After a period of momentary lull, the familiar spectre of collapsed buildings has reared its ugly head once again, prompting the usual clamour for a stricter enforcement of standard building codes. Barely 72 hours after the tragic Lagos incident that claimed no fewer than 20 lives, a good number of them schoolchildren, disaster struck again in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, where another three-storey building caved in on Friday. The Ibadan dust had hardly settled when Lagos reportedly recorded yet another building collapse on Monday; it has been an embarrassment coming in quick succession.
Thankfully, the Ibadan episode did not claim lives; but frequent building collapse incidents should not be allowed to become a norm in a country that professes to be run under the rule of law. As the rainy season returns, it promises to be the beginning of another eerie period of buildings caving in after the usual downpours. But buildings that are constructed with strict adherence to guidelines of internationally acceptable best practices cannot just be coming down so routinely, like a house of cards. It is therefore the duty of the government to institute a thorough investigation to uncover the immediate and remote causes of the collapse, and how to stop future occurrences.
The first incident in Lagos was particularly very painful because the building in question was one of those already marked down for demolition, having exhibited visible signs of distress. Besides, the state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, said it was a residential building in which a section was illegally converted to a school. How did this manage to escape the attention of the relevant authorities?
This remiss shows that the relevant authorities are not doing their job diligently. For instance, an agency such as the Lagos State Building Control Agency has the responsibility to identify and remove distressed and non-conforming buildings. But the agency went missing completely during the period that the school owners risked the lives of scores of innocent children by packing them into a wobbly structure, which they passed off as school premises. Therefore, the state government should be held responsible for the lives that were lost.
In a rush to fill the educational gap created by lack of sufficient number of public schools, people turn virtually every building into a school. It is the duty of the Ministry of Education to ensure that such illegal operations are not only uncovered, but are promptly sealed off and those promoting them dealt with according to the law. If the regulatory agencies had acted swiftly, the building would not still be standing until it eventually crumbled and buried many innocent schoolchildren alive. This is especially so that the fact of its distressed nature was already a public knowledge.
A newspaper report quoted a certain Bukola Salami, who claimed to have worked as a teacher in the school, as saying, “When I was in the school, I used to hear sounds as if someone was throwing stones from the walls. The building cracks and the walls shake at times.” Although she reportedly left the school as a result of her feeling of insecurity, she could perhaps have achieved more if she had sounded the alarm louder so that others would also follow in her footsteps.
Aside from being an embarrassing nuisance, building collapse in many parts of Nigeria has led to the loss of many lives. One of such incidents was in 2016 when a church building that was at the last stages of completion, caved in, claiming about 200 lives, according to reports. In that particular incident, which took place in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, the Governor, Udom Emmanuel, was among the 186 lucky ones that escaped with injuries.
Prior to the Uyo incident, the guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos had also buckled under the weight of its multiple storeys, resulting in the death of no fewer than 115 worshippers, more than 80 of them South Africans. Another report had it that 272 lives were lost in incidents of building collapse in the 17 months to August 2017.
In that same year, a report by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, said 54 buildings collapsed across the country between 2012 and 2016, while a tribunal set up by former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, discovered that 135 cases of building collapse were recorded in Lagos alone between 2007 and 2013.
The use of substandard materials, activities of quacks and the cutting of corners in order to save cost have been identified as some of the reasons for the collapse. In many cases, buildings with foundations for one storey are later elevated into three or even four storeys. In such circumstances, it will only be a matter of time before such buildings with obvious weak foundations, come tumbling down.
To buck this trend, government regulatory agencies have to be more rigorous in enforcing the laws and punishing culprits in building collapse cases. For instance, when the Morandi Bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy, in 2018, the Transport Minister, Danilo Toninelli, did not only call for the resignation of top officials of the company operating the bridge, but promised to start proceedings against the company, which could result in sanctions of up to $169 million.
Nigeria has to be tough on those responsible for building collapse, especially those found guilty of dereliction of duty; otherwise the ugly incident will continue to plague the country.