There is alternative to chaos. The authorities should ensure buildings conform to codes and regulations

A sergeant and one other person died from a collapsed building at the police barracks, Ikeja, Lagos last month. As usual, the authorities have threatened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse and bring those responsible to book. But nobody has said anything about the cracked and dilapidated structures that litter the entire barracks in which living has become hell on earth for our policemen and women that inhabit the place.

The subtext in that report is the sub-human conditions under which majority of our policemen live. Yet, the pertinent questions we keep asking are: How can we expect the best of our police officers if we treat them with such contempt as to expose their families to this kind of indignity? How can we expect those to whom the society literally denies justice by the way we treat them to help us?

While we commiserate with the families of the deceased persons, it is unfortunate that we continue to witness this unfortunate occurrence largely caused by 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.

However, the case of the Ikeja barracks collapse would appear to have resulted from the failure of oversight and negligence by the appropriate authorities for supervision and monitoring of physical structure that are prone to collapse due to wear and tear. Had the said building been properly monitored, the authority would have been aware of the defects and would have applied the remedial measures needed to prevent the collapse and the attendant avoidable loss of lives.

This is a nationwide problem though. Everywhere you go there is the failure of the regulating agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles, giving 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.

Yet as the Nigerian Society of Structural Engineers has said, 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. All these professionals are to be supervised by 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.

While we recommend sanctions for those who may be found guilty of the kind of criminal negligence that led to the police barracks building collapse and others, government should do a complete overhaul of the nation’s building and construction regulations. There should be a policy that makes any professional connected with a collapsed building to 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.