Stakeholders are disturbed by the incessant building collapses in the country. The question on the lip of everybody is, will this menace which is causing embarrassment for the country ever end?
Gbenga Arowolo acquired a land and decided to build a bungalow because that was what his money could carry him then. Many years after, he decided to convert the bungalow to a four-storey building.
He did not consult any engineer or builder to advise him on what to do but instead engage the services of quack artisans. They succeeded in constructing the four storey building and it was given out for rent. Five years after, the building cave in and collapsed. Experts attributed it to faulty foundation.
Arowolo is just one of the people out there who prefer to take shortcut rather than do the right thing by engaging professional builders.
However, when the country witnessed the first building collapse, many thought that was going to be the last, little do they know that that was just the beginning of the menace which stakeholders said, has brought embarrassment to the country.
One-time minister of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Chief Nduese Essien, claimed that the frequent building collapses in the country was caused by the town planners who are no longer performing their duty as laid down by law.
He said, “Some years ago, we used to have town planning departments that gives approval for every building in the city but for sometime, the town planning departments are no longer performing that function.
“They just stay wherever they are and give approval without studying the design or location of the houses. That is why we have ended up with several collapse buildings. The buildings that are collapsing are not the old buildings; they are the new ones that have not gone through proper process.”
Former President of the Nigerian Institute of Building, NIOB, Bldr Chucks Omeife admitted that building can collapse is due to old age and misuse especially when maintenance are not carried out on them regularly. He also disclosed that collapses are caused by people who have no business in building environment. “Nigeria has no business with collapse of building because it is not a country that has problems like other countries in terms of weather condition or bad soil.
“Our soil can carry any type of building, so why would a building collapse? If you ask me, it is caused by lack of regulatory body, we have outdated regulation, people are more daring, everybody is shouting building collapse but nobody is prosecuted or punishment meted on anybody by government,” Omeife complained.
Omeife noted that building collapse has brought embarrassment and shame to all the professionals in the building profession. “Human errors, ignorance, carelessness and error of intent by greedy developers are also responsible for frequent cases of building collapse in Nigeria,” he added.
Also adding her voice is former President of Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria, APWEN, Mrs. Inibong Louisa who blamed the frequent collapse buildings across the country on the quality of professionals handling the projects.
“The presence of unprofessional engineers against the actual engineers, coupled with compromises of standard, play major roles in causing many disasters of collapse buildings across the country.”
Some experts also attributed building collapses to the use of inferior and substandard building materials coupled with the engagement of incompetent artisans and weak or wrong supervision.
However, there seems to be no solution for the menace which started as far back as 2006 in Lagos. In 2006 alone, up to 3 building collapses were reported and many lives were lost in the process.
Precisely July 18, 2010, four-storey block of flats collapsed in Lagos killing 25 people. Another collapse that occurred on March 22, 2010, was the top nine-storey of a 21-storey building of the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, NIDB. It happened after a fire gutted two-storey in the building earlier that month. Heavy winds during a thunderstorm caused the building to cave in from the structural weakness after the fire.
The twin collapses on same day in Ebute-Meta and Hadeja Road by Gombe Road very close to the Sheikh Gumi Central Market in Lagos and Kaduna respectively cannot be forgotten so soon. Incidentally, both buildings are four and three-storey buildings respectively, that served as both residential and commercial.
Investigations revealed that most of the collapses in Lagos especially the one on Popoola Olafuyi street, Ewutuntun, Oshodi was a bungalow before it was converted to a duplex, killing two persons on the spot.
Some experts believe that government is not serious with the incessant collapses. In Turkey and Malaysia, where mass houses are visible everywhere, there have not be any case of building collapse because their government are interested in their construction industries.
Over there, government builds houses and gives to individuals, and where individuals or organizations build by themselves, government ensures strict compliance on specification with supervision on their activities.
In Nigeria, governments don’t build and when individuals and organizations build, they don’t supervise after giving building approvals for construction. They don’t even care to know who the engineers or builders and those that are supposed to work on the building to even know whether they are the same people that are responsible for past collapses, once they see the architectural drawings, they give go-ahead.
Our findings have shown that they don’t even check, especially if the person is related to them. Ordinarily, they are supposed to go to site for supervision after seeing the paper work.
Meanwhile, George Okojie, a building expert in his report, said, at a time when developed and developing countries are striving to take buildings to the skies, Nigeria is still battling with the worrisome menace of how to overcome the problem of building collapse.
He claimed that the last building collapse that occurred was so painful because the victims were trapped for days waiting for help that never came because of the distortion in the physical planning of the bubbling commercial enclave which made rescue operation impossible.
“This is a country where the people and government are not prepared for disaster management. The concerned residents engaged themselves in rescue efforts using local implements. The bereaved wail and cry to high heavens asking questions, and as usual, the government, professionals and other stakeholders in their usual manner continue to trade blames without proffering lasting solution to the problem.
“It is sad that despite the importance attached to shelter in man’s hierarchy of needs and our culture, building collapse has continue to be a recurring decimal in the Nigerian society,” Okojie said.
Proffering solution to problem of building collapse, director of First Group construction, a property development giant and winner of Arabian Property Award, Amr Al Baward said before they start any project in their country, they comb everywhere and engage specialised property development consultants who do soil investigations for all the plots. “Based on the soil investigation report, we then decide which way the design will go. Whether we will go with what is called raft foundation design or the palling design. That will be first step. Based on these findings, the consultant will design. Normally in Dubai, the design must go to the Dubai municipality office.
“There is a very strict rule about structure and design. Buildings in Dubai are all about integrity. We are aware that the day a building collapses in Dubai that will be the end of Dubai property industry especially whenever you have a tower which is B+ that is above 20 floors,” he noted.
Baward said you need to get a three part approval. The professional resident in the municipal office that specialises in structural design will look through it and approve the design done by the consultant.
After that the design goes back again to the client to see through it again to also stamp the drawing and return it to the Dubai municipality office to finally approve the drawing. “That is the process and procedure and it is a long one, but it is for the safety and integrity of the country. We are pleased to have this kind of system that always provides stability for the buildings,” he concluded.
The director of First Group revealed that it takes up to eight months to get a building approval. That is the time you can have the contractor on site. “Before you have the building approved, it is a taboo to have a contractor on site to do anything. Building materials must be certified. The contractor will submit list of materials to be used to the consultant for approval and the consultant will have to approve it technically and commercially and the client will want quality for his own good.”
He said severe punishments are always meted to any developer that tries to cut corners. “It is imposed by the authorities and the clients also. The procedure here in Dubai is that you cannot cast or pour a cubic meter of concrete without getting the inspection done by the consultants before it goes to the inspection of Dubai municipality.
“They cannot pour anything without government approval, but if it is discovered that they have done the pouring of the concrete, the project will be abruptly terminated, no matter who owns the building, they will be penalised, downgraded and all that stuff.”
Meanwhile, analysts opined apart from the losses incurred by the victims anytime a building collapses, it is shameful and even more embarrassing. Worse still, it is often disheartening that a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa could not get right the process of erecting a sound structure.
They argued that rather than address the national nightmare, the leaders of the country and relevant stakeholders prefer to spend huge resources on discussions bothering on zoning of political positions, bickering over who occupy what position in the country, forgetting that building product is an investment on its own and a bulwark against the vagaries of economy and fiscal turbulence.
Experts are worried that if countries like Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia, UAE, Egypt and others who build high-rising buildings don’t experience collapse, why then is Nigeria experiencing building collapses?
Bld Omeife claimed that the existing law has not been favourable to anybody in the country and urged the National Assembly to put a law in place to tackle the issue of collapse buildings. “As long as the law is not there, the issue will not be addressed, and nobody will be arrested.”
Former REDAN president, Chief Bode Afolayan who attributed building collapse to use of substandard materials in construction, suggested that the Building Materials Producers Association of Nigeria, BUMPAN and other government agencies should come together and regulate the system, in the sense that quacks are not allow in the market.
“Why should this country be a dumping ground for substandard products, simply because the building materials producers are not coming together with Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON to ensure that standard materials are brought into the country,” Afolayan argued.
While other countries are thinking of the implication of building collapse, experts believe that government is not doing enough to put the right laws in place and also punish those behind building collapse hence allowing more quacks to infiltrate the profession.
If offenders of building collapse are not punished and the above suggestions are not considered couple with the non-challant attitude of government to mass housing in the country, then Nigerians should expect more collapses. However, whether government has the political will or not will determine whether this menace will continue to be in existence or not.