The high death toll from building collapse

A report from a survey published last week indicating that at least 305 people have died while no fewer than 449 people got injured in 83 cases of building collapse in Nigeria since 2013 is not only worrisome but it is also deplorable.

The survey carried out by a national daily stated that the figures only reflected reported cases by the media as many cases were never heard of. It said Lagos remains the epicentre of building collapse in Nigeria with 50 reported cases between 2013 and 2019. These cases include the infamous Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which caved in and led to the death of 115 people with over 131 others injured.

There were other cases in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Imo, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Benue, and Taraba, and Kano states. Unfortunately, these disasters have not elicited the right conversation that would have led to decisive actions to halt the trend.

According to the report, experts attributed the disasters to human error including failure by developers to respect building plans and specification. In order to cut cost, it was learnt that many of the property developers deploy quack engineers and procure substandard building materials.

Also, to date there have been no documented conviction of people allegedly culpable in the building collapse cases while compensation for victims are questionable. Sources said most of the developers connived with enforcement agents to go away unpunished.

The report said that there were 25 building collapse in 2021, 27 in 2020, 12 in 2019, two in 2018 and eight in 2017. In 2013, seven cases were reported and two cases recorded in 2014. There were no reported cases of building collapse in 2015, but two cases were recorded in 2016.

The latest incident on Gerald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos two weeks ago claimed 45 lives, with many injured. Though the Lagos state government has set up a panel of inquiry, it is yet to make its investigations public.

Meanwhile, experts in the building industry are concerned about the latest incident, describing it as “very devastating.” Emmanuel Chukwunonye Madu, an engineer and chief executive officer of Shungrila Estates Limited, said sharp practices in the building production processes resulted to failures or collapses.

“Buildings collapse when standard procedures are compromised, either during design or construction,” he said.

He advised that adequate and diligent supervision by relevant and competent professionals should be carried out on every building at every stage of the development process.

“But the panacea is the establishment of a robust supervisory system nationwide, involving qualified personnel and professionals for both design and construction stages.

“The government must get serious and work with relevant professional bodies in the country to fashion out a competent supervisory system devoid of frustration and malpractices. It can be done,” he said.

President, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Alhaji Mohammed Abba Tor, urged Nigerians developing physical structures to always give professionals the to manage their projects. He stressed that the use of quacks in the building process was responsible for the rising incidents of building collapses in the country.

He also said the use of quality and adequate materials was key to producing buildings that would withstand the vagaries of weather and time.

“The usage of quality materials in the right quantity is necessary. That is why using professionals right from the design stage to the completion stage is the solution to ending building collapses,” he said.

President of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Ali Rabiu, an engineer, said the council has set up its independent investigative panel to unravel the Ikoyi tragedy.

“Following the collapse, we have held several consultations with various stakeholders in the building environment. Subsequently, on behalf of the Council, I have constituted a COREN-Special Investigation Panel on the Collapsed 21-Storey Building at Ikoyi, Lagos state.

“This is pursuant to section 1(1) (h) of the Engineers (Registration, etc) (Amendment) Act, 2018, that empowers the COREN to investigate engineering failures,” part of the statement reads.

The immediate past president of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), Mr Kunle Awobodu, said the right things must be done from the beginning to the end of the construction process.

It is quite unfortunate that while the nation is battling with a myriad of insecurity including the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, rape, among others that are daily claiming the lives of innocent and hapless Nigerians, a preventable disaster like building collapse could be allowed to exacerbate the already calamitous situation.

We, therefore, call on government at all levels and other major stakeholders in the building industry to go back to the drawing board with a view to devising more ingenious methodology to stem the orgies of death from incessant building collapse in the country. Culprits of the latest Ikoyi building collapse should be made to face the full wrath of the law in order to serve as deterrence to others.