Recently, Lagos was thrown into a fresh round of panic and mourning. On July 25, 2017, a four-storey building collapsed at 3, Massey Street, Lagos Island.
At the end of the rescue operation, eight bodies were recovered while 15 people were rescued. Many wailed as the corpses were brought out from the rubble.
It wasn’t the first of such tragedies that had, for years, raised puzzles that are yet to be clearly solved. Many wonder why routine integrity tests are not conducted on buildings under construction as well as on clearly old and decrepit buildings. Professionals have always canvassed the need for proactive measures in averting building mishaps in the state.
It was gathered that the four-storey building was originally constructed as a three-storey house before another level was added, obviously, for commercial purposes.
A few weeks ago, there was another tragedy at 7, Saidu Okeleji Street, Alaro, Meiran, Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Lagos, when a building under construction suddenly caved in after a downpour. Though the prompt arrival of emergency teams saved a five-year-old girl, identified as Moyin, her 30-year-old mother, Basirat, and sibling, Bisoye, were recovered dead.
Across Nigeria, lives have been wasted and property worth billions of naira destroyed when buildings suddenly collapsed. In Lagos, in the rainy and dry seasons, disasters continue unabated.
In light of this trend, an estate developer in the Ota area of Ogun State, Mr. Wande Hassan, said most buildings collapse as a result of greed on the part of owners of the structures. He said it was rare to come across landlords or landladies being trapped in the collapsed structures, adding that such owners hardly live in the buildings that are erected mostly to make profit. He described the erection of such buildings with substandard materials as an act of wickedness, as owners gamble with human life for financial gain.
Hassan blamed government agencies saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that standard is strictly adhered to when buildings are constructed. He alleged that many of the officials have been compromised, to the detriment of the occupants.
“The incidents are more in Lagos because of the population in the state. When demand gets higher, heartless investors capitalise on it to make more money by all means. Because there are space constraints, the owner of the building is tempted to expand a storey building to two or more.
“Not until people begin to go to jail for non-compliance with the rules will the ugly trend abate,” he said.
Why buildings collapse
Many factors are responsible for building disasters, according to experts. They range from substandard building materials and inexperienced builders to dilapidated and over-stretched structures/facilities.
The Lagos State government has attributed the Meiran building collapse to heavy loads placed on the building and substandard materials used in its construction.
To curb bring an end to such disasters, Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe, has appealed to property owners and developers to comply with planning and building laws and regulations in the state.
He said of the Meiran disaster: “Investigation and reports revealed that the site of the collapsed building had a bungalow and a shop extension in front, which had a decking stacked with loads of building materials. Both developments in question had no planning permit and substandard materials were used for construction. It had been identified by the building control officers in that area and they served the statutory stop work notices.”
In an interview with Daily Sun, the president of Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NISE), Oreoluwa Fadayomi, identified the use of unqualified artisans as one of the reasons buildings collapse.
He lamented that, in Nigeria, anybody could handle building construction, whether equipped with the requisite skills or not.
Another aspect, he said, was government’s refusal or inability to punish culprits who imperil Nigerian citizens in their quest to make more money for themselves. According to him, the losses incurred when a building goes down are usually unquantifiable.
Fadayomi said it was worrisome that anytime a building collapses, the first question most people ask is, who are the engineers? He said an engineer might not even have known that such a building was being built, let alone be working there.
“We have come to realise that many of those who are seen as practitioners don’t have the adequate training. When you go out to check materials, you will discover that they are not made to specific standards,” he said.
How to stop buildings from collapsing
The Lagos State government has said whistleblowing was one of the best ways to tackle incessant building collapse in the state.
Anifowoshe gave the charge at the site of the collapsed building on Lagos Island last month. He noted that the building was defective and was under illegal renovation, even as he said that the occupants refused to raise the alarm.
“We need information of such unlawful activities from responsible Lagosians so as to curb the excesses of unscrupulous developers and owners of properties in Lagos State. A distress call to 767 or 112 would have averted the ugly incident,” he said.
Also proffering solutions to the menace, Fadayomi urged the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the building industry. He also recommended a national summit for a holistic discussion of the unhealthy development.
The NISE president advised the public to always hire professionals, who would do a better job, and desist from patronising quacks. He said the institute was not resting on its oars in its determination to prevent buildings from collapsing in the country.
Said he: “There should be the will to enforce and have deterrents for some of these things. If people, no matter how powerful they are, are dealt with, everybody will sit tight. It has reached an alarming state.”
General manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, recently advised owners and developers of buildings in the state to adhere to building codes and physical planning laws to avert unnecessary loss of lives.
Sticking to building rules
Fadayomi emphasised that no structural engineer worth his or her salt would disobey the rules.
“There are regulatory bodies such as Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and associate professional builders; all of these regulate the building industry. Some states have agencies that are expected to regulate construction processes, like the Lagos State Building Control Agency.
“Apart from the planning authorities, when it comes to materials, there is Standards Organisation of Nigeria, which is expected to monitor all the codes and regulations guiding buildings. It isn’t that there are not enough laws in the country, it is the will to enforce these laws, that is the problem. That is why people have not been punished for their failure when structures collapse,” he said.
He advised project owners who patronise quacks in a bid to cut cost to desist from such acts because they were being penny wise and pound foolish.
Fadayomi said it was sad that people concentrate more on the finishing of a building at the expense of the structural elements.
“If you don’t hire a good structural engineer and pay him well, the owner of the building stands to lose everything. It is not the cost of the structural engineer but the ignorance of our people and they need to be educated so that they do the right thing,” he submitted.