of development to ensure that structural members are in tune with the design of the projects. Government must be circumspect and concerned by the need to preserve lives and property as well as save Nigeria from international embarrassment caused by building collapse.”
Also reacting to the issue, the national chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers (NICE), Dr. Jang Tanko while welcoming the setting up of a panel of inquiry to investigate such cases, advised that the panel should be headed by a civil/structural engineer, as building failure is primarily due to structural deficiency.
The institution said: “Our preliminary investigation has shown compromises at several levels culminating in the tragic collapse of the massive structure. The frequent collapse of buildings in Nigeria has again brought to the fore, the failure of regulatory authorities in enforcing building contract laws especially, the involvement of quacks and incompetent hands in the building industry thereby endangering lives and monumental resources.
We will collaborate with the Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) for a thorough technical investigation into the collapse and offer professional services to the government in this onerous task.”
Piqued by the increasing wave of building collapse, lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana urged the engagement of only registered builders to manage building construction to end the menace.
Falana said due to criminal negligence of the regulatory agencies and relevant professionals, the industry has been invaded by quacks that operate with impunity. However, Falana said the thrust is to educate the larger society on the legal positioning and associated issues with the building profession and project delivery.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said unlike the legal profession in Nigeria, which ensures that fake lawyers are arrested and prosecuted from time to time, the building profession has not taken any bold step to rid its rank of quacks, dominating the building industry.
FROM 1974 to July 2021, statistics show that over 461 buildings have collapsed in Nigeria with over 1,090 deaths recorded and many injured. Over the years, Lagos recorded over 295 cases, Abuja 16, Oyo, 16, Anambra 15, Kano 9, Ondo 10, Abia 9, Kwara 8, Rivers 8, Delta 8, Enugu 7, Ogun 7, Plateau 6, Kaduna 6, Edo 6, Imo 5, Osun 5, Benue 3, Adamawa 3, and Ebonyi 3. Others are Niger 2, Kebbi 2, Ekiti 2, Cross River 2, Sokoto 1, Bauchi 1, Akwa-Ibom, Kogi 1 and Katsina 1.
But official lapses from the government, its agencies and private developers have continued to heighten incidences of structural failure in Lagos, according to industry experts, who described Lagos as the number one construction site in the country, followed by Abuja and Port-Harcourt.
For instance, according to statistics from research by Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, from 2005 to date, “at least 152 buildings have collapsed” in Lagos, with most of the structures being residential. Yet, the disasters are not about to abate in spite of a considerable number of built professionals such as architects, builders, quantity surveyors, structural engineers, town planners, estate surveyors and valuers represented in government agencies saddled to instil sanity in the industry.
Speaking recently at a conference of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), its immediate past President, Kunle Awobodu said that Lagos State accounts for 60 per cent of reported cases of building collapse in Nigeria. He noted that the collapse of a five-storey residential building at 63, Massey Street, Ita-Faaji, Lagos Island, in 2019, which led to the death of over 20 pupils was one of such avoidable calamities.
In the evening of September 25, 2013, a 3-storey building at 15, Alli Street, Lagos Island had collapsed at about 9.55 pm, falling on top of the six-bedroom bungalow situated at 13, Alli Street in the process, leading to its collapse. Luckily, the three-storey building had earlier been marked for demolition by officials of the Lagos State Government, who had sent out the occupants before the collapse. Two lives were lost in the incident. Two years earlier, on July 7, 2011, a four-storey building had collapsed at Mogaji Street in Ebute Ero, Lagos Island, Lagos State.
Piqued by the building collapses, the then Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, while serving his first term, had unfolded new measures to stem the tide. The measures announced on July 11, 2011, by the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development included an order for the take-off of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), an agency created 13 months earlier for the enforcement of building control regulations and implementation of the 2010 Physical Planning, Urban Development and Building Law.
By August 1, 2012, another three-storey building collapsed at 3, Anikantamo Street in the Adeniji-Adele area of Lagos. That made Fashola decide that the Lagos building collapse issue needed closer scrutiny. As a result, on May 21, 2013, Fashola inaugurated a six-man tribunal of inquiry on building collapse, chaired by Mrs Abimbola Ajayi. At the event, Fashola read the riot act: “If you build against the approval that we have given, we will pull down that building or we will compel the person to reduce the house to the approval he or she got from us. We will not spare anyone in this regard because when a building collapses, it is the government that everyone looks to.”
Fashola said the state government would henceforth hold state officials for violations when the buildings collapse. He warned that sanctions would be meted accordingly to officers who compromised processes for securing building permits in the state.
The warning notwithstanding, tragedy struck again on July 22, 2013, in the Surulere area of Lagos, when a two-storey building under construction collapsed, killing four persons, among them, a 13-year-old bread hawker. Three construction workers were, however, rescued from the debris of the building located at 32/36, Ishaga Road. The incident occurred barely 10 days after a three-storey building caved in at Oloto Street in Ebute Metta area of the state, where seven lives were lost and several injured.
On September 12, 2014, a guesthouse located within the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) premises around the Ikotun-Egbe area of Lagos State collapsed completely, killing 115 people. The coroner’s report later found the cause to be due to structural failure. Three government agencies – the Nigeria Building And Road Research Institute (NBBRI), the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) also examined the site and found inadequacies. Again, on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, a building under construction at Lekki Gardens, Ikusenla Road, Ikate Elegushi had collapsed, leaving deaths in its trail.