Amid Renewed Promises, Lagos in Throes of Collapsed Buildings 

 
Sun Apr 23rd, 2023 -
 

• Epicentre Of Building Collapse
• Rhertorics Not Enough, Govt Must Identify, Punish Culprits – Professionals
• Experts Offer Steps To Stem Recurrence
• Stakeholders Seek Adoption Of Provisions Of National Building Code

Despite tonnes of promises from the Lagos State government to stem the menace of building collapse in the state, happenings in that sector seem to suggest that the built environment is still being plagued by ethical compromises.

To astute professionals in the sector, the prevailing scenario is an indictment of professionalism, another evidence of the government’s lip service and gross lack of political will to regulate the building sector.

They further stressed that the frequency and intensity of building collapse in the state now constitutes a perennial source of worry to Nigerians.

Beyond building collapse, managing the planning permit and development control appear to pose even a greater problem, as the corruption-ridden approval process also constitutes a major cankerworm in the built environment value chain.

Even though there are no official statistics of victims of building collapse for now, an average of five deaths are recorded per collapse, a development that constitutes a major clog in the wheel of efforts to reduce the nation’s housing deficits.

Of the over 461 buildings that have so far collapsed in the country between 1974 and July 2021, more than 1, 090 deaths were recorded and scores injured.

Expectedly, Lagos the epicenter of building collapse in the country recorded 295 cases, Abuja 16, Oyo, 16, Anambra 15, Ondo 10, Kano (nine), Abia (nine), Kwara (eight), Rivers (eight), Delta (eight), Enugu (seven), Ogun (seven), Plateau (six), Kaduna (six), Edo (six), Imo (five), Osun (five), Benue (three), Adamawa (three) and Ebonyi (three).

Others are Niger (two), Kebbi (two), Ekiti (two), Cross River (two), Sokoto (one), Bauchi (one), Akwa Ibom (one), Kogi (one), and Katsina (one).

Only recently, the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) revealed that 30 collapsed buildings were recorded between January and July 2022. The latest data was contained in a comprehensive report released by the Permanent Secretary of LASEMA, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyitolu.

Earlier on, the Lagos State government, through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development 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, the state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Omotayo Bamgbose-Martins, reassured residents that there would be changes and reforms to end the menace and safeguard lives and investments.

Despite the assurances, the extent of the rot eminently manifested days later with the collapse of a seven-storey building under construction, at First Avenue, Banana Island, in the Ikoyi area of the state, at about 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

The building, which was one of the four units that are being developed by Joe Faraday, collapsed when workers were still on site.

In the wake of the incident, which rekindled the blame game among professionals in the built environment, the Lagos State government directed that all developments on Banana Island be placed on hold, subject to a comprehensive audit by LASBCA, as well as extending the audit to other estates and gated communities.

According to the immediate past President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) Mr. Kunle Awobodu, the collapse of a building in the Banana Island estate sounded like an aberration.

“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,” he said.

Awobodu, a past president of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), called on the government to arrest and prosecute those that are found complicit in structural failure.

He said: “ When I received a building collapse alert within the precincts of Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, I hesitated. Incredible! I became a doubting Thomas, making frantic phone calls to that vicinity to verify the videos sent to me.

“Building collapse within the most expensive terrain; a community well-organised or deemed well-organised in Nigeria sounded like an aberration. Banana Island is the pride of all who admire the environment.

“Most nouveau riche in Nigeria crave for a residential slot on this artificial island. The ostentatious ones admire the denizens of this peculiar area of Ikoyi. Banana Island residents are in a class by themselves.

“The image and reputation of those of us in the Nigerian building industry are at stake before the whole world. What excuses are we going to offer for the latest imponderable building collapse?

“It is unfortunate that nobody has been successfully prosecuted for building collapse offences in Nigeria. Quackery, compromise, and impunity proceed unchecked,” he stated, adding: “When human beings are not subjected to the law of consequence, misdeeds are absolved in sentiments. Alas, loss of life and property becomes a continuum! Hammurabi code?

“BCPG has updated its record of building collapse in Nigeria (1974 – 2023) to 552, with Lagos State accounting for 59.06 per cent (that is, 326 collapsed buildings). While awaiting more information on the collapse, I empathise with anybody who may have been unfortunately affected by this incident.”

Like Awobodu, many practitioners are worried about the state government’s lack of political will to tackle the menace, amid glaring breaches and the attendant loss of lives.

He cited an instance saying: “On the safety board of a collapsed site at Oniru, marked LSC/CON/B/0309, the name of the contractor, his contact, and details of the artisans were not displayed as stipulated by the state’s building guidelines.”

Also expressing frustration over the state government’s obvious lack of political will to address the malaise, the former chairman of the state branch of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Adedotun Bamigbola, said even though details of the cause of the latest collapse are not out, the root causes of the menace are many as observed over time, even in high-income neighbourhoods.

He noted that the overbearing influence of owners/developers in dictating actions, which should be strictly under the responsibility of construction professionals to their taste, or for maximising income, is a serious challenge.

“If you meet your doctor, you listen to him and follow all instructions handed to you, no matter how rich you are, irrespective of the fact that you own your body. The same principle should apply in construction because the error of judgment, especially by a non-professional can cause more than one fatality. It can ruin an industry if care is not taken.

“The professionals too may not have the individual will to insist that some steps are beyond the owner’s capacity to take based on professional standards, sometimes for fear of the competition standing by to take the juicy project from them. This happens because there is no institutional camaraderie to protect various professionals in the built industry.

“So, while we compete against ourselves in our various fields and across fields within the industry, the clients take advantage to underprice, underpay, undervalue, and dictate standards for the professionals when it should be the other way round.

“The problem of substandard construction materials is there on its own, from the suppliers to the developer. Some take advantage to the detriment of the projects, the industry, and the people who suffer physically and emotionally in the aftermath of this collapse. A lot of materials are sourced from outside Nigeria. So, we don’t have the Nigerian standard mostly.

“A critical challenge, which could have prevented this is the problem with the industry regulators, Ministry of Physical Planning with all its agencies across many states. The political influence in all their processes has a huge impact on the sector. From approval to supervision, and monitoring, the political class is too involved. In other climes, politicians do not influence a lot of things as we have here. These are professional matters when it comes to construction and they should remain so.

“On several occasions, it has been reported that agencies set up to monitor developments are not allowed to do so because of political influence. These are just some of the challenges leading to various incidents of building collapse. Consequently, we need to sit down to sort out this menace if we truly feel it needs to be dealt with. Professionals have made efforts collectively through our various professional bodies, and collectively under the BCPG, but there is a need for government to meet the professionals halfway and truly,” he added.

For a former Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development and President of Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Toyin Ayinde, who chaired the six-man panel that probed the collapse of the 21-storey building in Ikoyi, most professionals are tired of the incessant collapse of buildings.

He said: “I think the government must be ready to do the necessary things that various panels have recommended in terms of what professionals, government, and citizens can do. When these things (building collapse) happen, the buildings can be ‘easily’ replaced, but you can’t replace human life, which makes it a capital occurrence.

“So, it is not just the cost, we have done too much talking, that is my view. From the last recommendations by the tribunal on the collapsed 21-storey building in Ikoyi, we had 28 recommendations, 26 were approved, but we do not know how they are being implemented. What the media should be doing is finding out what is being implemented. The government appointed us, and we couldn’t be the same persons, or the same group that will be monitoring the level of implementation.

“For example, there is also a suggestion that the private sector should engage qualified professionals to collaborate with government officials because government staff alone cannot handle construction in Lagos, and that is the truth because there are between 30, 000 and 40, 000 construction sites in Lagos.”

Eddy Atumonyogo, the President of BCPG and former president of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NistructE) is of the view that lack of collaboration between professionals and the state government is responsible for the incessant failure of buildings in the state.

“The state government does not have the number of qualified personnel to cover the whole of the state, and we’ve been telling the government to engage and collaborate with professional bodies to make a headway,” he said.

The President of Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Olayemi Shonubi, on his part, 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 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.

Flustered by 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 be frozen, while old buildings should be subjected to periodic inspection and tests of stability to ensure that they are safe for habitation.

Leading the call is the President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Nathaniel Atebije, who explained that it was disheartening that valuable lives and property are routinely lost in various parts of the nation due to the failure of buildings at various stages of construction, including aged buildings.

He 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.

In stating that remunerations of the invited experts should be borne by the developer, Atebime added: “Contractors for such buildings must be corporate entities of repute that have names to protect.”

A past president of, the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NISE), Mr. Kunle Adebajo, regretted that tragedies like the latest continue to happen at a time when the country should be seeing a significant reduction in such incidents as the lessons of the past are being heeded.

“What is happening demonstrates that there is still quite a lot to do, and hope that our identified preventive measures and recommendations will eventually be implemented. In particular, we need much more collaboration between the regulating departments and private practitioners in the industry. The modest capacity within government agencies needs to be drastically supplemented by this collaboration.”

According to him, it is not appropriate to hastily arrive at definitive conclusions, based purely on social media reports, in the absence of rigorous professional forensic investigations. We should, therefore, await the findings of these investigations, which must be commenced immediately. Fortunately, there appears to be sufficient evidence available. For a development of this magnitude, there will surely be a lot of relevant documentation available. Structural engineers will use most of this when carrying out the forensic examinations,” he said.

Adebajo, who noted that a major improvement has to be made in the dissemination of information about such significant events whenever they happen, added that the press must be allowed to make their reports, while professionals are expected to issue prompt factual statements that will go a long way to preventing false or mis-leading information based purely on speculation.
The bulk of collapses recorded in the recent past have mainly been blamed on the procurement processes, but the President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Mr. Enyi Ben-Eboh, 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.

Ben-Eboh added that at NIA, “we have always advocated a partnership between the public and private sectors, through the relevant professional bodies in the built environment, just as we encourage our members to undergo training as certified professional checkers/inspectors to fill the capacity gaps, and also be professionally liable in the event of a collapse to serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous developers.

He stressed that there must also be consequences for bad judgment or negligence on the part of anyone involved in the collapse of a building, especially where lives are lost. To him, causes of mere structural failure are myriad, but topping the list is greed, non-domestication, and adoption of the provisions of the National Building Code as it relates to compliance forms certification.

He said: “There is also the issue of informed foundation choice based on the outcome of proper soil investigation to recommend the best type of foundation to deploy, taking into consideration a combination of the bearing capacity of the soil, and the anticipated load. Under no circumstance must the anticipated load exceed the bearing capacity of the soil as this becomes a recipe for disaster.”

He urged the government to urgently address capacity issues by engaging more inspectors to stop developers before buildings get to a stage where they pose a threat to human lives in the event of a collapse.

The government, he also said, needs to partner with relevant professional bodies within the building industry to use their members as watchdogs and partners in regulating and sanctioning non-compliance with extant laws as this is more effective than prosecuting through regular courts that are already overburdened.

On his part, the First Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), Ewa Alderton, noted that the best approach to tackling incessant structural failures is to ensure that all professionals in the building production process are engaged in curbing the menace.

Alderton said certain parameters like soil testing must be mandatory for all sites, where building construction will take place, adding that professionals must also be involved in production right from the building approval stage, to design and during construction.

The NIA President said: “The moment you sideline certain people and do what ought not to be done, we will be having regular incidents of building collapse,” even as he reaffirmed the need for the government to hold people accountable for structural failures.

Also giving his perspectives on factors that facilitate building collapse, the Vice Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Victoria Island Branch, Christian Okwori, said some of the several direct and remote factors include poor material quality, measurement, and design; building on the wrong foundation, against design or requisite standards; reactive rather than proactive regulatory approach, which is even by the way, too desktop-based; lack of regards for geotechnical peculiarities and necessary specifications for high-rise structures in the Island areas as distinct from harder table lands such as the mainland areas.”

He continued: “Non-use of qualified professionals, especially engineers by developers and property owners due to cost for quick sales and investment recovery thereby relegating people for profiteering; getting away with wrong practices in past projects and normalisation of such by developers to cut cost; non-inclusion of professional bodies like local branches of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) in building control monitoring and regulation; inadequate technical insight and capacity by regulatory authorities and their personnel; the culture of impunity for affluent developers who are used to the habit of flouting technical and regulatory standards, as well as compromised civil servants who are mostly politically affiliated, or connected with relevant government leadership.

He also listed the lack of whistle-blower protection and policy for engineers, or other experts who notice wrongdoing as it is a fact that before a building collapses, someone would have long been aware of it, or has been complaining about wrong practices openly or silently.

He further said that the lack of political will by successive state and federal governments to wield the big stick and empower relevant ministries, departments, agencies, and professionals to act is also a factor.

He also lamented that past experiences, as well as the setting up of probe panels, have not done any good to the state, neither have lessons been learnt.

“In all honesty, no lesson has been learnt, that is why we keep repeating the evil cycle of setting up committees all the time and shoving suggested measures aside. As I stated at the last stakeholder meeting on the Ikoyi building collapse, there will be a recurrent decimal if we keep ignoring already proffered solutions.”

 
 

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source: Guardian