- Experts proffer solutions, seek stringent sanctions
The building collapse phenomenon has continued unabated ever since the first recorded case at Ibadan in 1974, with Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial hub as the epicenter. Available report indicates that over 461 buildings have so far collapsed in the country between 1974 and July 2021, with more than 1, 090 deaths recorded and scores injured. On the authority of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Nigeria has recorded 552 building collapse incidents between 1974 and 2023. As indicated by BCPG, Lagos State came top accounting for 326 collapsed buildings, out of these structural failures, representing 59.06 per cent of the entire cases. No fewer than 84 persons have lost their lives in building collapses in Lagos State within the last two years, The Catholic Herald Weekly has learnt. In a spate of four months this year, Lagos State has recorded its fourth building collapse as it continues to rank top among states with such disastrous incidents. The most recent occurred on Sunday, April 23, 2023. In a swift response the Lagos State Government announced that the three-floor building under construction on Ladipo Oluwole Street, Apapa had partially collapsed because the developers ignored several warnings to stop work. Mr. Mukaila Sanusi, Deputy Director, Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), said preliminary enquiries revealed that the Agency had “issued a number of contravention notices, stop work and seal up orders which the developer ignored and carried on construction without any recourse, whatsoever, to the authority’s warning.”
According to Sanusi, the building had a Provisional Development Permit for two floors but construction was at third-floor roof level when the incident occurred. Three cases have so far been recorded prior to this latest incident. The Apapa incident occurred barely a week after a seven-storey building under construction collapsed on First Avenue, in Banana Island, Ikoyi area of Lagos State, killing at least one person. This particular building collapse in an expensive and elite suburb took so many unawares. Mr. Kunle Awobodu, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) likened the incident to an aberration. He said, “Banana Island is the pride of all who admire the environment. So, this incident is a threat to the safety of human life and the value of land in one of the highly-rated and secured abodes in Africa. The image and reputation of those of us that are thoroughbred professionals are at stake because this is an indictment on professionalism in the country.” Earlier in the year, specifically in January, a one-storey building in Ikeja and an abandoned two-storey building on Olokodana Street, in Okokomaiko suburb of Lagos State also collapsed. The incessant collapse of buildings, especially in Lagos State has become a thing of concern to all as many stakeholders interrogate the role of government agencies in the approval processes for buildings in the state. The impact of such collapse is tremendous, leading to loss of lives and properties. The multiple building collapses in Nigeria’s commercial hub within the last few years, experts say, are due to government’s obvious lack of political will to address the malaise, overbearing influence of owners/developers in dictating actions, use of sub-standard materials, insufficient supervision, greed, corruption, non-adherence to building code, non-implementation of panel recommendations, among a host of factors. Mr. Kenneth Nduka, a former President of Nigerian Institute of Building, summed up one of the factors fueling its recurrence to the inability of the government to prosecute those responsible for the frequent building collapse in the country.
“Let me integrate backwards. There have been collapses, and these collapses have been investigated. I am yet to hear or maybe I am not being so cognisant of what is happening, but I am yet to hear that Mr. X or Mr. Y has been sent to jail because he participated in the development of a building that has collapsed,” he stated. Nduka further called on the Lagos State government to ensure buildings in the state are constructed under proper guidelines. “If you are using material, there is a specification of the type of material you use. If you are going to start a multi-storey building, it should be such that there should be geotechnical investigation of the soil,” he added. QS. Olayemi Shonubi, the President of Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), described the latest collapse as the most unfortunate, saddening, and contrary to the widely held impression that previous building collapses were consequences of the inadequacy of financial wherewithal of the promoters/ developers, which necessitated the cutting of corners in a bid to stretch available resources to cover construction costs. According to him, with the Fourscore Project at Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, which collapsed two years ago, and the recent one in Banana Island, it is becoming obvious that the issue of building collapse is beyond the adequacy or otherwise of resources alone. “After the Gerrard Road incident, the Lagos State government set up a tribunal of inquiry to investigate the cause of the incident. The tribunal has since submitted its report as well as recommendations.
Thus, one would have thought that having learnt from that unfortunate incident, we should not experience the same tragedy again. “So, the government needs to look at the report in its entirety and consider the immediate implementation of some of the recommendations that have not been implemented without delay. And for the ones that were rejected, it should re-examine them vis-a-vis the recent incident to see if the incident could have been prevented if the said recommendations were adopted, and if so, it should consider their immediate implementation. “I am also of the considered opinion that all stakeholders involved in construction, particularly multi-storey buildings should come together to consider the adequacy of training of personnel deployed to such projects. The planning authorities may also need to go beyond the examination and analysis of drawings submitted to it and also consider the professional background, as well as experience of the team behind the design, and who is also to superintend the construction to ensure that such developments are undertaken by a team with relevant current industry experience in multi-storey building design and supervision. “Furthermore, there is the need to monitor the adequacy or otherwise of the standards of materials used, particularly concrete (now that ready-mix concrete, which is often transported over some distance, sometimes in heavy traffic, is being used on most sites), reinforcement rods (given that most of the available ones often fail the requisite tensile stress tests),” he added. David Majekodunmi, Chairman, Nigeria Institute of Architects, Lagos State chapter, expressing concern over the increasing spate of building collapse in the state, said there is a need for the state government to enhance monitoring and enforcement of existing laws, and new laws as well as improve efforts on the domestication of the National Building Code.
He said, “If there is really good monitoring and enforcement in place, then we will not have such situation as we have now. Also, what is the insurance of those that are going out for monitoring and enforcement in order for them to do their job well? “What makes a building to collapse? It is either incompetence of consultants or whether the consultants are trying to cut corners. When a site is sealed the moment it’s opened, get the person arrested and let them pay for demolition.” Worried over the recurring structural failures across the country, professionals in the real estate industry are calling for stringent penalties such as life imprisonment, and forfeiture of other properties of the developer, builder, and supervisors of the collapsed building. They also want corporate and personal accounts of the developer to be frozen, while old buildings should be subjected to periodic inspection and tests of stability to ensure that they are safe for habitation. Shonubi added that it was high time the owners of collapsed structures involving the loss of lives should be made to face the death penalty “to serve as a deterrent for future occurrence.” According to him, it is highly embarrassing to professionals in the building industry for buildings “to continue to collapse like pack of cards” and no severe or stiff penalties are put in place to check these ugly incidents. Mr. Nathaniel Atebije, President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), explained that buildings that collapsed at the construction stage are a result of poor design and workmanship, adding that designs could be more complex than what some of the government officials can comprehend to vet effectively before approving.
“When a faulty design goes to a poor contractor to construct, it constitutes double jeopardy for the safety of the building,” he said, while also charging the state government to build the capacity of its technical staff, who vet building plans and supervise construction processes through training and re-training to enable them to key into current international best practices in the industry. He advised that buildings above five floors should be advertised in the newspapers on a scheduled day and subjected to public scrutiny to be analysed by experts in public and private sectors, who could be invited to scrutinise the technical details of the design. He stated that remunerations of the invited experts should be borne by the developer. “Contractors for such buildings must be corporate entities of repute that have names to protect,” Mr. Atebije emphasised. Mr. Enyi Ben-Eboh, President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), believes that a detailed investigation could also point to a dearth of qualified professionals to execute a project, which initial design could have been done or certified by professionals. He also fingered as one of the causative agents, the low capacity of government agencies saddled with diverse responsibilities, coupled with brazen impunity and lack of cooperation by property developers who fail to submit themselves to the scrutiny of these agencies.
However, the Lagos State government, through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development has pledged sweeping reforms to solve the problem of building collapse in the state. Speaking at a roundtable with stakeholders organised by the State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), in Ikeja, on the situation, Omotayo Bamgbose-Martins, the State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, reassured residents that there would be changes and reforms to end the menace and safeguard lives and investments. Still, Mr. Patrick Adewale, a Chartered Engineer, noted that Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Lagos State Governor, should rejig the total architecture called LASBCA. According to him, the agency has in the last few months, failed to perform “with utmost responsibility, its core mandate of properly regulating the construction process.” He said that a situation where officials of the agency would serve a developer a ‘Stop Work Order’ and such an individual would still go ahead with construction, smacks of impunity.”