BEYOND THE ABA BUILDING COLLAPSE

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The regulatory agencies should be alive to their responsibilities

The Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, last week ordered the suspension of the executive secretary of the Aba Town Planning Authority. This followed his visit to the construction site of a building which collapsed, claiming five lives with scores of others injured. But the Aba tragedy is just the latest in a long list of death arising from building collapse that has become a common occurrence in the country. According to the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute, no fewer than 199 Nigerians lost their lives from just four collapsed buildings between 2014 and 2019. In a single incident in 2014, a guesthouse located within the Synagogue Church of All Nations premises in Lagos collapsed, killing 115 people, mostly foreign nationals. And in 2017, there were 54 reported cases of collapsed buildings in major towns and cities across the country.

As we have highlighted several times, buildings don’t just collapse every other day or after a single night of rainfall in most countries. That is because from the architectural design stage to civil and structural engineering, actual construction and completion of a project, efforts are made to ensure that laid down regulations are strictly adhered to and there are no shortcuts aimed at minimising costs. But in Nigeria, the failure of the regulatory agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles has given way to a situation where quacks have taken over with the effect that some land speculators have also become estate developers and self-styled construction experts.

In an ideal situation, there are site engineers and inspectors whose duty is to ensure that construction of a building is done in accordance with approved plans and standards, but above all they are expected to pay attention to the use of quality materials. 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, quantity surveyors,” among others. Despite the abundance of these professionals in Nigeria, buildings still collapse like pack of cards.

Some of the reasons that have been adduced for building collapse in Nigeria include non-adherence to approved plans and the absence of qualified professionals at one or more stages of construction as well as lack of geo-technical information which is all about obtaining necessary information concerning the soil where a building is to be erected. But perhaps the more fundamental reasons for this increasing menace are unethical dealings between project promoters and the relevant authorities such as the use of cheap and inferior materials, improper supervision and distortion of original building plans. This is all too common. After securing approval for a specific number of floors in a building, many would add more floors. And we ask, what do the housing and urban development authorities at the federal and state levels do? In most instances, these compromised officials look the other way even when it is so obvious that such a building is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen.

There is therefore a great need for a complete overhaul of the nation’s building and construction regulations. A policy should be put in place whereby any professional connected with a collapsed building should forfeit his licence and face the full weight of the law. The land upon which the collapsed building was erected should be forfeited to government and landlord jailed without option of fine. Buildings marked for demolition by town planning authorities should be demolished without delay. Unless drastic steps are taken and building codes implemented to the letter, the nation will continue to have these avoidable serial disasters.