The Sun News

Demolition of distressed buildings in Lagos

We commend the Lagos State government for its courageous decision to demolish houses that are unfit for human habitation in the state.  By last week, 13 buildings had already been pulled down, while the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr. Lekan Shodeinde, explained that 34 of the buildings scheduled for demolition are on Lagos Island.  The government has served the owners of the affected buildings the necessary notices about the impending demolition, and they would be given 90 days to defray the demolition cost.  On the whole, the state government identified 114 “distressed” structures across the state, which will be demolished with the approval of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.

The government decision is a proactive initiative, which will save lives and send the necessary signals to builders, owners and occupiers of structurally defective buildings.  It is an unmistakable warning that the era when the state government looked on while building codes were violated and derelict buildings became death traps has gone. The Lagos State government may have, by this action, pre-empted the disaster of collapsed buildings.

In the last few years, it has been difficult to keep the tally of buildings that collapsed in Lagos.  The most sensational, of course, was the guest house of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN), at Ikotun area of the city, which killed over a hundred people, most of them South Africans. Floors were added to the guesthouse beyond the numbers approved by the state building authorities.  Two structural engineers and several trustees of the church have been arraigned on multiple counts of manslaughter and building without approval. The Lekki Gardens building collapse, which occurred in March 2016, also claimed many lives.  Approval was given for a four-storey building.  When it collapsed, the builders had raised it to five storeys.  The managing director of the building complex was promptly arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and building without valid permit.  The state government also descended on its building officials.

The three-storey building, which collapsed at Ire-Akari area in May 2017 killed three persons, 14 others were rescued with various degrees of injuries.  The LASBCA would have saved the situation if the builders had obeyed the notices.  Indeed, the agency said it sealed the building twice, and physically forced occupants to leave the building.  A three-storey building at Richard Abimbola Street, Ilasamaja, Lagos, also collapsed in May 2017, killing one person.  One of the survivors blamed it on the foundation, which he said could not take the three-storey load.

These incidents are too numerous to recount in an industry bedeviled by incredible bureaucratisation and endemic corruption.  The state government, having summoned the courage to carry out the demolitions, must ensure that the exercise is done with fairness and firmness.  It must assiduously document the situation of each building regarding its structural integrity so as to reassure the public about its fairness and protect the state government against the charge of partiality, or a witch-hunt, which is often the last refuge of lawbreakers.  There is no doubt that some of the older buildings need to be replaced.

The causes of building collapse are known.  Qualified builders, structural engineers and other building professionals are too few and inaccessible in terms of costs. The greed of building owners and our well-known proclivity for cutting corners are also part of the problem.  But, the state government must insist that the appropriate building materials must be used and that the testing and monitoring agencies ensure that the building code is not compromised.  It is an uphill task to police and supervise these activities, but then, it is far cheaper than the collapse of buildings with all the risks of life endangerment and enormous waste of property that come with it.

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Editor, Online: Ikenna Emewu
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