Quackery, weak regulations worsen building collapse menace
A properly constructed building is expected to stand the test of time. It is supposed to provide shelter to the dwellers and income for the developers. But the rising rate of building collapse in the country has dashed the expectations of many. A lot of investments have gone down the drain due to building collapse in different parts of the country. More worrisome is the number of lives that have been lost to building collapse in recent years.
The most recent was the collapse of two-storey building at 7th Avenue, Gwarinpa in the country’s capital, Abuja on Thursday with 40 people trapped and two confirmed dead.
Those whose loved ones were part of the 42 people who lost their lives in the high-rise luxury building collapse in Ikoyi, Lagos in 2021 have yet to recover from the devastation.
Many of the documented cases of building collapse in Nigeria have been attributed to the use of defective or substandard building materials, no requisite technical knowledge and non-adherence to building codes and standards. Other factors adduced for by buildings caved in country are the use of non-professionals, and the high level of corruption, who has made regulators to overlook anomalies during construction.
In addition to the established causes of the collapse of structures, empirical data from developed countries of the world has shown that many of the recorded cases in these climes are due to the fact that the current codes of practice do not make provisions for unexpected loads and an unexpected failure of a single member may lead to an all-round collapse of the entire structure.
One of the causes of building collapse in the country that has stood out is the non-enforcement of stage certification by regulators in the built industry.
According to a report by the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, out of the structural failures, Lagos State recorded 20 incidents, representing 48.7 per cent of the entire cases in 2022.
Lagos State tops the list of fatalities as over 271 buildings collapsed in the last 10 years, according documents obtained from the Building Collapse Prevention Guild. The documents showed that 271 collapsed buildings represent 50 per cent of a total of 541 recorded cases in the country between 1974 and 2022. Out of the 271 collapses recorded within the past 10 years, at least 531 persons have lost their lives.
Lagos State has taken different steps to address the challenge of building. The Lagos State Building Control Agency recently demolished a critically distressed four-floor structure located at Festac Extension Estate, off Eko Akete Road, Mile 2, Amuwo-Odofin area of the state.
The immediate past President of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Kunle Awobodu, said it was an aberration when new buildings collapse frequently, while some old buildings were still intact after several years.
Awobodu said, “This brings us to the expiry date of a building. Theoretically, a building is assumed to have a lifespan of about 60 years. However, looking at the age of the Wiston Castle in London for instance, the castle has been there since 1070. Coming home to Nigeria, in some of the building surveys conducted by the Nigerian Institute of Building in 2020, it would be discovered that buildings like the Water House owned by Candido Da Rocha on Lagos Island were constructed in 1874 and were still stable when we conducted a structural integrity test on it.
“This means that the construction technology is questionable, and the durability of materials and professionalism is very essential when buildings are being constructed. In addition, the problem of quackery in the building construction industry in Nigeria has been a major cause of frequent collapses.”
According to the former president of NIB, Nigeria has a systemic failure, where those who are putting up buildings don’t pay attention or abide by the building control regulations.
He noted that the construction of buildings should be executed by professionals licensed to build.
He said, “The construction stage of buildings should be handled by those who by training have experience in building technology, and are licensed to construct buildings. In this case, professional builders become liable if anything goes wrong outside natural disasters.”
Builders in the real estate industry have argued that the enforcement of stage certification would go a long way in checkmating the frequent building collapse in the country.
In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, the Treasurer, Nigeria Institute of Building, Philips Ayotunde, noted that buildings do not just collapse.
He said, “Building collapse is man-made and if the right thing is done, we will avert building collapse. Lack of professionalism among others is a contributor to building collapse. Also, the stage certification process which is very germane is always obviated.
“Stage certification is the composition of several professionals both from the private and public sector, who have appended their signature and seal at that particular stage, saying that all the right things have been done on the project to the next stage, and can be vouched for. Hence, the right materials used, the right workmanship, among others have been properly used, and once this is done, the government issues a certificate based on each stage till the completion stage.”
According to Ayotunde, before anybody moves into any new building, a certificate of completion of fitness of such a building must be obtained.
Speaking on the way forward, he noted that government agencies do not have all the required resources needed for adequate monitoring and evaluation.
He added, “We gave a proposal that the private sector should be involved because the private sector would be less prone to corruption, particularly because their license is at stake and such private professionals belong to an institute which consists of disciplinary committees adjudicating over issues of members as regards their services.
“However, many of those in the public sector are not registered with professional bodies. Apart from that, because many of them answer to their bosses, they do coverups. Also, many of these regulatory agencies have become revenue generating agencies.”
Ayotunde asserted that lack of stage certification has festered in the real sector because government officials were shying away from being held culpable.
The Public Relations Officer of NIB, Godfrey Godfrey, noted that because of the numerous constructions going on, there was not enough manpower to help with the monitoring.
He said, “This is why we advocated the adoption of the Building Collapse and Prevention Guild, being a whistle-blowing and non-profit organisation, to assist the government in carrying out some of their activities as they are professional cutting across professions in the built environment. Most importantly, the guild’s members are in cells and cover different locations in Nigeria. So, each cell would be monitoring what is happening around them. This would help the government keep an eye on construction ongoing in each area of the country.”
According to Godfrey, it is important that the government and the private operators in the built environment collaborate to tackle the frequent rate of building collapse in the country.
Quackery, weak regulations worsen building collapse menace
He added, “The private sector participation will be willing to do the right thing because they are not under the employ of the government, and their practice license is at stake. In essence, a partnership is key between the public and private sectors because we cannot work in isolation. We will thrive better as a team. Also, being in the private sector exposes one to more practical and field knowledge, as opposed to those in the public sector, because this is what they do on a daily basis.”
In the same vein, the Honorary Secretary, NIB, Abiodun Ogundare, noted that the failure to carry out stage certification implied to the government’s vote of no confidence on that building.
He said, “The kind of culture the built industry has imbibed will make stage certification difficult to deploy. The normal thing to do when you want to start construction is to write out your intentions to the Lagos State Building Control Agency. After sending all your drawings, the Lagos State Planning Permit Authority issues a permit stipulating that you can build and where your building should be, while the LABSCA tells you the quality of materials to use. However, a typical developer would not wait and the issue of stage certification would be the last thing on his or her mind.
“The only thing the government can do to avoid the delays in building approval is to still allow for stage certification to be done even if approval has not been granted yet, this aids a supervisory role over buildings.
However, the culture of building construction which is dependent on who-know-who does not let the process of stage certification thrive.”
While proffering a solution, Ogundare said subscribers should be asking for these relevant documents such as the stage certification receipt, among others.
He said, “What can put every builder on their toes is to submit their licenses once they are about to commence a building project and once the building comes down, such builders and those involved in the building process would be held liable. Hence, a filing system is germane to tracking the records of builders in charge of any building construction.”
Culled from The Punch.