Kingsley Chikwendu —
When a problem is not given serious consideration, there is the tendency of it happening again and again. The building collapse incidents that keep recurring make many wonder if the needed attention was given to this unsightly happening. It seems authorities are not doing what is really expected of them in bringing to a halt building collapses that continue to claim scores of lives and properties, injuring many across the country. The Director General of the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), Prof. Samson Duna herein, in an interview recently with Viewpoint Housing Magazine, gave reasons for building failure in Nigeria and measures that could be employed to tackle it. He also explained ways construction can be made cheaper by the use of local building materials, including Pozolona. Excerpts:
NBRRI occupies a very strategic position in Nigeria’s construction sector. What’s the institute’s reaction to the Nigeria infrastructure scorecard as produced by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE)?
NBRRI is a research institute. Basically we don’t go into construction, we don’t enforce based on our mandate. But what we do basically is to investigate when there is a problem and when there is, we try to bring recommendation(s). So a scorecard is more or less how to access how infrastructure is put into use.
The NSE as a society is trying to play its role in respect to its function as engineers. They came up with a committee to look at the level of infrastructure in the country and if you access the infrastructure from design to construction to usage, safety, maintenance and overall lifespan, you discover that it is scored low.
It depends on the parameters you look at — from design, did the structure fail? Ssome structures fail at design. Then, we say when the structure was designed, did it meet the lifespan of the structure? Every infrastructure has a lifespan. Maybe bricks have a lifespan of 100 years. It is expected to function properly before adequate maintenance can come in.
Take for instance, road, you will discover that it is scored low because our maintenance culture is very poor, our utilisation and rules of using the road are very poor.
In terms of safety, how safe are our roads? As a road user, do you obey the law governing the usage of the roads? If you look at all these things, you discover that Nigeria is scored low because we might have passed the design stage but the materials might not last long.
Usage of the road is a problem, maintenance of the road is also a problem, even the pedestrian’s use of the road is a problem. So, you discover that the entire road can be scored very low.
So NBRRI as a research institute, all we can do is to create awareness so that where there is lack, the government and enforcement agencies can come up to ensure that the right things are put in place. This is a country that we all have to play a role but some of us are not doing our jobs as we are supposed to.
NBRRI years ago unveiled its movable house project and it was hoped that by now, the technology would have gone round the country. What is it now about the moveable house?
Movable house is a technology that NBRRI has embraced and has come to stay. I’m happy to inform you that in 2018, when we did the NBRRI movable house, NBRRI came second in terms of exhibition of technology.
We started with a single-room and expanded it to three-bedroom bungalow. Last year, we went on to construct a storey building and it was the centre of show at Eagle Square.
That technology is friendly, the cost is even friendlier. You can rent a plot of land, erect the movable house there and use it. Then if the landlord feels your cost of rent has expired, you can move your movable house and rent another place.
NBRRI is willing to develop the technology but commercialization is the problem. In Nigeria, one area that research institutes are finding difficult is selling of invention. People are so used to restricting themselves to old traditions, it is not easy to adopt new ones.
An inventor looks at the money he puts in. He wants quick return on his money and research is not like this. Research is time dependent but I’m happy to inform you that that the day we displayed NBRRI disposable house, three or four members of the National Assembly showed interest and they have contacted NBRRI to go and erect structures in their own localities. We are hoping to do that by November.
There is somebody in Kano that approached NBRRI wanting this disposable house. But the cost of steel is high. All these materials are locally available but steel is the issue. We went there and discovered that there is tremendous increase in the cost of steel recently — almost three or five times of the original cost, as compared to other construction materials.
So the cost of disposable house became a little bit higher because of the increase in the price of steel. If not, it is still a friendly thing, it is still useful. I still use this avenue to appeal to investors to come and commercialise NBRRI house. It will be a welcome development. I want to assure you that it will be like a win win situation.
There have been constructions using recycled materials like bottles. As a research institute, do you look at that as something viable, good for Nigerians to do?
I think the initiative is a welcome development but for a professional who needs to work with criteria, it’s not proper to just put bottles and make them a walling material.
There are lots of requirements for walls which is because of the sustainability aspect of it, for durability and the effects of water absorption. There are a lot of criteria that make up for a material to be adopted for walling material.
The initiative is good. It’s like recycling or using waste for something useful. But, putting sand in a bottle and putting it down, you will discover that this sand, in the night, what illusion can you get from it if you are an occupant in the room? Using this sand, when there is an impact on it, will it be able to withstand it? Do we have what we call sustainability, continuity of that aspect? How many bottles do you have available that can make it?
So materials that can make up to a walling material must meet up the requirements. It must be sustainable, available and meet certain requirements in terms of other properties. The initiative and idea is welcome but, the material does not meet up with the walling materials.
Do individuals making this effort need to come consult NBBRI?
No, but we still have room for collaborative studies and so forth. If you have an initiative and you come share with NBRRI, we won’t mind helping as an inventor, assisting, supporting, even funding it so that we can work together and bring up something that is meaningful.
I remember a woman that came last two years. She’s working on plastic and produced bricks with plastics. We did collaborative studies with her. So, NBRRI’s doors are always open for people that have ideas. We can sponsor and work as a team so that we can bring up something that is meaningful, something that meets up the standard requirements, acceptable in the society. NBRRI can equally work on that.
There is hardly a month that we don’t record a case of building collapse in the country. By your investigations, what have you discovered?
Building collapse as I always emphasize, is an ugly and deadly phenomenon. It is a man-made mistake somewhere. Someone somewhere didn’t do his work right.
I use this medium to console the families that have lost their loved ones due to these ugly incidents of building collapse. In the past two months, there have been rampant cases of building failure at different locations in the country.
One happened recently in Kano State. I was there. I went to console the people of the state. One in Jos, opposite the mini stadium, one occurred in Anambra State where I set up a team that is still there. One also occurred recently in Uyo and it was very ugly. Some people lost their lives. Two buildings collapsed in Lagos and a team was set up there.
In all these locations, NBRRI’s impact has been felt. We set up a team comprising NBRRI staff and other professional bodies which we included so that the results will be accepted by all. So far, letters have been given to them with logistics provided so that they can look at the causes of building failures.
I look at building construction as a process — you start from design. A design is expected to look at the paperwork — do your calculations by ensuring that the building will stands once it is constructed.
As a designer, if a building will fail, I will see it, it will fail on paper. Then I will change the dimensions, I will continue to check and ensure that none of these building elements fails.
Once my calculations are okay, I give the design to people that will do the construction. Before doing the construction, you have to go to the site and check how the site is. How is the topography of the site? Where is the water runoff? If it rains, does water flow through? Are you on a water area? What is the type of soil?
You have to do what we call geotechnical investigation of the soil to give you everything in respect to the topography of the land and the property of the soil. Once all this is done, you need qualified professionals to come in. Without qualified professionals, you cannot get the best.
You need people that know their work, people that have been tested in the field, people that have experience, people that have passed through the four corners of a reputable institution.
Institution alone will not give you experience. Experience alone will not help you, you need to combine both. Qualified professionals that have good professional and academic qualifications meet up the standard requirements of who is supposed to be on site.
After that, you will go for construction. What type of materials are we talking about? Basically, our buildings are made up of four materials – steel, concrete, timber, block and others. Where are you getting your steel? Steel is a factory product. How standard is our factory product called steel? Does it meet the standard specifications?
How many contractors do test these materials before they use them? Any material you use on site needs to be tested to ensure that it meets the standard requirements. With respect to Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), we have what we call UTM in this institute. It means Universal Testing Machine. It tests the various types of steel, it gives you the central property of the steel, it gives you the textile test of the steel, it gives you the value where the steel is supposed to stay.
So we realised that the company products…when we went to the market and tested, did not meet the standards.
As for cement, they are doing well but the mix proportion is what matters. Every building you see, every concrete you see, there is a grade to which that concrete must be met. There is grade 20, 25 and 30. A storey building is supposed to have a grade of minimum 25 and above but when you measure the concrete, you discover that you are getting 15, sometimes, 12 and even 10.
Where a building collapsed, you discover that the steel and the concrete are split off, separated, no binding at all. It goes to tell you that very poor materials were used. If the materials are not good, you will not get it right.
Supervision, how well is the level of supervision? That is another issue. Enforcement. Do we have people coming from the professional bodies to theoretically look at it? So, you can look at it – from design, to geotechnical investigation, to the quality of personnel, to the quality of construction materials, to the quality of materials used as support to enforcement by professional bodies, all these are factors that have effects on buildings.
NBRRI has carried out quite a lot of investigations on building collapse. We as an agency have investigated over 50 building collapse cases and the reason we have gotten so far is attributed to mostly greedy of either the client or the contractor.
Greed manifests itself in different ways. A situation whereby a building is designed to carry maybe 12 or 15 stories, somebody will come and tell the client, you have a very big element, add two, three floors on it. The person being a greedy one, the building is designed for 15 floors but suddenly, someone tells you to add more floors and in the process of doing so, it ends up in building collapse. That is where design has failed.
Most of our study centres found out that the quality of building construction is always poor. Contactors are maximising profit at the detriment of the quality of work that should be done. The bonding between concrete and steel is no longer there because the quality of materials used is poor.
There is the inexperience of the people on site. You will find a young person with little experience and is given a huge project to handle. Ask him, where and where have you worked before? He will tell you that his uncle is the owner of this project. Even supervisors cut corners.
There are quite a lot NBRRI has been doing. I remember in 2011, 2012 when NBRRI held a summit captioned Building Collapse; The Way Forward, the number of building collapse in the country in a year was not less than 30 or 40. In 2013, it reduced to about 15.
Last two or three years, hardly did we experience building collapse because of our work as an institute. NBRRI has come up with a summit in respect to building collapse and possibly this year, we are also planning to organise a summit in respect to building collapse.
And we have been creating awareness. Our mandate did not allow us to go and arrest people that are defaulting. COREN has that responsibility. Our job is to create awareness so that the wrong things do not repeat themselves and NBRRI has been doing well in that aspect.
With your researches, what’s the way forward?
The way forward for the building industry is very bright. NBRRI is a research institute and we have been able to import quite a lot of equipment to help us carry our research very well but another thing is we need enlightenment. NBRRI needs the backing of the law to ensure that it functions properly. For instance, we need a law for contractors, agencies, bodies to ensure that integrity test is carried out on buildings that have stayed 10 years and above.
If there is integrity test on these buildings, the result will show that the building is faulty and it will save people from being trapped when it collapses. The result will clearly show that this structure needs to be evacuated. So we need a law empowering agencies to carry out integrity test on buildings.
Number two, we need a way of controlling the price of things in the market. The National Assembly is trying to control the cost of rent in Abuja and Lagos but what they fail to do is to control the price of construction materials. A landlord will go to the market, buy all his construction materials without control on the price. After building his house, you are coming to control the rent, you are not being fair to him.
If you want to really help the system, why not start from the price of construction materials? When you control the price of building materials, you can control the building. They are doing well but they should take a bold step by going down to control these prices so they could have a strong effect on the building.
The future of building in this country is promising, Nigeria is blessed. We have a lot of local materials that can be used for building. We have a lot of termites in this town. Termites mould is a very good material for building. Termites mould can be very strong and if you can use this material very well, we have them in abundance.
As long as there are termites, they will continue to do more. We can use these to construct houses. We have bamboo in the South West. Bamboo can be used as a walling material, it can be used as a slab, it can be used as a filling material, it can be used as a raw material for production of functional building elements.
We have a lot of caoline deposits in Bauchi, Gombe and Kaleri. Pozolana can also be used. So Nigeria is blessed with quite a lot of different materials that can be recycled and used in the construction of buildings. If NBRRI is given the opportunity, it will do more as far as construction materials are concerned.
How can pozolana be made easily available for construction?
Pozolana has been the darling of NBRRI and it has been one of the institution’s initiatives. Pozolana is a material invented by NBRRI. In combination with cement it becomes cementatious.
Pozolana is produced from waste, either agricultural waste or industrial waste. For it to work, you must mix it with an oxide or cement. We were able to fabricate a plant in Lagos. We have an office in Bokkos [Plateau State] and another one in Ota [Ogun State]. Initially, we imported the machines from China but we discovered that many of them could not last. We decided to cut the path off and fabricated most of our parts, replacing these China parts and it has been promising.
We were able to produce pozolana using oil palm kernel shell and clay. We mix them and they pass through different processes. Where you are expected to use 100 bags of cement, you use 30 percent Pozolana and 70 percent cement. You mix them and what you get is the same thing as cement. The good thing is that pozolana is from waste and where you have waste that is becoming a nuisance to the society, it is converted to something useful.
Again, take a visit to cement producing factories. The first thing that catches your eye is the emission of gasses that go up and they increase the level of pollution. It affects the ozone layer. So, anything that will reduce the production of these gases is a welcome development in the country.
So where you are expected to use 100 bags, we are using 70 and this has reduced the production of gas that goes up. When you use pozolana, you are reducing the level of pollution in the society.
Making use of pozolana means reducing the cost of building, thereby, making housing affordable for the common man. The prospect of pozolana is there and our problem like I said earlier is commercialization. Even as of today, if you have an inventor that is coming to commercialize, NBRRI has an open door. We sit down with him so that he takes up the technology from there and makes it at a large scale.
We have been able to produce it at pilot scale, making it at commercial scale will be done by an investor.
Can the Pozolana be used across all the states in Nigeria?
Yes, like I said, pozolana is produced from agricultural, industrial, natural waste, depending on your locality, which is friendlier. If you have a product from an industry, you can use it there, an industrial waste to produce pozolana.
You can use it naturally like people in Plateau, Borno States, in the south where agricultural waste is there, palm kernel waste. So, it depends on your locality.
NBRRI can only produce at pilot stage – quantity is very small. We cannot produce it in commercial quantity. It is left for an investor to come and take it from NBRRI at this point.