Too many deaths from collapsed buildings – Punch
Frequent collapse of buildings across Nigeria should get government at all levels thinking about how to halt this ugly trajectory in the construction industry. Early in March, 34 persons were killed, mostly workers, when a five-storey building under construction collapsed in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos. About 13 others were lucky to have been rescued alive. Before and after this incident, a harvest of deaths and life-threatening injuries had been recorded by not a few families from similar calamities.
The March 9, Lekki tragedy occurred just 18 months after a six-storey-building belonging to Synagogue Church, Lagos, collapsed and claimed the lives of 116 people; 84 of whom were South African nationals. From Abuja to Port Harcourt, Umuahia to Aba, Jos to Lagos, among others, regulatory authorities have been failing in their responsibilities.
A two-storey Jos school came down on its pupils in September 2014; 10 out of the 30 pupils in the building died. The building was structurally defective, according to the National Emergency Management Agency, as it was originally a bungalow but illegally converted to a two-storey building. It was the same impunity at work in the Lekki case. The developer, Lekki Gardens, reportedly exceeded the approved number of floors. But the most confounding was that when the building was sealed, the Lagos State Government, in a statement, said the developer '… unsealed the property and continued building beyond the approved floors.'
Outraged by the failure of the Lagos State Building Control Agency to see its action through, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode sacked its general manager and three other members of staff. Yet, despite the obvious flouting of building regulations by developers and individual builders, the wave of building collapse is clearly an abject failure of governance.
This litany of woes in the building sector did not start with these recent developments. According to the Nigerian Institute of Building, 84 buildings collapsed between 1999 and 2009, claiming at least 400 lives. It is not enough for government officials to simply mark or seal off a building with structural defects, and then go to sleep, as often observed in our cities. Swift action and constant monitoring are needed in the enforcement of regulations to avert calamity.
However, instead of this, a combination of bureaucratic indolence and compromise of officials aid illegalities to continue. The claim by the President of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, Umar Aliyu, that less than 10 per cent of buildings erected in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were designed by qualified or registered architects should trigger the alarm bells, not just in the area, but in Lagos and other cities with a rising profile in estate development.
Ambode was, therefore, right in hitting the LASBCA officials with bare knuckles to send the message that there are consequences for lapses in carrying out official assignments. However, a stronger message lies in prosecuting to a logical end all those that may be found wanting (including state officials) in these recurrent gory spectacles at collapsed building sites. The enforcement of building regulations remains the ultimate antidote.
Many of these collapsed buildings occur in Lagos State. This should be a food for thought for the government. We wager that the untrammelled reclamation of swamps via sand filling is a factor. The Lekki Peninsula is the haven of this unbridled activity. Thorough compaction of the soil is hardly done, just as buildings are erected in less than no time after reclamation. In areas with normal landscape, we doubt that builders go through the rigour of surveying the land and testing soil quality to see if it can carry the structure they want to impose on it.
Besides, quackery and use of substandard materials have become synonymous with Nigeria's building industry. The quality of sand used in moulding blocks is critical. Many block industries, whose operations are unregulated, are the sources of blocks many developers use. Because of profit-motive, sharp sand is not always used, while there is a quantity imbalance between the sand and cement used. A building, whose integrity is grossly compromised at this level, is a disaster waiting to happen.
For the country to arrest these avoidable tragedies, it is imperative for the implementation of the National Building Code to be taken seriously across the states. The policy came into being in 2006 and was reviewed in 2009 by the National Assembly; but many states have yet to adopt it.
The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria should take note of the fact that not every collapsed building is the handiwork of quacks in the building chain. In some instances, qualified engineers' negligence, incompetence and corruption have also fostered such ruins. A building collapses when its structural frame breaks up, making it impossible for the load on it to stand.
As the rainy season begins, many buildings in this category are most likely to crumble. This is why we welcome the integrity test by the Lagos State Government on some structures near the Lekki area where the five-storey building collapsed. Equally commendable is the state's invitation of owners of many abandoned buildings, weakened by the elements, to comply with some safety measures before work could continue on them. The neglect of integrity process such as this, no doubt, has laid the foundation of many collapsed buildings.
The Lagos reawakening, therefore, is a redemptive imperative that all states and the FCT should embrace to change this ugly tide in the building industry.