Outgoing President of the Nigerian Institute of Building and Former President of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Mr. Kunle Awobodu, speaks with ADEPEJU ADENUGA on the collapse of the 21-story building in Ikoyi, Lagos, and the housing deficit in the country, among others
There has been a lot of talk about the collapse of buildings in Nigeria, especially with the recent collapse of a 21 story building in Ikoyi, Lagos, what is your take on this?
Words might fail an active participant in the construction industry when such a tragedy suddenly befalls a nation. Having been at this site for two days to monitor the rescue operation and the process of dismantling the collapsed structure, extracting the mutilated bodies from under the rubble and having the mourners identify the corpses in a grim atmosphere and stinky was an experience that dampened the morale of a construction professional. Why desecrate the building trade, polluting the serene environment of Ikoyi, the pride of a nation? Honestly, this is the biggest building collapse in Nigerian history.
We need to do more to prevent buildings from collapsing. We cannot continue to unduly punish people. Occupants should stay in the buildings and feel safe. The psychological resonance of those who are potential buyers of high-rise apartments and those who are buying apartments will have a second thought. This incident alone will affect real estate affairs; those who are in the process of getting buyers will experience low footfall. Those who already live in high-rise buildings in Ikoyi, especially with the recent one, will not feel comfortable.
With what I saw on Friday, I was almost saying that the government should make a law banning the construction of tall buildings because accidents in tall buildings cause enormous damage. If our competence and expertise in high-rise buildings is not fully convincing in terms of performance, the construction of high-rise buildings should be suspended. A nation that cannot boast of adhering to high standards of building construction should not venture into the construction of multi-story buildings.
What are the causes of a building collapse?
We have emphasized these factors time and time again. All the causes of a building collapse including poor workmanship, substandard building materials, and design errors boil down to incompetence or what I will call quackery. If a good person is in charge of handling the building process, competence shouldn’t be an issue. Competent architects must design the building and the drawings must go through the evaluation of the Ministry of Land Use Planning and successfully come out and be handed over to the building owners. The next step is who is going to build the building? This is where the problem lies above all.
The Ministry of Spatial Planning and Urban Development should be aware that its work should not be limited to reviewing documents; they should go further to identify who will do the construction. They should go further to certify the competence of those who will carry out the construction of the building. This is the missing gap.
There are so many charlatans who call themselves engineers. The name, construction engineer, was bastard. If someone calls themselves a site engineer, do you know what they’ve studied? Customers have to dig deeper to be curious. When a building collapses, it is a colossal waste of resources. No one in their right mind should be negligent in allowing charlatans to watch their buildings.
The establishment of a building control agency is the responsibility of the government. On each site there should be a professional trained in building construction, who should be held accountable; this is the person the supervisor follows up on. Until we understand the process, we will needlessly burden the surveillance officers. There is also the issue of security; if you give work directly to artisans, you commit suicide, because their commitment to the work is low. If there is no proper construction crew, professional errors will arise. This is why the training of a builder is versatile.
A key issue raised in the case of the Ikoyi building is the alleged modification of the plan from 15 to 21 floors. Why was it possible for developers to bypass obtaining a permit to make the change?
Regarding this building which has just collapsed, a commission of inquiry has just been set up. This panel will make it possible to find out who among the professionals were involved. We did not conclude that no professional was involved in the project. What we are saying is that any registered professional eg any registered builder involved in the project will be held accountable. We do not yet have details of who was involved.
There has been a lot of speculation about the approval; we have not seen the approval, but the panel can ask the Ministry of Land and Town Planning to present the approval plans in its procession. This is what can be used to answer this particular question. How many people have seen the actual designs approved by the ministry? Until they say it’s the approved one given to the company called Fourscore Homes, we won’t know the truth.
Beyond simply approving plans, should the government focus on monitoring buildings under construction and enforcing existing laws?
What we are saying is simple; there is a difference between monitoring and quality control. The government cannot employ workers to sit perpetually on another person’s site, except that person will pay government staff members. Government employees, who watch the construction sites, are not enough for the job. When they arrive at a site and complete it, before coming back to the site, it will take them a few more days. Meanwhile, those who are developing have already broken the seal and are continuing their work.
This is the problem we face everywhere. People do not obey the laws either. Impunity is a big problem in our construction industry. Some of these people will employ street kids to protect their sites. When security guards come to the scene, they are harassed. Before you can implement a central application, it will take a lot of days. Before that, inferior development would have taken place. We are wrong if we think that the control officers, who have to verify the suitability of the structure on site for the construction works, will turn to the control / quality assurance officers.
What the monitoring officers need to do is identify the professionals who will be held accountable for what happens to the project. That is why we need a project board on the site, which shows adequate information on the different professionals involved. For the Ikoyi building, which collapsed, the addresses of the professional firms were not on the board and the telephone numbers seemed suspect; the information on the board was not transparent.
Some of these agencies have been transformed into income-generating agencies, their target being tickets. So when they watch the tour, because they already have the goal, they are more concerned with how to generate the money. It is ironic that their prayer is that people break it, so that we make more money. It is also a problem; they have been turned to tax collectors. Even developers are starting to cheat on build processes with the intention of paying fees for tickets. In the process of generating income, they encourage counterfeiting.
Public Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola refuted the claim that there was no housing deficit in Nigeria. What is your take on this?
The answer is obvious. How many graduates are produced each year by our higher education institutions? You can get it through National Youth Service Corps data. Every graduate who comes out is a potential family man. Once married, you must have a comfortable apartment for a young couple. When you multiply the apartments of these young couples across the country per year by the number of apartments built in the country per year, you will find that there are housing shortages.
This is just one example of graduates, let alone other sectors of the population. So what the minister is saying is that when a building is built and the sponsorship is not as regular as expected, we may be tempted to conclude that there may not be a shortage. serious. The minister may not be considering the purchasing power of the people who are supposed to own their apartments. Lots of people crouch down; many graduates are still married at their parents’ homes. It’s a simple analogy.
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