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Reducing the Threat of Building Collapse in Nigeria

Building collapses are frequent in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. Many of the documented cases of building collapse in Nigeria are due to the use of defective or substandard building materials, no requisite technical knowledge, non- adherence to building codes and standards, the use of non-professionals and the high level of corruption which has ravaged every sphere of the Nigerian system.

Every society has its own problems and Nigeria is not an exception yet the very recent challenges of buildings collapsing in various locations have been giving the various arms of government and the people of Nigeria sleepless nights in view of the enormous loss of huge investments in housing, properties and human life. In all of these, it has been discovered that the majority of owners of collapsed buildings were never prosecuted to serve as a deterrence to others. Also, due to ignorance, many victims and family members of those that died in the incidents did not sue owners of these collapsed buildings, with a view to compel them to pay claims or compensation.

There has been an increase in the cases of collapsed buildings in the country, most especially in the last 10 years. Casting a retrospective look into the history of failed buildings in Nigeria, one will observe that Lagos and Abuja appear to record more of such cases than any other state in Nigeria. Lately, there has been a rise in the number of building collapses in the country and it has become so bad that one can arguably say that a record of building collapse is registered somewhere within the country in every six months. For instance, 115 buildings, mostly residential, collapsed in Lagos between 2005 and 2016. And about 4,000 families have been left homeless and traumatised according to report.

Recently, a 21-storey building collapsed in an upmarket area of Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos. The collapsed building was part of three towers being built by private developer Fourscore Homes. In a brochure for potential clients, the company promises to offer “a stress-free lifestyle, complete with a hotel flair with a 360-degree view of Lagos state”. The property, consisting of four-bedroom maisonettes, flats, duplex and penthouses, was 65 percent sold out, according to Highbrow Living Magazine. The cheapest unit was selling for $1.2m. Unfortunately, the General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Mr Gbolahan Oki, says the owner of the collapsed building, under construction in Ikoyi, was given approval to construct only 15 floors.

The Battle of Averages in Nigerian Civil Service

The norm in every organised and law abiding society or nation is the provision by the government, of building codes, enforceable through legislative backing, which codes establish minimum standards for building project delivery processes inclusive of construction. The procrastination in making the National Building Code operational throughout Nigeria encourages lawlessness. Though, the risk is deeply embedded in construction. There are applicable laws such as Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Act 1992 (NURPA); Urban and Regional Planning And Development Law of Lagos state 2010 (URPDL) and the effectiveness of regulatory bodies such as Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC) among others in curbing these incidences. There is the need to enforce the provisions of these laws.

Experts advice that the agencies in charge of regulations should be reorganized with people who are ready to do their job. Government should take proactive steps by engaging the right number of building professionals in her planning approval offices and ensuring strict enforcement of the existing physical development legislation and punishment of offenders. While those who are engaged in construction work must be well trained and should keep to the approved standards. Builders themselves must upgrade their knowledge to be able to perform ultimately on site.

Kunle Awobodu is the President, Nigerian Institute of Builders noted that, “in Nigeria, when law is promulgated, implementation becomes a challenge. ‘Man-know-man’ influence would become a major factor that could derail the original concept. One could notice this tendency in the building construction stage certification process and in the plan approval process.

The Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010 made a provision for the setting up of a committee under the Lagos Building Control Agency. But it is yet to be implemented. Also in that law, the General Manager of LASBCA should be an architect, civil/structural engineer or builder. The essence of this is to ensure that leadership rotates between the building design sector and the building construction sector so that building control could be all encompassing, of design and field experience.

However, since inception in 2010 and with five general managers so far, the pendulum refuses to swing and it has remained at the design end. Also, in the Lagos State Building Control Agency Law 2010, the General Contractors All Risk Insurance Policy Certificate has not made significant impact in practice. In developed countries, buildings being insured must comply with construction standards, thereby minimising the risk of building collapse. Up till today, the regulations that should make the 2010 law functional are yet to be in the public domain.

Many traders have turned to developers all over Lagos State, creating future problems. Invariably, a building control officer cannot be equated to a resident builder since site monitoring is significantly different from building production management.”

Similarly, the President of Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Sir Oladipo Ajayi said in an interview, “the planning process starts with the architect who gives birth to the drawing and interprets it, gives the job to the engineers to do justice, the quantity surveyor will calculate the cost; planners will come around and say it should face here or there and then everyone has a role to play. It is when these people are given recognition and the process is not subverted that we will have sanity in the country and there will be no building collapse.

The laws should be respected, the professionals should be respected, and we should do things the way they should be done, he added.

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