Providing lasting solution to building collapse

Would the Ita-Faaji building collapse in Lagos on March 13, which left many casualties in its wake be said of a tragedy foretold but ignored? How would a three-storey building have gone down with no pre-warning signal? If this fatal building collapse was preventable, who are those to be held responsible for the tragic incident – the owner, Lagos state government or the occupants?

Why would a building that had been previously marked for demolition on three occasions be allowed to remain until that tragedy struck? What lessons have we learned from past cases of building collapse in Nigeria? When will all structurally unfit and defective structures be identified and brought down before they wreak havoc?

Oftentimes the collapse of a building is a disaster that does not occur naturally. Incessant reports of building collapse in Nigeria have become increasingly alarming and embarrassing in this modern age as there seems to be no end in sight to this menace.

Casting a retrospective look into the history of failed buildings in Nigeria, one will observe that Lagos and Abuja appear to record more of such cases than any other state in Nigeria. Lately, there has been a rise in the number of building collapses in the country and it has become so bad that one can arguably say that a record of building collapse is registered somewhere within the country in every six months. According to a report from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, a total of 54 buildings collapsed across the country within a period of four years – 2012 to 2016, while a tribunal set up by the minister Babatunde Fashola, discovered that 135 cases were recorded in Lagos alone between 2007 and 2013.

A national newspaper once reported that there were 33 building collapses in Lagos and 22 in Abuja in 2012; 17 in Lagos and 20 in Abuja in 2013; 13 in Lagos and two in Abuja in 2014. No doubt, these cases of building collapse would have left some fatalities and injuries. Research has it that the most prominent reason for building collapse is lack of quality control and non-compliance with established standards. Professional building experts say faulty architectural and structural design is one out of many identifiable causes of building collapse in Nigeria. The President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), George Akinola, while speaking on a television programme, a day after the Ita-Faaji building collapse, said government building control agencies have been completely overwhelmed and are hence understaffed. He said about 42,000 houses are being built every year in Lagos and as such the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) officials cannot be everywhere, hence the need to involve BCPG and other professional bodies to monitor building constructions in Lagos. Akinola cited the non-inclusion of professionals and trained experts in building procurement and delivery as a major cause of building collapse. He further added that building of houses without approvals may cause building collapse. Jaundiced legislation, non-adherence to standards and absence of national building code were stated as other reasons for building collapse.

Other reasons why buildings collapse are ignorance, negligence, use of substandard materials and greed on the side of everyone involved in the building and construction processes.

In order to stem the tide of building collapse in Nigeria, the president of BCPG said auditing the building processes is the way out. He said this requires that building control agencies approve every stage of the building process, urban renewal and then sanitising the whole process. These processes also involve carrying out integrity tests on buildings which will reveal architecturally sick buildings. Akinola stressed that strict punishment should be meted out to those found culpable in any case of building collapse no matter whose ox is gored.

The General Manager of LASBCA, LekanShodeinde, said there had been no new building collapse in Lagos in the last three years because they had been carrying out material testing on them. He said, “But for the old structures, we are going to be doing foundation analysis of about 70 percent of structures that are over 25 years old to ensure that they are still structurally sound.”

Shodeinde added that the state government planned to remove all distressed and illegal structures prone to collapse as well as those that are not in conformity with the state building laws. “Lagosians should cooperate with the state government by moving out of all buildings marked as distressed and also stay away from demolition sites. Only LASBCA has the responsibility and professional expertise to determine whether a building is distressed or prone to collapse”, he said.

It is also observed that one of the challenges encountered by LASBCA in delayed demolition of buildings marked as distressed is litigation. There seems to be a lot of legal tussles that relate to demolition of weak or structurally defective building which failed integrity tests conducted by the building control agency. We urge the court to hasten the process involved in getting a clearance to demolish structurally sick buildings.

Making building laws to regulate the activities of building contractors, architects and construction engineers is not enough; enforcing these laws is what brings impact. Building laws not obeyed nor enforced is useless. Government must ensure compliance of building contractors with all established laws on building and construction. Government must enforce laws, not just make them. A stiffer penalty must be given to owners of collapsed buildings and those involved in the construction.

As we commiserate with the families of those who lost their loved ones to the Ita-Faaji building collapse, we call on the government not to allow this case to be swept under the carpet as is usually the case. We hope that the advisory and investigative panel set up by the Lagos State government in the aftermath of the tragedy will do the needful. While we await a report from this committee, we expect arrest and prosecution of the culprits in the days ahead.

It is also important that we all admit that we have collectively failed and stop blaming the government and building regulators alone. The citizens must always comply with building standards and obey building laws as well.

Going forward, the government through its building control agencies and regulators must ensure that only structurally sound buildings that can stand the test of time are allowed to stay.

Ojewale writes in via [email protected]

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