As other countries are challenging and breaking engineering boundaries, approaching a kilometer in height of buildings, piercing through the skies and going closer to the clouds, going deep down the sea and stretching several kilometers, digging deep underneath the earth, breaking through rocks and building mega structures with resilience and flexibility to withstand earthquake, Nigeria is still struggling to build robust one storey, two storey and three storey buildings that won’t collapse.
Buildings have collapsed, are collapsing, and are likely to continue collapsing in Nigeria. But the recent collapse of a three storey residential, business, and educational building all under one roof, on one foundation and housing some innocent school children points to our insensitivity and lack of willpower to face the problem head-on. Buildings collapse due to myriad of reasons from natural to manmade and in some cases, due to negligence.
To start with, our schools of engineering are not preparing seasoned engineers. Our schools are only producing students that memorised what they can’t put into practice on site. So many engineers out there can’t use design codes, interpret, and implement engineering drawings.
Also, some engineers leave construction site at the mercy of artisans with less or no supervision. Like the average Nigerian, most engineers are corrupt. Reducing quality and diverting and making excess money on site.
Clients, especially the general populace focuses on the money aspect of a building over quality. As a result, most people resist engaging professionals, solely supervising and handling every aspect of their projects. Contractors on the other hand are greedy. To maximise profit, they cut all sort of corners. Consultants and government officials are compromised to look the other way. On one of my recent visit to a three storey primary school under construction, I was shocked to realise that the person supervising the project has no engineering background. In fact, when I asked him about the mix ratio he uses on site, his answer was that he uses his eyes to determine whether the cement is sufficient enough for the concrete from the colour of the cement after mixing it with enough sand, gravel, and water.
In a nutshell, he is not adopting the design mix for the structure. But then, what else do you expect when the contractor is a friend to the governor?
Construction is capital intensive and in Nigeria, being in charge of a construction site is synonymous to becoming rich. So, everyone wants to join and eat from the cake. That was how a metallurgical engineer supervised the construction of a faculty of engineering office while I was an undergraduate. That building brought so much shame to the whole faculty of engineering. Not until it was recently demolished and a new one erected.