Tackling unending building collapse in Nigeria

The increasing spate of building collapse in Nigeria and the seeming inability of the nation’s policy makers to stem the ugly trend is worrisome. This is more so, considering the huge losses in terms of lives and property each time a building collapsed. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report sought experts view on the how to tackle the menace.

Nigerians were thrown into shock and mourning recently following the collapse of a three-storey building in Lagos. It was disheartening to see pictures of dead and injured children being taken out of the rubbles. The building, located at 14, Massey Street, Ita-Faji, though officially meant to be a residential building, was housing a private nursery and primary school on the second and third floors. The building also had a penthouse, shops, offices and a business centre.

The school had an estimated 170 pupils, and most of them were in class when the building caved in. Teachers and workers in the business centre and shops were also on ground when the incident occurred. Many people including school children were killed while more than 50 others were rescued.

Ticking bomb

In the wake of the Lagos incident, the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) on Monday said about 36,000 potential collapses are waiting to happen in Lagos state. According to the President of BCPG, Mr Akinola George, this is because most buildings in Lagos state are not constructed by the people who are properly trained to do so.

He said construction professionals had been reduced to onlookers on the building construction and procurement scene as they participate in less than 20 per cent of the total volume of construction activities going on in the state.

“A survey revealed that over 45,000 sites existed at a time in Lagos state. 20 per cent of these sites translate to 9,000. Hence by deduction, quacks and other faceless characters by whatever names called are responsible for the remaining 80 per cent. A whopping 36,000 potential collapses are waiting to happen,” he said.

The BCPG, an umbrella body of all construction professionals in the country urged the Lagos state Government to pay serious attention to buildings on Lagos Island, Oworoshoki/Bariga, Somolu, Ebute Metta, Mushin, Ajegunle, among others to identify all precariously standing buildings.

“In this regard, the government should set up a high powered committee comprising government officials and the private sector core professionals which would employ the Lagos state Material Testing Laboratory to check the integrity of buildings in these areas,” the group said.

BCPG added that, “Specific emphasis should be paid in this regard to Lagos Island, Mushin, Ajegunle, Somolu, Bariga, lwaya, Makoko, Ebute-Metta, Surulere, lpaja, Iyana-Ipaja, Abule Egba and Ketu.

One building collapse too many

Unfortunately, building collapse has become a regular occurrence in Nigeria. Statistics from the National Council on Lands, Housing and Urban Development said a total of 54 buildings collapsed across the country within a period of four years.

The council which is made up of commissioners of lands, housing and urban development of all states in Nigeria , directors and the permanent secretaries at the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing , ministers of relevant ministries , as well as other qualified stakeholders in the industry .

In a communiqué issued at the end of the 6th meeting of the council, with the theme: Building for Inclusion , Growth and Prosperity , participants at the gathering put the number of building collapse that occurred in Nigeria between 2012 and 2016 at 54.

The council urged the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) to collaborate in conducting detailed investigation and report on the identities of professionals and non – professionals involved in the 54 collapsed buildings between 2012 and 2016 and those that collapsed between 2017 till date.”

Lack of judicious prosecution                                

Significantly, in the wake of the many devastating building collapse in Nigeria, commissions of inquiries or probe panels were set up to investigate the cause with a view to finding lasting solutions to the menace. Sadly, none seems to have reached a logical conclusion; and consequently, no culprit has been brought to book.

Lamenting how governments treat alleged culprit of building collapse with kids’ gloves especially in Lagos, Chief Inspector, COREN, Mr Sam Adeleke, said: “Each time there is a building collapse the government of the state involved will issue a warning on zero tolerance of substandard buildings but nothing tangible comes out of it until the next building collapse tragedy occurs.

 “Lagos state should go after the owners of the houses and all their collaborators and ensure that they are visited with exemplary punishment. Building planning authorities all over the country must learn lessons from this terrible experience of Lagos. Steps should be taken immediately to identify all unfit buildings and demolish them without further ado.”

Why it persists

Expectedly, experts have identified major causes of building collapse in Nigeria to include bad design, faulty construction, over loading, non-possession of approved drawings, possession of approved drawings but non-compliance, the use of quarks among others.

In a bid to curb building collapse and the attendant losses a real estate expert in Abuja, Mr Babatunde Gbadamosi, has called for a thorough and objective inquiry into building collapse in Nigeria by looking meticulously for practical lessons that can be applied immediately to prevent further occurrence.

He said: “A quick review of all buildings used as public spaces of gathering, whether as schools, churches, mosques or malls or event centres on more than one floor needs to be undertaken by specialist civil engineers.”

“Special equipment could be used to verify the dead-weight carrying capacity of the upper decks of these buildings. Once that is done existing buildings can be rated for specific kinds of safe uses that will not cause collapse. A stitch in time, they say, will save nine.”

Similarly, Architect Augustine Otuoke has blamed  incessant building collapse on shoddy building construction arising from use of sub-standard materials all in a bid to cut corners, he insisted that strict enforcement of the building code will eliminate quackery from housing delivery while standard buildings would be guaranteed across the country.

He said: “Ordinarily, if the Ita Faji building was built by professionals you can be sure that the story would have been different. This goes to unearth the fact that standard processes and procedures for construction must have been thoroughly compromised in terms of appropriate design, proper documentation, right construction procedure and professional supervision as well as appropriate control by personnel of the regulatory agencies of government.

“Statistics obtained from Lagos State building Control Agency (LASBCA), revealed that over 75 per cent of the buildings that are collapsing are the ones built by developers. This means that developers in their quest to cut corners to maximise profit, habitually compromise and jettison professionalism.

“The collapsed building we were told was a mixed use housing a school and residents. The question begging for answer is, was the building originally designed and built for mixed use or was it adapted for mixed use after construction? The superimposed load to habour a school is not the same for a residential use, particularly on the upper floors.

 “While the superimposed load for a school is about 5.0kN/m2, residential is between 1.5kN/m2 to 2kN/m2. By using a building structurally designed as residential for a school puts the lives of occupants at a great risk and sets the building on the path of collapse.

“The Lagos state government has pencilled about 1000 distressed buildings for demolition, what is preventing this action; lack of administrative will and politicking with the lives and safety of residents of Lagos. Government should rise up and do the right thing irrespective of whose ox is gored, as a stitch in time saves nine.

“Government should know that many of its regulatory personnel are negligent and compromised. They should embark on outsource of its regulatory functions as the task of preventing building collapse is obviously getting beyond the ability of the government personnel to handle.”

Similarly, National Secretary of Landscape Architects of Nigeria (SLAN), Amos Alao, said the strict enforcement of the Nigerian building code will avert the recurring building collapse in Nigeria.

The landscape expert said it was necessary to go back to the drawing board in order to avert recurring building collapse in the country by enforcing the national building code.

He said: “There have been so many perspectives to building collapse in Nigeria. Some have talked about the structural analysis, architecture or engineering failure, but little is said about the land on which the buildings are standing on.

“We are yet to implement the Nigerian building code which says that if you are going to build a high rise building, it is supposed to have a certain percentage of soil volume or capacity to hold it. A lot of things are wrong with the Nigerian construction industry; everybody has this fault, from the manufacturers, to the clients, the engineers and the marketers. “There is a Nigerian building code that needs to be implemented to overhaul the Nigerian construction industry; we need to start from the implementation and enforcement of the building code.

“The code contains what a building requires, for example escape routes, exit routes, all these parameters are stated in the building code. He said the building code should contain the provision of facilities a building requires so that in emergency cases, disaster managers could quickly rescue victims like in the recent building collapse in Lagos.

“The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing should be charged with the responsibility of implementing and enforcing the Nigerian building code. With the building code, the responsibility of every engineer will be clearly outlined in the construction of any building without cross-carpeting responsibilities.”

Alao also called for the vetting of building materials imported into the country, while importers of fake building materials are to be brought to book. He disclosed that engineers have always had the bulk of the blame for most of the collapses in the country, adding that they are either blamed for structural designs or low quality materials.

“It is high time we sanctioned the importers of inferior building materials. The engineer purchases iron rods from the market that do not fit the strength specification for the building because its quality was reduced by the marketers. It is not the job of the engineer to check how strong the metal is, if he completely trusts the marketers.

“In most building collapse, the client/owner of the building should be held responsible also. The engineers may complain about the quality of the building materials and the clients can insist they go ahead. When such buildings collapse, the professionals are always held responsible and the clients are nowhere to be found. Every developer is responsible for everybody on the site.

“The expert also called on builders to adhere to the books when constructing a building and not cutting corners. Nigeria can get building construction right with plenty of research. For instance, the oldest storey building in Badagry is still standing till date. We have others at Calabar and the first suspended floor in Lokoja. All of these buildings were erected by Nigerians with the input of the Whites, meaning that it is possible to have good quality buildings in Nigeria.

“Why our buildings presently cannot stand the test of time is largely because of the materials used. For instance, the textbook says use clean water to mix cement, but here in Nigeria our water is not clean. When we make use of unclean water to mix cement, we should not expect to get the same strength with cement mixed with clean water”, he stated.

Way out           

As a way of finding to the menace, Adeleke said: “COREN encouraged state governments to appoint only qualified planning professionals to undertake physical planning consultancy and requested all tiers of government to ensure improved budgetary provisions for the preparation of master plans and other categories of physical plans for the development of urban and rural areas across the country.

“The council also appealed to states and international organisations for support and collaboration to combat slum as well as undertake proactive measures to promote urban renewal and slum upgrading.”

Buhari reads riot Act

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday warned that persons who compromised building regulations and quality standards in country would be punished.

He said the increase in cases of building collapse was an indication of impunity by those responsible.

Buhari gave the warning in when the leadership of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors visited him at the Presidential Villa.

Buhari said: “The recent tragic incidents in Lagos and many others across the country, remind us of the need to strictly adhere to quality standards when it comes to construction projects.

“Young, innocent lives must never be lost due to incompetence and greed. Simply put, no corners must be cut. l want to assure you that those responsible for such incidents of professional negligence will feel the full wrath of the law. ”

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