The regulatory agencies should live up to their responsibilities

In dealing with the issues surrounding the recent collapse of a five-storey building in Lekki which led to the death of about 35 people, there is need for the Lagos State Government to exercise care and caution so as not to compound the problem of innocent residents at the Lekki Gardens Estate. It is also important that appropriate lessons be learned beyond the audit of structures as directed by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, given the fact that this is a recurring tragedy across the country.

While we commiserate with the families of the deceased persons, it is unfortunate that we continue to witness unethical dealings by project promoters leading to such a huge number of fatalities. From the use of cheap and inferior materials to improper supervision and distortion of original building plans, it would appear some unscrupulous people just create problems for the society in the bid to make easy money.

A statement by the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said preliminary reports and investigation by the state revealed that the collapsed building was served a contravention notice for exceeding the approved floors and thereafter sealed by the Lagos State Building Control Agency. Whatever may be the case, we hope that lessons will be learned not only by Lagos, but by the authorities of other states so that we do not keep witnessing this kind of avoidable tragedy.

All over the country today, the failure of the regulating agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles has given rise to a situation where quacks have taken over in many areas. Indeed, some land speculators have also become estate developers and self-styled construction experts all rolled into one. From the architectural design stage to civil and structural engineering, actual construction and project completion, most of these characters are interested in how to cut costs, even if it means circumventing laid down regulations. This can only breed the kind of disaster we experience from time to time.

According to the Nigerian Society of Structural Engineers, the construction of a building is expected to be managed by “qualified professionals including structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, among others”. In an ideal situation where all these professionals are engaged, there are site engineers and inspectors whose duty it is to ensure that everything is done in accordance with approved plans and standards, but above all, they are expected to pay attention to the use of the quality of materials. It is therefore unfortunate that in spite of the abundance of a great number of building and construction professionals in Nigeria, buildings still collapse like packs of cards.

Besides the non-adherence to approved plans and the absence of qualified professionals at one or more stages of construction, other reasons for frequent building collapse are traced to lack of geo-technical information which is about obtaining the necessary information concerning the soil where a building is to be erected. Even though one-storey buildings take a lot of load, Nigerian builders often embark on the construction of multi-storey buildings without carrying out soil tests, a critical requirement prior to the erection of a solid structure.

While we recommend sanctions for those who may be found guilty of the kind of criminal negligence that led to the Lekki tragedy, there is a great need for a complete overhaul of the nation’s building and construction regulations. A policy should be put in place where any professional connected with a collapsed building will forfeit his licence and face the full weight of the law. Unless drastic steps are taken and building codes implemented to the letter, the nation will continue to experience these avoidable serial disasters.