The death of three persons when a four storey-building collapsed in Jabi area of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, on Friday, August 17, 2018, has once again called attention to the level of abnormality going on in Nigeria.
According to reports, about 18 people were also injured in the incident. The building, which had been abandoned for about 15 years, was said to have collapsed after an additional floor was added to it. As usual, the government has sympathised with those who lost their loved ones. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who visited the site briefly, also requested that the contractor handling the project should be arrested.
It is quite unfortunate that stories of building collapse in the country no longer appear on the breaking news segment of the media. As soon as it happens, accusing fingers point to the engineers or the contractors. In the recent case, some have blamed alleged compromise by the Development Control Department officials for the collapse, noting that they might have extorted money from the building owner and turned a blind eye to alleged unsavoury practices by the contractor.
But experts have said that some other factors are also responsible for such occurrences. These include dominance of quacks in the construction industry; design error; poor construction supervision; conversion of residential buildings to commercial; houses/abandoned structures; civil commotion; natural disasters; code of practice; effect of high temperature; developers interference; poor building materials; lack of building maintenance culture, among others.
In Nigeria, it is a common practice in the building industry that the jobs of qualified professionals are hijacked by politicians and contractors. Most times those who are entrusted with engineering and construction business have no knowledge of what to do so long as they have connection with those at the corridors of power. They get very juicy contracts.
The basic requirement for approval of building plans is that planning and design should be executed by persons with current licenses from COREN [The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria.] Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, [ARCON] and the Council of Registered Planners. There have been cases where building plans of one-storey buildings are approved without being certified, and sealed by COREN registered engineers.
Poor analysis and design of building structures is also a major reason for many collapsed buildings in Nigeria. Experts claim that analysis and design of concrete and steel elements are carried out by people who have no knowledge of the theory behind many assumptions. These analysis are often done with some software like Orion and without sound judgment, the results obtained are deceptive and dangerous.
Indiscriminate conversion of residential buildings for religious and commercial purposes is another reason for collapse of buildings. There are cases were buildings abandoned for a very long time are rehabilitated without proper material tests to verify the present state of the structure, like the one that recently collapsed in Abuja. Such buildings should be verified for overall stability, strength of the structural members, durability, fire resistance, permeability and appearance, electrical and mechanical installation before constructions can continue.
For building construction in Nigeria, this newspaper is compelled to appeal to all stakeholders to lay emphasis on use of right materials for construction of buildings and other infrastructure, periodic testing of building materials and concrete during construction, employment of the right calibre of professionals and artisans in the design and construction of buildings, ensure that designs are checked, cross checked by the right professionals, sealed and approved before construction can commence.
We also suggest that Nigerians imbibe the practice of adopting preventive, corrective and condition based maintenance culture in Nigeria and reporting cases of buildings showing signs of failure to the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) committee on Prevention Investigation and Failure analysis Committee. By so doing, lives may be saved. Also, there should be a review and enforcement of urban planning laws to regulate building products and processes.
Government should ensure that only competent people are given jobs. There should also be mass enlightenment so that clients will only give contracts to genuine professionals. Many people dodge cost, but end up endangering the lives of people and also wasting resources. The government should organise a national conference on development control to address the issue of a building code and specification from foundation.
The professional bodies should come together and set up a development control resource centre as it has become obvious that development control in the public sector is not working. Government must come up with specific legislations and set up specific standards on building construction.