In 2004, Mother Nature unleashed her worst with a Tsunami that had devastating consequences in many Asian countries, killing over 227,000 people in 14 countries. The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response and donations of more than $14 billion.
In 2010, Haiti witnessed a devastating earthquake that saw over 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapse while death toll estimates ranges from 100,000 to 160,000. In August this year, another earthquake occurred in the country. It is said to be the deadliest earthquake and deadliest natural disaster of 2021.
Apart from the occasional natural disasters such as drought, bush fire and landslides, one might agree that Mother Nature has been quite kind to Nigeria. However, while Tsunami’s and Earthquakes often occur miles away from our shores and seem alien to Nigeria, some Nigerians seem to court disasters in the form of man-made ones.
As many Nigerians were ushering in the new month of November with prayers, gratitude and beseeching favours from their creator, the nation reverberated with the shocking news and screaming headlines of a building collapse. A 21-storey building, under construction, collapsed at Gerrard Road in Ikoyi, Lagos state.
Those living around the collapse site will surely never forget this incidence in a hurry. Distraught families and friends of people trapped in the rubble were seen waiting for days outside the scene of the incident as rescue operations was ongoing. Some expressed anger and frustration over their inability to know the fate of their relatives. As the smoke finally cleared, about 46 people reportedly died while thankfully, 15 people were rescued.
The “before and after” images of the building that flooded social media in the aftermath of the collapse, reveals the extent of the damage and leaves a lot to be desired. Due to lack of records, the exact amount of people on site for that day is unknown. Thus, emergency rescue responders couldn’t ascertain the number of people under the rubble. From the images one saw on TV and social media of the incident site, it was as if an earthquake had pled the building down. But, alas, it wasn’t.
While one commiserates with the victims of the collapse building, one must say that the incident could have been avoided. It is also not the first time that this sort of incident has occurred. In fact, since 2005, at least 152 buildings have collapsed in Lagos state alone. One of those incidents that particularly angered many was in 2014 when dozens of people died in a church collapse.
As if the Ikoyi incident wasn’t saddening enough, another two storey building under construction in Badagry, also in Lagos state, collapsed barely two weeks after the Ikoyi collapse, killing four people. As usual, there were uproars and condemnations from various quarters across the country. But the question begging for answers is “why the frequent building collapse and why Lagos in particular”?
A labourer who was one of the survivors of the Ikoyi building collapse narrated how the “building engineers” identified a cracked pillar on the first floor of the building. The engineers then asked the labourers to break the pillar so that they can fix another pillar there since they had confidence that nothing would happen to the pillar if they set another one.
However, their calculations were wrong and something did happen. From the labourers account, the cracked pillar and attempts to replace it led to the building collapse. Another plausible reason for the building collapse is the assertion by the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers stating that the 21-storey building was originally designed to be six floors.
They went on further, stating that there were clear indications of several design brief changes on the project and the engineering and management of these changes appear to have been seriously inadequate. The building that collapsed was initially designed for just six floors, and later to 12 floors, before this was further changed to 15 floors.
Along with these reasons, poor workmanship and materials and a lack of official oversight have often led to many building collapse in the country. In a recently released report by the department of Civil Engineering at the Kwara State University, cases of building collapse, which occurred in the 10-year period spanning 2009-2019, were linked to structural defect.
The report showed that the rate of building collapse was predominant in the South-West, which recorded 34 out of 56 cases, leading to the death of 132 persons in the period under review. The report added that most of the collapsed buildings were found to have been constructed with low-quality building materials.
It also revealed that incompetent craftsmen rather than professionals were engaged in the affected projects while existing building codes, meant to guide builders, were rendered ineffective because of the lack of political will to enforce same by town planning authorities.
These have always been the suspicions for the incessant building collapse we have been witnessing in the country, particularly in Lagos state.
It is about time that town planning authorities meant to supervise building projects do so effectively and ensure that the builders adhere to all safety guidelines. Property developers must also desist from resorting to shortcut methods while trying to cut costs which most times lead to total loss.
Those who have the experience of erecting structures advise that soil test, environmental impact analysis and structural analysis needs to be made mandatory to prospective builders. This analysis then must be submitted alongside the building plans to town planning authorities before permission is given to embark on the project. Also, constant monitoring and supervision towards ensuring that the developer doesn’t deviate from the initial plan is vital for preventing such collapse.
In addition, regulatory authorities such as the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) should ensure that only certified building materials are allowed into the Nigerian market. Substandard or fake materials are akin to fake or expired drugs and we all know the effects such have on our health. The same scenario is playing out in the structural engineering sector where many of the buildings across the country cannot stand the test of time due to the use of substandard materials.
It is a fact that the failure of a project such as a building starts with poor preparation. The involvement of the right personnel at the right time would aid adequate planning and ensure thriving project sustainability. Until the right reason is given on who designs, gives approval to the designs, builds, supervises and gives final approval upon construction, building collapse would be an issue of concern and would continue to occur.
An independent panel has been setup by the Lagos state government to investigate the causes of the Ikoyi collapse and prevent similar incidents in the future. One just hopes this isn’t one of the cases where the government wants to be seen to be doing something. Nigerians pray this isn’t the last they hear of the Ikoyi collapse. People should be held accountable for the incident and made to face the long arm of the law. And those who invest in real estate in Nigeria have many lessons to learn from this.
Natural disasters are cataclysmic events with atmospheric, geological and hydrological origins that cause damage and disruption to many nations across the world. And while Nigeria has been relatively unscathed by any major adverse event resulting from the natural process of the Earth, may our ineptitude not continue to result in disasters that seems to come naturally to us.