The recent collapse of a four-storey building in Gwarinpa, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, Nigeria, brings to the fore, again, the plague of building collapse in parts of the country. In this particular disaster, two people were confirmed dead while six others were rescued alive.
Before this fatal building collapse, there were other instances across the country. The collapse of a crowded six-storey guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in which about 300 people were trapped had an international dimension because most of the victims were worshippers of other nationalities. At the time rescue operations were concluded, the death toll stood at 116 with over 100 others injured. Of those killed in the collapse, 85 were believed to be South Africans. We are pointing this out not to, in any way, diminish the severity of other incidences that had occurred before now but to urge the authorities concerned to apply the legal processes needed to effectively check further damage. Building collapse has been defined as a total or partial progressive failure of one or more components of a building leading to the inability of the affected building to perform its principal function of comfort, satisfaction, safety and stability.
Experts believe that any building collapse is as a result of a defect or imperfection, deficiency in a building element or component or even a combination of all these factors. Over and above all these, in our view, is the human factor that creates conditions that do eventually result in the collapse of buildings with the attendant loss of lives and other resources deployed for the purpose of erecting the structure.
Our worry is that each time there is such a fatality, the tendency is for all concerned to resort to academic explanations as to why it happened and then it is forgotten until another disaster occurs. We insist that buildings don’t just collapse. They are caused to collapse. Use of poor quality materials as a cost-cutting measure is a prescription for disaster. In most cases, the problem starts with the non-adherence to building plans which may not have received the rigorous attention of the regulatory authorities some of who, for pecuniary gains, corruptly close their eyes to disasters waiting to happen. As in the case of the most recent collapse in Gwarinpa, Abuja, the building was originally designed as a two storey facility until someone had the brain wave to add two more, ostensibly, without approval. Similar allegations were prevalent at the Synagogue collapse mentioned earlier.
The sad situation in all these is that no one is ever held accountable for the shame and that is why it keeps repeating itself and when such happens, it is merely shrugged off as if the lives involved are inconsequential. But we think that it is about time drastic measures were not only put in place but also applied on those who may have neglected to perform their duties such as ensuring that standards are maintained and international best practices brought to bear in the building industry. In our opinion, building collapse is not just as a result of lack of adequate legal framework. It is more as a result of the inefficiencies in the system and which invariably contribute to the fatalities that become inevitable. But they can no longer be acceptable. We are aware of the housing deficit the nation is experiencing but refuse to argue that as sufficient reason to allow the madness in the industry to persist. It is not enough for the government to revoke the land allocation. Somebody must be made to account for the lives lost. Charging all found guilty of dereliction of duty will, in our considered opinion, serve as a deterrent.