By Bennett Oghifo
Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite has said that, as a developing country, Nigeria should increase spending on infrastructure, particularly in the construction of housing units for its growing population.
The minister stated this at the second edition of the Concrete Ideas Webinar Series organised last week by Lafarge Africa. This edition focused on ‘Addressing the Root Cause of Building Collapse in Nigeria’. The first Concrete Ideas webinar series, held in October last year, had the theme: “Public-Private Partnership Approaches to Rapidly Upscaling Nigeria’s Economic Infrastructure,” professionals proffer credible solutions and implementable options to the nation’s infrastructure problems.
Architect Adegbite, who was Special Guest of Honour at the webinar, recalled that last year the National Economic Council approved the construction of 300,000 mass housing units in all the states of the federation and in the FCT.
“The project, with an average of 10,000 homes per state, is expected to provide at least 1.5 million homes for Nigerian families. The industry, as a whole, should ensure that the global best practices are adhered to in the construction of these housing units to forestall the tragedy of building collapse,” the minister said.
According to him, “The unacceptable frequency of building collapse has sadly led to loss of lives and property in Nigeria.” He said recent studies show that building collapse had become prevalent and that if deliberate measures were not adopted to curb the menace, it will have more devastating effect on the society.
He said building collapse in the country was caused essentially by negligence, like the use of substandard building materials, illegal conversion of existing buildings into other usage, inadequate primary site investigation, poor concrete mix ratio, inadequate structural analysis, lack of adherence to materials’ specification, none adherence to building code and design, and inadequate supervision by professionals, among others.
He said the desire to cut cost, particularly in low budget projects, at the expense of quality breeds disaster. “Ultimately, the cost of collapse is greater than the cost that you were trying to save.”
To avoid incidences of building collapse, he recommended that project owners should resist the temptation to cut corners, embark on accurate structural evaluation which starts from the land itself, engagement qualified professionals, use of standard building materials and routine structural maintenance and integrity tests. “This is particularly relevant to old buildings like in Lagos Island.”
He also recommended executing proper preliminary site investigation, amongst others.
He said another nagging problem was the issue of trained artisans in the building industry. “The problem, which we are trying to work against at the federal level, is that the procurement system in Nigeria precludes most of this level of workers from gaining access to projects, and what happens thereby is that they are only engaged in those low-end private projects where disaster occurs. The people that you have trained do not have access to the right projects where they can hone their skills and get better.”
He urged the government to amend the procurement law to include this class of people for certain projects. “Right now, even for the smallest project, you can’t employ this class of people.”
The was attended by reputable Thought Leaders, including Engr. Joseph Makoju, Chairman, Nigerian Cement Association, Michael Scharpf, Head, Sustainable Construction, LafargeHolcim, Mallam Farouk Salim, who is the Director General/Chief Executive Officer, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. (Mrs.) Bola Onigbogi, President, Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers (NCRIB), Engr. Ali Alimasuya Rabiu, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, and Dr. Kehinde Babajide Oshifala, President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers,
Setting the tone for the discussion, the programme’s host and Country CEO of Lafarge Africa, Khaled El Dokani said the focus of the brainstorming session was how the public and private sector can work together to address the root cause of building collapse in the country.
“We are here to review the challenges, the causes and further proffer sustainable solution to eliminating the issue of building collapse in the country. It is an all-inclusive affair, building for the nation and building for the future generation.”
He said Lafarge, as a group, was reinventing how the world builds, by shaping a world that is greener, smarter and that works for all. Our commitment to sustainability, which is at the core of our operation and strategy, resonates and as a leading building solution company, we believe in building the world that works for people and the planet.”
The Director General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), recommended effective supervision of construction sites and sanctioning of erring practitioners. “I have not seen an engineer, a building or an individual punished for breaking the rules.”
He said people have been known to increase a four storey building to 10 on the same foundation meant for the four storey, without consequences.
The organisation, he said does periodic survey of building materials and regular enforcement in the areas where they have jurisdiction. “I’m sure you’re aware that for the past 10 years SON has been kept away from the Ports and most of the substandard building materials/goods “come in through the Ports, 85 per cent of them come through Lagos, and our people are forced to rely on Customs magnanimity to allow us into the Port if the suspect some items or we rely on certain intelligence which is not reliable all the time, and you have these young employees of ours chasing containers on the street, trying to enforce something we should have been doing in the Ports.”
He said about three weeks ago, SON shutdown some steel companies because their survey showed they were guilty of putting substandard products into the market, adding that they are being monitored closely.
He lauded most manufacturers in Nigeria, including Lafarge for excellent products. “They don’t have issues. Our cable in this country is so well-respected, because of the monitoring we do with these local manufacturers; with the collaboration, people are now faking Nigerian cable. They go overseas, make a cable and label it made in Nigeria.”
He said it was important to allow SON to do its duty at the Ports, particularly with the African Free Trade Agreement coming up, and “if government does not bring in scanners into the Ports, to make sure we can check products coming in, then we have a big problem coming ahead.”
On insurance in the nation’s construction industry, Dr. (Mrs.) Bola Onigbogi, President, Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers (NCRIB) said it was imperative to embrace compulsory insurance in the construction industry as stipulated in the Insurance Act.
She said a major problem is the enforcement of the mandatory insurance, adding that “NAICOM is really working round the clock concerning its implementation. As we all know, insurance is purely a risk mitigation device that reduces the liability of the insured, when a loss occurs. It may not prevent building collapse per se, but will reduce the liability at the aftermath of such collapse.”
Dr. Onigbogi, who listed the Policies available, agrees that most building collapses are caused by small-time players and that the blame rested on the regulatory institutions responsible for building in Nigeria.
However, she said that a player is small does not justify negligence, if the laws are stringent, adding that before a building collapses many things must have gone wrong. “There must have been obvious human and material failures.”
On the cement industry, Engr. Joseph Makoju, Chairman, Nigerian Cement Association said their preoccupation is sustainability, adding that they do follow-up to ensure the product is acceptable to the consumer in terms of functionality.
Makoju said, “We ensure that it meets all the standards; world class. Internationally, Nigerian cement is reputed for its quality, because we are endowed with very high quality raw materials for making of cement, and all the players invest heavily in the processes that monitor production in the entire chain from raw material milling to the final production of the cement.”
He said they have technical marketers that go into the market to train the end users on how to use the products, blaming abuse of building materials/cutting corners for collapse of buildings.
On discipline in the construction site, Engr. Ali Alimasuya Rabiu, President, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), represented by Engr. Dominic Akubo, Head of COREN in Abuja, said quackery was one of the leading causes of building collapse, explaining that there were all manner of quackery, including professional quackery.
Engr. Akubo said, “You can be trained to be an engineer, but when you practice in a field where you lack adequate knowledge and experience or expertise, then you are a professional quack,” stating that those without competence in a particular area ought to synegise with those knowledgeable in that area.
He said the COREN Act has given the council limitless powers to access any construction site to inspect it for compliance, including in terms of materials, specification and even in terms of the quality of personnel.
He said COREN now has powers to prosecute engineers and anyone found violating construction rules to serve as deterrent.
Dr. Kehinde Babajide Oshifala, President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers tasked COREN to recognise and empower Structural Engineers, stating that their role is specific.
He said there was inadequate manpower of structural engineers in the states and local government councils, agreeing that there are professional quacks.
According to him, there is corruption problem in the construction site, particularly among developers.
Chairman of Lafarge Africa Plc, Adebode Adefioye said the concrete ideas series is fueled by their commitment to sustainability. “How we come together as stakeholders to review the challenges within the sector and proffer solutions towards eliminating the problem. At Lafarge we continue to develop programmes targeted at improving health and safety in construction.”
Adefioye said Lafarge has trained over 5,000 artisans to impact building skills and ensure adherence to health and safety standards and procedures. “Health and safety in construction training, these include brick layers, block makers, onsite workers at construction sites. We also developed the construction site health and safety guide in global best practices in construction. I believe more can still be done across various segments of the construction industry.