The regulatory agencies should be alive to their responsibilities

Despite assurances by the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Physical Planning and Urban Development, several buildings are still collapsing in Lagos with fatalities. But since such occurrences have become a national problem with hundreds of lives lost annually, it is important that all the regulatory agencies in charge of monitoring construction of buildings across the country be more alive to their responsibilities.

In December last year, no fewer than 200 worshippers lost their lives in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State at the launching of a church. Three years ago in Lagos, a similar tragedy occurred at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, leading to the death of 115 persons, majority of them South Africans. In both instances, the authorities have not come to any closure for the victims and their relatives perhaps because religious institutions are allowed to operate in Nigeria as though above the law.

The greater challenge is that lessons are never learnt. A property development expert, Samod Biobaku, argued recently that buildings hardly collapse without warning signs, such as shifting resulting from faulty foundation, water stains on walls and collapsing ceilings, creaking and popping sounds, deteriorating support structure arising from deformed siding and sub-standard materials, gaps between the walls and floors and major cracks on the walls.

That we have continued to witness this unfortunate occurrence on a frequent basis is due largely to unethical dealings by project promoters. From the use of cheap and inferior materials to improper supervision and distortion of original building plans, it would appear some unscrupulous people knowingly create problems for the society. To add to all this is 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.

Indeed, everywhere, 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. 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 only in how to cut costs, even if it means circumventing laid down regulations. This can only breed the kind of disasters 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 which include 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. It is therefore unfortunate that in spite of the abundance 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 criminal negligence that led to many of the fatal collapse of buildings in recent years, 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 with the attendant loss of innocent lives.