DEATHS FROM COLLAPSED BUILDINGS

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The authorities may do well by enforcing the building codes

While it is difficult to keep track of the number of lives that are lost annually to building collapse in Nigeria, it must worry the Lagos authorities that hardly any week passes without such cheap but avoidable deaths in the state. As at the last count by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), no fewer than eight dead bodies had been recovered recently from the debris of a collapsed four-storey building on Lagos Island. Even when it can be argued that such occurrences may not be peculiar to Lagos, it has become so commonplace in the state and the reason is also all too familiar.

According to NEMA spokesman for South-west, Mr. Ibrahim Iranloye, the collapsed Lagos Island building was initially a bungalow before it was converted to a four-storey building with an added penthouse. Reports by the Lagos authorities also indicated that a telecommunication masthead was erected on the building along with a big generator just two weeks before everything came down. Yet, as we have repeatedly argued, 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.

In other climes buildings don’t just collapse every other day. From the architectural design stage to civil and structural engineering, actual construction and completion of a project, efforts are made to ensure that stipulated regulations are strictly adhered to and there are no shortcuts aimed at minimising costs. That unfortunately is not the case in our country. Even when Nigeria is not in lack of professionals in the building industry, the failure of the regulatory agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles has given way to situations where quacks have taken over with the effect that some land speculators have also become estate developers and construction experts.
Therefore, it is very clear that we will continue to witness this unfortunate occurrence on a frequent basis due largely to unethical dealings by project promoters. In many instances, the collapse could be attributed the distortion of original building plans by adding more floors, regardless of the weight the foundation. To add to all this is the failure of oversight and negligence by the appropriate authorities for supervision and monitoring of physical structure that were prone to collapse due to wear and tear.

Ordinarily, 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. Apparently because of the failure of the regulating agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles, all manner of quacks have taken over the industry.

The greater challenge is that lessons are never learnt after every tragedy. A property development expert, Samod Biobaku, argued recently that buildings hardly collapse without warning signs, some of which he identified 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, major cracks in the walls, etc.

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 collapsed buildings to forfeit their licence and face the full weight of the law.