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Reversing The Building Collapse Trend In Nigeria

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In other climes it is a taboo for buildings to collapse. In this report GEORGE OKOJIE takes a look at the menace and  implications of building collapse.

The children play around the nearly dilapidated building. Cloths can be seen swaying in the wind as they hang from a rope loosely tied from one pillar of the uncompleted building to the other. A woman sits just within trying to make a meal from what little food she could gather. Her husband is away selling water to make ends meet.

Cost of accommodation is high and so this uncompleted fragile looking building which has been abandoned for years, even with its risks is what she and her family call home. But what happens to them if this shelter gives way to become a bane?

Despite the grave implications associated with building collapse, hardly will a year end in Nigeria end without an incident of building collapse recorded in the country.

Unfortunately, when it does happen officials of the state governments where it occurs, react by promptly visiting the site of the collapsed building to empathise with the victims and they are adjudged by the governed as very compassionate leaders.

Thereafter, the government, owners of the collapsed buildings and developers as the case may be will start blame game and before you know it the whole dust raised by the tragic incident settles and the matter is forgotten until another building collapses to unleash songs of sorrow on the polity.

Observers have expressed their fears that the untimely death of 20 innocent pupils of Ita-faaji School building collapse and others that died in the building collapse in Lagos, will not mark the end of such tragic occurrence in the country because of the Nigerian factor of half measure, lack of integrity and lawlessness that seems to have come to stay.

They noted that grave danger will continue to lurk around and manifest in harvests of collapsed buildings in the nation’s construction industry, because many housing developers have continued to compromise quality in the delivery housing units.

As far as they are concerned these incidents come as a tragic reminder of the mismanagement, weakness in the regulatory and monitoring regime of the government.

Despite the recent tragic occurrences in Lagos and Ibadan, some unscrupulous developers and builders still embark on construction of high-rise buildings at weekends, public holidays and even at night to cut corners.

The problem is worse in densely populated cities like Lagos. The Lagos paradox is that, it is a state with the smallest landmass yet, it has the highest population scrambling to inhabit in an area of 356,861 hectares of which 75,755 hectares are wetlands.

Unscrupulous housing developers take undue advantage of this situation to embark on conversion of use of residential buildings by conniving with the owner to convert the buildings originally designed and developed as a bungalow or one storey building to high rise buildings.

As building collapse continues to take its tolls on the nation’s built environment, LEADERSHIP Sunday investigations carried out on some construction sites in Lagos and Ogun States revealed that astronomical rise in the prices of building materials caused by a cost-push inflation that has driven commodity prices beyond the reach of most consumers has compelled some housing developers to disregard specifications recommended by structural engineers.

Its prevaleance LEADERSHIP Sunday further learned is triggered by the refusal of clients to review contract sums for the delivery of the projects, in the face of high rate of foreign exchange that push the prices over the roof.

For instance apart from the increase in the price of cement which is a staple construction material, iron rod used for reinforcement in construction work moved from N130,000 to N250 ,000 per tonne for the locally produced , while the imported iron rod sell for N290 ,000 .Aluminium roofing sheets, both long span and step tiles, Gerard roofing sheet are all affected by the price hike.

Professionals are particularly worried about Iron rod, because it is one of the important components of building construction, being an important element of reinforcing cement concrete.

It takes care of the strength in structure. Thus, it becomes very dangerous to use substandard iron road in building construction to avoid structural failure.

Traditionally, the core of iron rod is uniform and is always available in different diameters like 8, 10, 12, 16, 20 millimetres (mm).

Different grades of iron rods are available depending on the yield strength of the bars. Bars of higher strength are normally used in order to decongest the concrete in thin columns and large span beams.

  LEADERSHIP Sunday checks showed that due to the effects of economic downturn biting harder currently in the country 12 mm iron rods are being substituted for 16 mm for construction of high rise buildings.

To salvage the situation, a renowned construction expert, Builder Kunle Awobodu, said it was high time building control agencies and building materials testing laboratory intensified efforts to ensure that building materials being used for construction are tested and contractors adhere to building specifications.

Commenting on the recurring incidents of building collapse in the country, the Chairman of the Ibadan branch of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) Adedamola Falade-Fatila, hinged the rising cases of building collapse on quackery and compromise in standards.

He said: “If every client, builder or developer consults a registered engineer to design their structures, we won’t find ourselves in this situation.

“This is purely the result of quackery and compromises in materials, skilled labour and so on.

“It is as they say in computer, garbage in, garbage out, what you put in is what you get. If you put in expertise, quality and professionalism, you will get a solid structure that will stand out and stand the test of time.

“The one that collapsed in Ibadan is still under construction and it gave way; that tells you that something is wrong somewhere.”

He said the association had been engaged in sensitisation programmes to encourage the use of engineers for projects.

“If you have a structure that is above two floors, get a registered structural engineer, and if it is not up to that, get a registered engineer to do your design for you.

“In doing that, the engineer will give you advice and supervise your project so that there would be no compromise by the time the structure is being put up.

“If you meet anyone who claims to be an engineer, ask for his proof; in the age we are now, it is easy to know a registered engineer.

“You can check on the internet; registered engineers have their names compiled by the Council for the Regulation of the Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).

“Google COREN and check the person’s status by typing in his or her name; if the person is truly registered, you will find his or her name and address there.

“Anyone who claims to be an engineer and his name is not in the database of NSE and COREN is a quack,’’ he said.

Harping on the need to take drastic actions erring developers and professionals, former Deputy National Chairman, South, of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), and Atona Oodua of Yorubaland, Chief Olabode George urged the Lagos State government to ensure that its officials, who are responsible for not doing the right thing and the right time to prevent incessant building collapse in the state are brought to book and prosecuted.

According to him, those blaming government for the ongoing demolition of distressed houses in Lagos Island are ignorant.

To stem cases of building collapse in Lagos, Lagos State Government has inaugurated a five-man committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the immediate and remote cause(s) of the three-storey building on 63 Massey Street, Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island, which claimed 20 lives, including children.

The state’s Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye said there is need for residents to assist the government by exposing any building with sign of distress across the state before they eventually collapse.

Ogunleye, explained that the committee, chaired by Engr. Wasiu Olokunola, was expected to proffer remedial measures to stem future building collapse and determine level of negligence on the part of the developer or owner and the role of the government.

He stated that the choice of members of the panel was based on professionalism in their respective fields, saying, they will investigate the causes of the collapse and submit appropriate recommendations to the government.

Ogunleye assured that the recommendation of the panel would be speedily implemented as government was determined to stem the tide of collapsed building in the state.

The commissioner said efforts were geared towards demolishing the structure before it caved in, noting that prior to the recent building collapse in the state, the government have captured 149 buildings which were marked for demolition across the state.

‘’In the first phase last year, we removed 40 structures across the state. We were about embarking on the second phase in which we have itemized 30 structures to be removed before the building on Massey Street collapsed. Now we have scaled up the structures to 51. The number is not restricted to the Lagos Island alone.

“Of the 51 buildings, no fewer than 48 were on Lagos Island alone. So, the issue of monitoring within the axis and other parts will be stepped up to ensure that the government rid the state of distressed buildings.

He noted that the last building collapse which occurred on the Lagos lsland was due to the stubborn of the occupants who disobeyed government’s order by trading inside the building which had already been marked and sealed.

He warned that, henceforth, owners of such buildings found to contravene the law would be arrested and prosecuted accordingly.

The commissioner who charged members of the public to be wary of dubious landlords , enjoined them not to rent dilapidated or abandoned structures from anybody out of desperation in any part of state in order to avoid further loss of lives and properties.

According to him, the state government had before now established a materials testing laboratory to ensure that sub-standard materials are not used for construction in the state. The laboratory will certify, monitor and control the standard of building materials in the state.

He said, “The state government has reformed the planning, approval, development control and monitoring process to ensure that developers maintain appropriate standards. A registered builder now has to certify that a building has been professionally completed and is safe for human habitation.”

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