On every newspaper, on every radio and TV, splashed across the social media are horrific news and images of collapsed multi-storey buildings in which dozens and sometimes hundreds of our countrymen are entombed. From Abuja to Lagos, from Port Harcourt to Ibadan, the story is the same. Rickety buildings collapsing on hapless citizens. Some are finished and occupied while some were yet under construction.
In Port Harcourt, the building was still under construction but the harvest was horrendous. Till date, none can tell how many perished there. In Lagos recently, it was a school in session. Many pupils lost their lives there and a mother reportedly committed suicide because she could not bear the loss of two children in that tragedy.
All these horrors, have one thing in common. The houses were either too old or substandard materials were used in the buildings. To start with, a building code exists in every state of Nigeria. In this code is the set of rules and standards that govern the building and construction industry of any given state. A Works and Housing Department also exists and their duty is usually to implement the housing code.
However, what is so sad is that most of those departments in many states, exist in the breach. In other words, they exist to grant building licences and approvals but they never go out to check compliance by builders. They neither have the personnel nor the equipment to do so. They don’t even have the desire too. They tend to work more as a revenue authority than as a compliance and regulatory department.
Whenever and wherever you see a “stop building sign” it is usually on account of money not paid rather than on standards not met. Such signs are usually erased once the bribes have been paid. The outcome of such criminal collusion and negligence is the harvest of deaths confronting us across the country from the menace of collapsing buildings. The solution is simple, a strict compliance with the building code. No one should be allowed to build any multi-level house without a clear civil and structural plan. No building should be erected without adequately reinforced foundation to suit the soil type, humidity and the anticipated weight of the building when occupied.
Old buildings must be subjected to stress tests and if found wanting, must be pulled down. Regulators must be held accountable when their negligence leads to deaths from building collapses. Maybe then, they will start to take their jobs seriously. I recall very many years ago when I was building my Calabar home. The authorities insisted on all design drawings and a COREN registered engineer was required to produce the structural plan. When we got the approval, the regulators came in from time to time to test the concrete mix and to verify the thickness of the steel rods.
These days, no housing department staff ever visits a house under construction. If they do at all, it is to be settled and not to inspect. Even the governments are not helping matters. They seem only interested in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and nothing else. Our nation cannot afford to be the collapsed building capital of the world. We must rise up to the challenge and bring down any multi-storey structure that is leaning, that is massively cracked, or that is so old that the reinforcement rods have rusted or any building in which the concrete is breaking off at the slightest vibration.
For new buildings, strict compliance with building rules and standards is the way to go. I know quality concrete to be 1:2:4 but I have seen people build with concrete that is 1:12:12. Please tell me how that kind of concrete can hold anything in place. Tell me how long a structure build with such a weak mix can stand the test of time?
Dear regulators, if nobody will tell you, I will. You are vicariously responsible for all those deaths caused by those atrocious and weak buildings that you allow because of your love of bribery. The time has come for the arrest and prosecution of those who due to their professional negligence and ineptitude, lives are lost through building collapses. Many of the professional bodies, especially those in the built environment are supposed to regulate the activities of their members and ensure that they comply with the rules and regulations governing their profession.
There is also the menace of quacks in the building industry who due to their cheap labour are patronised by the average Nigerians. The government approved professional bodies are not doing enough to identify and prosecute them. The quacks are therefore having free reigns at construction sites across the country and putting the lives of Nigerians in danger. The solution to this problem can only be possible through synergy between the government and building professionals. The general public should also stop patronizing quacks in the building industry, while the building codes should be adhered to religiously.