Being one of the basic needs of man, everyone craves a decent home regardless of status or gender, but it becomes a niggling oddity if a home turns the harbinger of death as the disconcerting cases of building collapse suggest in Nigeria. From Rivers to Imo, Akwa Ibom to Abia, Enugu to Oyo and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to Lagos, it is a recurring story: a building collapses on hapless occupants or construction workers, often with no one found blameworthy for the structural disaster. With firm actions by the state governments, nearly all these disastrous events are preventable.
Recently again, two children were trapped and killed when a storey-building collapsed in the Ogudu area of Lagos State. In May, June and July, this year, four buildings collapsed in the Ebute Meta, Ogudu, Lagos Island and Iju areas of Lagos State. Precious lives are needlessly lost to this disastrous trend, which appears to be a bloodsucking ogre haunting the country’s building sector with the stakeholders ostensibly helpless.
It serves as a vivid reminder of the lax regulatory environment across Nigeria. The Building Collapse Prevention Guild noted that 43 cases of building collapse were recorded in the country in 2019. Lagos had the largest figure with 17 cases. Anambra followed with six cases, while Plateau and Delta states recorded three each. Oyo, Enugu, Ondo and Osun had two cases each, while Imo, Kwara, Abia, Adamawa and Katsina states witnessed one incident each. Instructively, some of these buildings were defective at the initial stage. Others were originally designed as bungalows, but later raised to storey buildings in contravention of the permit granted by the authorities. In a major collapse that is still reverberating, 20 persons -mostly schoolchildren- died when a building that housed an illegal school went down in the densely-populated Ita-Faji area of Lagos. Forty-five others were rescued. As a sign of the official negligence that fuels these incidents, the authorities said the building had been marked for demolition at least thrice, but the order was not enforced.
Unfortunately, the laxity persists. This underscores how the states are negligent by not making enough effort to curb the anomaly. The Lagos State Government has however just marked 500 buildings across the state because they are in distress; 102 among them are earmarked for demolition. To save lives, the government agencies concerned must be thorough, impartial and resolute in enforcing these orders.
However, the sealing off of buildings violating physical planning laws or lacking permit is akin to treating the symptoms and avoiding the root cause. Experts have suggested that ministries and agencies involved in physical planning and urban development across the state should go beyond the vetting and assessment of building projects for plan approval and document design to focusing on effective monitoring of actual construction.
The longstanding rhetoric of identifying quacks as handling the technical process of building construction is irksome. There are those saddled with the professional mandate to tackle this. It is thus incumbent on them to roll up their sleeves and infuse sanity into the sector.
The National Assembly identifies the causes of frequent building collapse to include negligence, use of substandard materials and lack of professionalism in the supervision of housing projects. The Nigerian Institute of Builders said, “The higher number (building collapse cases) looks like an indictment on building control agencies, either there is no mechanism for monitoring policies or the policies have some shortcomings. Allowing people to go free after a crime will create a precedent for others.” The organisation is right.
The building industry is a chain and those involved must be purposeful, from urban planners, builders, surveyors, geological technicians, designers, engineers to architects. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria has to rid the building-material sector market of sub-standard products.
The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, Nigerian Society of Engineers, NIOB and other allied professional bodies should sanction members indicted in cases of building collapse. There should also be consistent training and retraining of artisans crucial to the building process to ensure quality delivery of projects.
State governments should stop tolerating building collapse.
In 2019 when two residential buildings in the Muzema neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, collapsed, arrest warrants were immediately issued for three persons believed to have partaken in the construction and sale of the apartments. The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and civil engineer, Marcello Crivella, announced an immediate decision to demolish 16 buildings in the area for identified structural defects. That is responsive governance.
In Nigeria therefore, there must be full implementation of the National Building Code. The states’ materials testing laboratories, building control agencies and other critical units involved in physical planning and urban development should be up and running.
Those in charge of the city planning should have their hands full especially as the rains are here with forceful floods and erosions to expose buildings parading faulty constructions, foundations and extra loads. Experts have noted that cases of building collapse in Nigeria are man-made and not typically linked to natural causes such as hurricane and earth tremors. This places a burden on the relevant authorities to rise up to their responsibilities. Curbing this annual ritual will require a diligent enforcement of relevant laws.