Incidence Of Building Collapse And Playing By The Rules


By Tayo Ogunbiyi

They looked lost, confused and helpless. Staring occasionally at a few of their possessions that were salvaged from the debris that their once beloved habitation has become. They caught quite a pitiable sight, occasionally staring into space, searching perhaps, for the way out of their present predicament. They were the occupants of a three-storey building at 353, Agege Motor Road, which recently collapsed. The sad incident, which took place in the afternoon, claimed a nine-month-old baby aside causing various degrees of physical injuries to many others in addition to loss of other vital belongings.

The ugly phenomenon of building collapse in Nigeria, with resultant loss of lives and properties, injuries, structural and collateral damage to other properties as well as public infrastructures, is becoming quite alarming. Though cases of building collapse are not peculiar to Nigeria, the trend in the country is, however, becoming quite bothersome and a source of concern to all well meaning individuals.

Here in Lagos, we have had a fair share of cases of building collapse with its ensuing trauma and agonies. The case of Lagos is particularly aggravated by its population density, the wet nature of the environment as well as the landscape of the state which most builders do not often take into consideration before embarking on building activities. The situation is further exacerbated by the refusal of residents to heed government’s warning to vacate buildings that are discovered to have faulty structures and therefore unsuitable for human habitation. This is often the situation with most collapsed buildings in the state. For instance, it is on record that the state government had warned the occupants of the collapsed building at 353, Agege Motor Road, Lagos of the imminent collapse of the building two years ahead of the eventual occurrence.

Similarly, the influx of many people to Lagos, on a daily basis, exerts much pressure on the available housing, leading to overcrowding in most houses with its resulting extra load and apparent distress of most buildings, particularly in densely populated areas. Lagos is said to have the highest urban population, which was put at about 5.171 persons per per square kilometre as at 2008 and 27.4% of the national estimate. The desperate attempt by the residents to get out of the hook of terrible and shylock landlords by getting roof over their heads at all costs, coupled with the eagerness of developers, both professionals and non-professionals, to get quick returns on their investments often lead to a situation where regulations are deliberately or ignorantly circumvented thereby compromising standards at the expense of people’s lives.   There is no point in apportioning blames in respect of the ugly trend of building collapse in the country. Everyone simply has a role to play if the trend is to be reversed. Governments across the country need to ensure that building regulations are strictly adhered to while the people must be willing to play by the rules. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a place where illegality thrives, people build structures without approved plan, building permit and other necessary authorizations, while estates spring up without approved layout plan. It is estimated that more than 60% of structures across the country falls within this category. To cut cost, many people resort to using substandard materials which are prevalent and abundant in Nigeria, both homemade and imported. Sadly, every cheap thing comes with a price.

In Lagos, the State Government is not oblivious of the threat which the occurrence of collapsed building has over the years posed to government’s efforts to protect lives and property. The State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola  recently inaugurated a six-man tribunal of enquiry on collapsed buildings. While inaugurating the tribunal, Fashola warned that any state officials found guilty of compromising standards in the issuance of permits to builders would be sanctioned while buildings constructed without compliance to necessary regulations would be pulled down. He, equally, appealed to residents to patiently follow due process and report structurally defective buildings in their immediate environment to appropriate quarters.

Similarly, the demanding housing situation in the state is being tackled through series of policies aimed at stemming the challenges

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In the housing sector. The strengthening of the Ministry of Housing and other affiliated agencies such as Lagos State Property Development (LSDPC), Lagos Building and Investment Company (LBIC) is a direct response by the state government to meeting the urgent intervention required in the sector.

Presently, the New Towns Development Authority (NTDA) provides site and service schemes for individual middle-income housing. Equally, the State Government is also providing various forms of housing opportunities to Lagosians through the construction of various categories of homes across the state. This is in addition to encouraging private sector involvement in the provision of housing.

If we are to avert future occurrence of building collapse, governments across the country must intensify the conduct of integrity test on old buildings particularly multi- storey to determine their structural stability and safety for habitation. This must be done on a regular basis as a matter of policy.

Equally, where it already exists, legislation against illegal building activities should be strengthened while monitoring activities from relevant government agencies should also become more effective. Similarly, efforts must be made to step up prosecution of professionals/developers who move to site without development permit and engage in other sharp practices such as the use of sub-standard materials, to serve as deterrent to others. The only condition that makes evil to thrive is for evil to go unpunished.

As earlier stated, citizens also have a role to play in curbing the trend of building collapse in the country. It is a fact that most construction activities take place in full glare of the people. Hence, it is important that people take interest in the safety of human lives by reporting structurally deficient building or any illegal construction and contraventions in their environment to the appropriate authorities. The human life is sacrosanct and it must be treated as such. This is why we must all come together to put an end to this menace.

It is, therefore, essential to commend the efforts of professionals under the umbrella body of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) in rallying against building collapse in the country. Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, recently joined the guild, whose membership cut across all the 20 Local Government Councils and Local Government Development Areas in Lagos. The involvement of BCPG, and other such bodies in the country, is a right step in the right direction in the bid to raise consciousness among built environment professionals both in government and private sector on the need to ensure that due process is followed in all their assignments to prevent structural failure.  To effectively tackle the hazard of building collapse, we need to build synergy, build network, harmonise efforts and frequently review success recorded. This is the only way forward if we are to put an end to the agonies and trauma associated with the dreadful incidence of building collapse in Lagos, and indeed the country•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

—Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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