Again, another building collapse?

It was disheartening to note that another building collapse has just occurred in Lagos. This time, a three-storey building with a penthouse in Ita-Faji area has left over 20 people, mostly school children, dead and many others injured. Not long ago, a similar tragedy happened at the centre of excellence. The question now is; don’t we learn from our mistakes?

The Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr Titilayo Goncalves, said the collapse was unfortunate. She said the government, being responsible and responsive, was concerned about the health and wellbeing of the citizens and would be providing clinical follow-up and rehabilitation session to ensure good health of victims of the incident and help them recuperate by following-up on the mental health treatment for those who may have been traumatised by the incident. Good idea, but prevention is always better than cure. Goncalves added that mental health talk and support was being offered by trained psychiatrists, grief counsellors and social workers, among others.

Building collapse in many parts of Nigeria has caused the loss of many lives and property. The actual cause of the recurring decimal has remained contentious. The use of substandard materials, activities of quacks and the cutting of corners in a bid to save cost, have been identified as some of the reasons for the persistent collapse. In many cases, buildings with foundations for one storey are later elevated into several storey by illegal means. In such circumstances, it would only be a matter of time before such buildings with obvious weak foundations collapse without difficulty.

We should ask; how were house owners able to add other floors on-top of the existing structure without the certification of the building agency? Afterall, the building could take several weeks to complete. What are the regulators doing while the structures were becoming prominent? Are they still in control? Demolition of the deficient structures should be carried out swiftly after the expiration of the period of notice because of the threat to public safety, as the government may not tolerate the resistance of residents to relocate to another place. It should comply with acceptable requirements and initiatives that would reduce pressure on urbanisation that we are now experiencing. This is to maintain high quality assurance.

Another precautionary measure that should make school owners to be more careful is the interrogative role. Parents and guardians should ensure that schools are registered and safe for their children and wards. They should demand for approved building plans. This is to create the wake-up call that someone is putting them under surveillance. Today, many developers avoid the services of professional engineers and settle for quacks. This should be discouraged. There have been cases of qualified structural engineers and other professionals who withdrew from projects because the developers had ignored standard requirements for materials and structural details. Hence, appropriate regulatory bodies should enforce their existing sanctions on any member that compromises set standards.

It is unfortunate that in the nation, education has become a big business as a result of the failure of government to give priority attention and budgets that are sufficient in terms of resource allocation in educating the citizenry. The problem of building collapse is not localised. Therefore, the solutions would require a holistic approach of all tiers of government in order to stem the ugly tide. A comprehensive survey of housing in the nation will show that both in urban and rural areas, majority of our people live in structures unfit for human habitation. The problem is worse in the urban areas where dwellers lack good streets, proper drainages and adequate sanitation. While the solutions require collective efforts, the relevant agencies in each state must carry out an integrity assessment of houses; most especially in the urban areas such as Lagos.

Lagos has what it takes for such a comprehensive Marshal Plan approach to tame this challenge. Unless this is done, the present slum conditions would continue, especially with the certainty of similar avoidable tragedies due to the pressure for housing. The quest for this tragedy and impunity should not be tolerated any more and anywhere in the country. There is the need to put a stop to this issue. As a way forward, government regulatory agencies have to be more decisive in enforcing the laws and punishing culprits in building collapse cases. There is need to be tough on those abetting building collapse, especially those linked to dereliction of duty; otherwise the ugly incident may continue. That is why it should no longer be business as usual for any meaningful intervention.

Emergency response should be better arranged for any eventuality. The gory sight of people rescuing trapped victims seem to be done mostly by untrained persons constitute another source of worry. Any sensitive government should be proactive and be prepared for uncertainties. While it is the desire for the people to live under a safe and habitable environment, this should not be pursued at the detriment of their safety. Lagos should really take the matter of building collapse with great caution, importance and attention that it deserves.

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