We’re expecting another collapse?

Again the last building collapse was in Lagos, last month. Last March, a four-storey residential building collapsed in Lagos on Tuesday, killing at least two people and with many more still trapped inside.  Okay, I don’t want to be pessimistic, but buildings will keep collapsing in Nigeria.  The collapse rate of building in Nigeria is directly proportional to the age of our building and this is further worsened by our material quality. You don’t have to be an engineering failure analyst or safety expert to know that we are killing ourselves with our own hands. It is ironical that the issue of building collapses in Nigeria are usually hardly ever taken seriously by the Government or even the law enforcement agents. Usually, most questions asked in the event of a collapse are: “Na who get this house?” Wey de site engineer?” “Una don call Julius Berger to com rescue?” Most of these question are sometimes immediately answered on site, while left largely unanswered are questions more professional and ethical, social and moral. The present decade has seen spates of buildings collapses. Just yesterday, a four-storey residential building collapsed in Lagos! Remember the collapse of a four storey building under construction near Ojuelegba leading to loss of lives of construction workers and those taking shelter from rains some time ago? The collapse of a multi-millionaire building in Ajah Area, the collapse of a mosque in Mushin killing some Arabic Scholars. The collapse of a storey building in Kano accommodating some Islamic students, similar in scenario to the Oworonshoki building collapse a few days after where eight people were feared dead. Is the the collapse of a storey building behind Federal Capital Territory Police Command in Abuja, reportedly killing 14 people working. The collapse of a 3-storey building awaiting finishing works at Ikeja behind Juli Pharmacy, where over 40 people were trapped in the building. The last year Abuja building collapse killing over 40 people.

It is somewhat surprising that lessons are never learnt and more embarrassing cases continue to occur. Many analysts argue that collapse happen in Nigeria because of flagrant disobedience to the outdated rules and regulations guiding the building industry?  Or the lack of will to enforce the appropriate building regulations, or poverty, and the need to unnecessarily “manage” the building cost? The probability of immediate and sudden collapse of building is very low even in an earthquake. It is difficult to explain, but most building Nigeria just collapses like a pack of card, and the owner, occupants, and foreman (a.k.a engineer) will say: “it the work of the enemy”. It’s not the “enemy”, but the enemy inside us. The sudden collapse of building in Nigeria is due to ignorance of the owner, builder and gross professional negligence. It has less to do with the government; however, this does not explain why it is ever not taken seriously by the government.

Okay, too much complain, what is the forward? First, deficient design specification codes and building regulations being used for building in Nigeria are obsolete, dating back to 1970s. Even with this, these Codes are not very encouraging because they are simply adaptation and plagiarised version of some British standard. These Codes give general guidance on choice of materials and estimate of loads to ensure that the building is safe. However, even when imported one would have expected the inclusion of Nigerian-Factor, for example, design for a residential (family) building that can turn to a church overnight; an office building that can turn to a warehouse overnight; and the likelihood that bungalow will turn to a storey building. Secondly, substandard materials are one of the problems. Everybody loves a deal, but health and safety should not be compromised. In Nigeria, even sometimes the wealthy prefer to buy materials where they are cheapest. The fact is that cheap materials are substandard and if used for critical portions of a building like foundation and columns, the building is no more a house but a cemetery- failure is inevitable. Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) is responsible for materials inspection and testing in Nigeria. SON is toothless, apart from the lack of material and equipment to perform; the major problem is human resources. There is no wisdom in buying you (SON) car when you’re handicapped to drive. Hence, materials producers and importers have a field day in producing, importing, substandard materials, and even re-standardising already substandard products!

Thirdly, inexperience of the Builders. Many foremen turned engineer handling building construction may not be able to read building plans or interpret structural design. “six rod go do for dat pillar, na wetin we use for Mr. David house last week, so, e suppose work here too”. Such are common remarks from site “engineer” to owner. Misplacement without recourse to design could lead to deterioration eventually leading collapse. A lot of lives and property could be saved by employing the service of appropriate professional. Lastly, even with signs of imminent collapse and with the owners and occupants of such buildings forewarned, they ignore such warnings, and trust in God, sometimes covering the house with the “blood of Jesus”. Failure of compliance with repeated warnings have been reported in some cases of recent collapses in Lagos. Timely intervention can restore such building to their safe.

The following conclusions can be drawn that building collapse in Nigeria are manmade and are not natural disaster and therefore very avoidable. Building collapse can be put under control if all building design must be carried out by qualified professional Architects, Engineers, etc. and ensuring certified builders are fully involved in the construction of buildings. Considerably more work will need to be done to encourage (or ensure) that prospective developers are enlightened on the respective roles of Foremen, Civil Engineer, Builders, and Architects. In addition, qualified Town Planners should always inspect and approve building plan appropriately. The Federal Government through COREN, CORBON, and NSE etc. should mandate compulsory Health and Safety certification of developers and builders. Architects should restrict their activities to preparation of drawings and verification visits to sites and should not be involve in “jack-of-all-trade”, by insisting on supervision of building. There should be mutual respect among professionals. Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), that many in the industry is not aware of, should be mandated that substandard materials are not sold in the market. While their colleagues, COREN, CORBON, and NSE should come up with a Nigerian local code of practice, rather than “copy-and-paste” existing foreign based ones.

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