Mr Goke Odunlami is an international expert in Residential Construction spanning over 30 years. He had this interview with Viewpoint Housing News following the recent building collapse incidents in Nigeria. He said Nigeria’s building failures are self-inflicted fatal incidents not accidents because the physical evidence are always obvious. According to him, regulatory and control officers do look away as the Building Control Departments do not have the political will to punish culprits and records to trace those who cause the incidents are always lost. Odunlami maintains that more buildings will still collapsebecausetheir stress level is still progressing and the legal system is not fast enough to handle the volume of corrupt practices and contravention issues in the construction industry in Nigeria.
Viewpoint: What would you give as the main cause(s) of building collapse in Nigeria?
Odunlami:The one most important cause for building collapse in Nigeria is the lack of the regulatory authorities and department supervision and enforcement of standards of design, material and technical competence, compliance to design regulations and implementation of the approved design.
Supervision is a skill on its own and enforcement can be backed by the law. Looking around our cities, simply viewing some building structures will indicate standards of construction but regulatory and control officers have looked the other way. When a building collapses, if investigated, it will be glaring compromise had occurred and the building control officer had neither acted or acted too late.
Lagos State Government just formed a committee “to advise the state on what happened in the Itafaji collapse and what could be done better in the future”. Have we forgotten Lekki Garden building collapse so quickly? Were there no lessons learned? This is a glaring demonstration that the Physical Planning department never knew what could cause building collapse with all the seasoned Registered Engineers within the state ministry for the control of building construction. If bad or substandard materials are used regardless of who is responsible – client, builder or Site Engineer, the Building Control Officer is the regulatory authority to curb it.
Viewpoint:Why are owners of failed buildings hardly punished in Nigeria?
Odunlami:The Building Control Departments do not have the political will and records might have been lost to trace the culprits, except recent cases where the owners were apprehended.
Viewpoint: From what you see in the UK and other developed economies, what lessons can be brought to bear on local construction in Nigeria to save the country from building failure?
Odunlami:Unfortunately, more buildings are still going to collapse in the future — their stress level is still progressing and our legal system is not fast enough to handle the volume of corrupt practices and contravention issues in the construction industry in Nigeria.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Executives can shut down a site on any discovery of practices injurious to persons or the general public. Nigeria is weak in enforcing building laws and only state government with strong political will for the safety of her citizens can enforce Stop Work order and ensure non delay of demolition of non-compliant construction. The imprisonment and heavy fines in the UK have seen a lot of CEOs face the wrath of non-compliance in construction.
Viewpoint: How can Nigeria tackle this problem? Please give immediate, medium and long term measures?
Odunlami:All construction sites must display Supervising Engineer’s details and Approval Reference Number. Currently only large construction sites display this information. Sub-standard material blacklist should be made a public documents. Materials market should have competent control officers. State government must have whistle-blower hotline for reporting criminal practices on construction sites. All concrete structures must be photographed (when scaffolding is removed) before any further works to show alignment of columns, beams and slabs.
On the medium term, Government should authorise the Nigeria Society of Engineers to give a Charter Quality Mark for all buildings in order for the public to know the risk attached to every structure — whether safe or not.
On the long term, the government should commence the renewal and reurbanisation of old neighbourhoods in our congested cities. If the government ignores this plan, people will continue to die soon as the structures stress level are reached. The sentiment of attachment to old defective building by human beings is a delay to self-inflicted fatal incident not accident because the physical evidence were obvious.