The Sun News

Building collapse: Unending nightmare

By Sunday Ani  ([email protected])

The other day, a-three-storey building collapsed at Ojo, Lagos. Fortunately, no life was lost but the General Manager of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Adesina Tiamiyu, confirmed that the building had been distressed for too long and residents ordered to evacuate.

Few days later, four persons were reported to have died when a two-storey building on Fire Service/Mbaise Road, Imo State collapsed. Among the victims was an intending couple. Some of the other occupants of the building were lucky to have escaped with varying degrees of injuries.

Similarly, no fewer than eight persons lost their lives after a four-storey residential building in a densely populated neighbourhood in Lagos caved in not long ago. According to a survivor who lost one her children in the incident, “there was confusion everywhere after we dug out one of my sons, who came out unscathed. It was the grace of God that saved him. But, my 12-year-old son, Emeka, who is also my last child, was not that lucky; he was brutally crushed to death.”

Indeed, incidents of building collapse have become so rampant in the country. The situation is such that one South East state recorded four of such incidents in one month. And almost every state in the country has had a taste of it. A church under construction in Lagos collapsed a few years ago and more that 100 persons reportedly lost their lives. Mr Anthony Onwuzuo captured it thus: “They leave home in search of daily bread. They bid their children and loved ones bye as they leave for work. They never knew they were bidding the final goodbye as the never always returned alive. They are labourers hired at building construction sites across the country. Others meet death right inside the comfort of their homes due to poorly constructed structures.”

An estate agent, Rowland Akande described the scourge as a nightmare, which has refused to go away. He said: “In the last couple of years, the menace of building collapse has become one of the biggest nightmares facing the country. The list of such incidents across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria is endless.

“It is also believed in some quarters that every week, a building would collapse somewhere in Nigeria but most of them are not always reported. However, more worrisome is the fact that each time it happened promises would be made by the government to look into the cause of the incident and punish offenders but it never stopped.”

In the past

In the beginning, building collapse was viewed as a calamity because it rarely happened. People adhered to the building laws because flouting them would attract severe punishment. But in recent times, everything seems to be on the contrary. Building collapse has become a recurring decimal with its attendant loss of both human and material resources. The situation has given credence to Andit Nehru’s assertion that evil unchecked grows and evil tolerated poisons the whole system.

To underscore the concern of Nigerians about the ugly development, national newspapers run editorials on such. One particular newspaper commented on the collapse of a three-storey building still under construction on Ikolie Street, Area 11, Garki Abuja, which killed about 20 persons. The editorial stressed that the only way to curb the incessant building collapse in the country was thorough investigation into the causes and prompt action to avert future occurrences.

However, as a punitive measure to arrest the ugly trend, the Lagos State government through the State House of Assembly enacted a law, which empowers the state to assume ownership of any collapsed building.

Much as the implementation of the new law in the state had put landlords on their toes, with regard to the quality of raw materials they use when building new houses and the need to properly maintain existing ones, buildings are still collapsing in Lagos and elsewhere.

Lagos state government, since the law became operational, has demolished a couple of houses and acquired such plots of lands across the state. The demolition of a two-storey building that partially collapsed after a heavy down on Freeman Street, Oyingbo area of the state and the subsequent revocation of the ownership of the property comes to mind.

Experts react

Expressing his thoughts on the ugly trend, a structural engineer and developer, Ayo Makinde, pointedly laid the bulk of the blame on government. He blamed governments at all levels for failure to enforce the existing building laws due to corruption.

He said: “When an individual wants to build a house, there are laid down procedures to be followed. First, a surveyor has to be engaged to take measurement of the site, then soil test expert who will determine the texture of the soil to be able to know the kind of structure that could be erected on such lands. Also needed in the picture are the architect who will draw the design of the building and the structural engineer who will ensure that materials such as rods are of the best quality standard. The structural engineer, apart from ensuring that cement, gravel, sand and water are all in the right quantities before mixture, also ensures that the instructions of the surveyor, soil test expert and architect are strictly adhered to. But today, nobody who wants to build a house adheres to the procedures; they would rather cut corners by bribing their way.

“Town planning authorities whose responsibility is to ensure that the procedures are adhered to don’t do anything about it. They are so corrupt that even when they discover that a particular building has not complied with the building code and is likely to collapse after building, they would close their eyes as long as the owner of the building is ready to oil their palm. They collect huge sums of money from the builders and allow them to continue with the building which already has defect from the foundation.”

Makinde accused agencies of government charged with the responsibility of ensuring that builders comply with building laws of failure to carry out proper monitoring. “Even when they monitor, they take bribe and allow construction work to continue on buildings that deviate from the building law. For instance, during the monitoring exercise, if the town planning officials discover that the building plan approval does not correspond with the structure being erected at the site, the normal thing is to issue the contravention order, followed by stop-work order before the demolition. But, you find out that when they issue the contravention order followed by the stop-work order, the property owner would quickly approach them, negotiate with them, pay an agreed sum and construction work continues,” said.

Apart from lack of monitoring and corruption of town planning officials, Makinde said personnel of the town planning authorities are not professionals. “A situation where town planning personnel are mostly people who studied administration and other social science courses, what do you expect from them when they go to a construction site? Do you expect them to borrow brain from who at the site and know what they do not know? It is not possible. Until the monitoring team of the various town planning authorities are made of professionals in different building fields, the noise about monitoring will just be a mirage. They will just go to the site and negotiate with the builders and once they are ‘settled,’ construction will continue, even if the building will collapse before completion.”

In other words, Makinde is of the view that unless various town planning authorities begin to include in their monitoring teams, professionals like surveyors, architects, soil test experts and engineers, there will be no meaningful result and the issue of building collapse will continue to occur.

Although, he traced the causes of building collapse to such factors as poor quality of building materials, failure to determine what he referred to as live load and dead load of a structure and the soil texture also contribute.

He further said: “Every building has a life span. It is contained in the building design, which was done by the architect. Even in the event of fire, the design contains how long materials like rod, will resist fire before it is consumed if help does not come. And the owners know the life span of their houses because it is in their design. But, when the town planning officials mark such houses that have lived out their life span for demolition, the owners will meet them in secret and after money has changed hands, such houses would continue to exist, thereby endangering the lives of the occupants. So, to a large extent, the issue of building collapse should be blamed on the government and its agents who refuse to do their jobs and even when they want to do, corruption will not allow them to do the right thing.

He absolved the building professionals, even though he admitted that high fees charged by professionals for supervision, accounts for why some builders engage the services of non-professionals. He however advised that people should be informed and educated on the need to always engage the services of professionals when building their houses. He believes that when a prospective builder presents his case before a professional, such a professional will always consider the financial capacity of the person involved and charge accordingly. He agreed that all fingers are not equal but insisted that people should first appreciate the need to engage professionals while building their houses. He also charged government at all levels to work on their agencies, even as he urged Nigerians to always adhere to the life span of their structures to avoid the wanton loss of lives and property.

Mr. Chudi Ubosi of the Ubosi Ele and Co, Estate Surveyors and Valuers, maintained that the failure of Nigerians to engage the services of professionals while building is a major cause of building collapse. He argued that as long as people refuse to acknowledge the role of building professionals, cases of building collapse would continue plague the nation.

On who should be blamed for the development, he said the first person to take responsibility is the owner of the house, who, instead of engaging professional builders, prefers to cut corners by engaging quacks.

He also blamed non-professional, who instead of advising their clients on the best thing to do would keep a blind eye so long as they make their own money.

He further informed that the third person to take the responsibility is the government, but insisted that before government, individuals should do their jobs first.

He said: “It is expected that before you build, you must get approval from the government but most people don’t do that. They just go ahead and start to build. And when government agencies responsible for enforcement get to know, they are bribed and they allow work on such building that, most often, do not meet the required standard to go on.”

He advised builders to understand that when professionals give advice, it is not just for fancy; they do so because they are professionals who want to avert future disaster, which always come in the form of building collapse.

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