Regulators should be alive to their responsibilities

Following the recent collapse of a seven-storey building under construction in Banana Island, a highbrow area of Ikoyi, Lagos State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has ordered the demolition of 20 houses. But such a kneejerk reaction may not be the solution to a systemic problem that continues to claim innocent lives across the country. Besides, available reports indicate that even the demolition exercise in Lagos has been suspended.  

In other climes, buildings don’t just collapse every other day or after being hit by a vehicle–the excuse proffered for the latest incident in Lagos. That is because there are procedures to follow when constructing a building. But in Nigeria, these conventions/regulations are hardly adhered to because of poor enforcement of laws. Authorities at all levels should therefore be concerned that too much blood is being spilled needlessly in Nigeria’s building industry for all sorts of reasons that even professionals in the sector recognise as avoidable.  

Cases of building collapse cut across offices, residential areas, churches, and business premises. But they are more frequent in Lagos where professional reports reveal a low-lying metropolitan city with flat topography and where many areas are below sea level. Since most of Lagos Island is reclaimed land from surrounding bodies of water, constructing high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in such an environment requires a certain expertise that is often jettisoned by the many quacks who have taken over the sector.  

Several reasons have been adduced for the incessant collapse of buildings in Nigeria, among which are non-adherence to approved plans and the absence of qualified professionals at one or more stages of construction. Other reasons include lack of geo-technical information which is all about obtaining necessary information concerning the soil where a building is to be erected. Even though one-storey building takes a lot of loads, Nigerian builders often embark on construction of multi-storey buildings without carrying out soil investigation, a critical requirement prior to the erection of a solid structure. There are other issues.  

Construction of a building, according to the Nigerian Society of Structural Engineers, “is expected to be managed by qualified professionals including structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architects, quantity surveyors,” among others. Lack of professionalism in the industry has led to unethical dealings like the use of cheap and inferior materials, improper supervision, and distortion of original building plans.  

 Meanwhile, the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) recently drew attention to the absence of any coherent framework for the implementation of the National Building Code in Nigeria. This is despite that the code has been in existence since 2006. Although enacted to, among others, address incessant collapse of buildings, fire incidents and other disasters, dearth of referenced design materials for professionals, use of non-professional and use of untested products and materials in the industry, it has not been operational. The architects’ council reasoned that the absence of an enabling legislation for the building code document has largely contributed to its ineffectiveness in regulating procedures and processes in the nation’s real estate industry.   

 As we have consistently advocated, there is an urgent 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 their licence and face the full weight of the law. The land upon which the collapsed building was erected should be forfeited to government. 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.  

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