Ending the phenomenon of building collapse

Last Tuesday, the President of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Engr. Ali A. Rabiu, laid the blame for the perennial building collapses in the country at the doorsteps of development control officers.

Rabiu noted that from January till date, a total of 17 buildings had crumbled across the states of the federation.

He spoke at the press briefing held at the end of the meeting of presidents of some regulatory and professional bodies in the building sector in Abuja.

The COREN president also called for the establishment of the law on the enforcement and compliance of the approved national building code, and its domestication in the states.

The COREN boss stressed: “The development control officers largely contribute to the collapse of buildings in Nigeria. They should be held responsible. There should be a mechanism to ensure that only registered professionals are engaged by clients.”

Rabiu also identified the use of non-professionals, non-verification of building design, substandard materials, non-legislation and enforcement of national building code by the National Assembly, non-domestication of the national building code, among others, as the causes of building collapses in the country, and called for the establishment of a construction court to handle cases of misconduct.

“There is the need for a law/act on the enforcement and compliance of the approved national building code by the National Assembly. This must be strictly complied with in the built environment. All state governments are advised to domesticate the code. Forum of regulatory bodies in the built environment should drive the bill” he stated.

The COREN president gave the assurance that the council would soon commence the enforcement of a new act that empowered the body to end the increasing rate of building collapses in the country.

It is, indeed, a sad commentary to note that 17 structures, including those under construction, have come down like a pack of cards within the first half of the year, leading to loss of human lives. The incidents have become so rampant in recent times that reports of such calamities and casualties rarely make it to newspaper cover pages in some cases.

We should not accept the phenomenon as fait accompli. There have been more serious incidents occurring especially in Lagos to the extent that one is tempted to conclude that the littoral city is hit by selective earthquakes. Among the most frightening of the disasters was the collapse of the guest house under construction at the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in September 2014, claiming the lives of 115 foreign nationals.

Investigations by three government agencies, namely the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute (NIBRRI), the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) and COREN, affirmed that the necessary specifications for such a high rising building were compromised in all ramifications. The authorities of the church alleged that a plane overflew the structure so low and it rocked the structure to its foundation, leading to its collapse.

About a year ago, another building collapse of monumental scale occurred along Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, where a 21-storey luxury building came down, killing about 50 people, including the owner, Mr. Olufemi Osibona. Investigations carried out on the tragedy revealed that the incident was rooted in the collapse of values, morals and ethics.

Other building downfalls are traceable to the structure of old buildings whose foundations have been weakened over time and the failure of the relevant agencies to effect evacuation of occupants and/or seal off the premises when it was obvious that disaster was waiting to happen.

Besides corruption on the part of those charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no corners were cut in the construction process, there is the collapse of the iron and steel sector. The Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Steel Rolling Mills were envisioned to complement the construction sector among others. Their collapse denied the nation the right materials needed to deliver the quality products. In the absence of iron and steel produced by the Mills, building owners now rely on inferior iron rods produced from smelted body parts of automobiles. Then, there is the criminal habit of mixing cement with sands in a grossly disproportionate ratio to save cost.

Government at all levels must ensure that relevant agencies and their officials are up and running in the discharge of their responsibilities. Where it is proven that a disaster has occurred due to official negligence on the part of development control officers, appropriate punishment should be meted out to them. It is public knowledge that development control officials snoop around looking for violators during which structures contravening building regulations are marked for stoppage of work or demolition. Oftentimes, the identification exercise is carried out to get the developers to show up at their offices for “settlement”. This corrupt practice must give way to due diligence in order for the man-made calamities to stop.

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