Incidents of buildings collapse in Nigeria are two a dime and when they occur, they leave in their wake sorrow, tears, and blood.
Despite repeated calls by victims, stakeholders and many other Nigerians, there seem to be no end in sight to the collapses.
Rather, it has been accusations and counter accusations between the public, government, and building contractors. While the government blames contractors for shoddy jobs and incompetence, they fail most times to wield the big stick on erring parties.
A chequered history of collapses
The country has had quite an unfortunate high number of building collapses, and by the time the rubbles were cleared, many have been left dead, or maimed for life.
The worst building collapse so far in the history of the country occurred in the Ikotun area of Lagos on September 12, 2014.
On that fateful day, a crowded six-storey guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations, collapsed, trapping about 300 people.
By the time rescue operations were concluded, the death toll stood at 116 with over 100 others injured. Most of those killed in the collapse (85) were South Africans. It almost resulted in a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Then on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, tragedy struck again when another building collapsed in the Lekki area of Lagos.
The five-storey building under construction at Lekki Gardens Horizon 1, in the Lekki Phase 1 area of Lagos went down in rubbles after a heavy downpour, killing no fewer than 30 persons and injuring several others.
Most of those who lost their lives in the tragedy were workers. The sad event claimed the lives of a woman, her six-month-old baby, and her husband. The woman had reportedly gone to the site to collect money from her husband when the building collapsed.
What would have perhaps been the highest profile case happened at Reigners Bible Ministry, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital when the church building collapsed during a service with the number one citizen of the state, Governor Udom Emmanuel, escaping death by the whiskers.
Scores of worshippers who thronged the venue were not that lucky. Conflicting accounts put the death toll at between 50 and 200.
A few days ago, precisely on July 22, 2017, a mother, 30, and her two-year-old baby lost their lives when an uncompleted storey building
collapsed at Meiran area of Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
The building collapsed during a heavy downpour in the area. The building, which was still under construction, was in decking position when it collapsed. The list is endless while the trend continues unabated.
Victims speak: It was like a scene out of a horror movie
For those who were lucky to escape the tragedy of collapsed buildings, it is a sad and scary event they would live with for the rest of their lives and most will carry the scar to their graves.
For Ramota Oduwole, her husband and eight-year-old daughter, the trauma of the building collapse she and her family narrowly escaped will forever remain indelible in her mind.
She recounted the experience with nostalgia. “I was in the apartment with my husband and children when we heard a deafening sound. Before we knew what was happening, it was followed by a loud bang, and that was all I could remember. I woke up to find myself, my husband and our eight-year-old daughters here”.
“Apart from the clothes we have on, we lost everything in the collapsed building, but I thank God for sparing our lives. I only sustained injuries on my legs and lower back”.
The family is still fighting to find their feet.
Mrs. Christiana Coker, a 68-year-old widow, was a resident of a two-storey building located in Low-Cost Housing estate otherwise called
Jakande estate in Oke-Afa Isolo area of Lagos which collapsed a few years back. She survived the ordeal with few bruises at her back, right hand, and knees. Her two daughters were not that lucky as they both died in the collapsed building.
“I cannot tell what happened. I just met myself in the hospital. I slept overnight, only to wake up next day to see myself in the hospital with bruises. I was shocked at first. I looked around and thought I was dreaming because I slept on my bed the previous night.
In fact, it was just like a dream,” she recalled.
Experts’ reaction: All hands must be on deck
But what may have led to the recurrent collapse of buildings in the country? Building engineers are of the view that quackery, the inability of the engineer to carry out proper site investigation, calculate design loads accurately, use of substandard building materials as some causes of the recurrent building collapse in the country.
The experts also highlighted that the incessant cases of building collapse in Nigeria can be minimised if not curbed through adherence to some measures.
According to Mr. Kunle Awobodu, past chairman of the Lagos branch of Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) who is also the president of Building Collapse Prevention Group (BCPG), he lamented the incidences of building collapses in the country and blamed it on the doorstep of quackery in the industry.
“There must be the use of competent professionals in building process because a competent professional must be able to calculate the load of all the cross beams, the pillars, the maximum number of persons the building can accommodate which a non-professional cannot achieve before embarking on a building or any construction,” he pointed out.
To this effect, Awobodu advised that Soil test, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and structural analysis needs to be made mandatory and must be submitted along with the building plans to planning authorities by all the developers or building approval seekers/applicants, especially for all institutional, commercial and industrial buildings.
“All plans for approval must be made to pass through all the professionals associated with building industry working in every State/Local Government Development Control Boards before its final approval”.
Speaking further, he advised that “all the professional bodies associated with the building industry in Nigeria should jointly embark on enlightenment campaign for the public to be aware of the evils behind quacks involvement in building construction activities and the use of low-quality materials, untested building materials, and local construction methods should be abolished”.
On his part, Architect Ladipo Lewis, immediate past Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Lagos State chapter, pointed out that Building collapse is often a man-made occurrence that can be avoided if all hands are put on deck to get rid of the menace.
“The Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development needs to outsource relevant professionals to assist at checking building plans before approval and site inspections or monitoring. This will facilitate the process of building plan approval and reduce bureaucratic bottle necks and contraventions. Devolution of powers or decentralisation of building plan approval authorities will go a long way at quickening the process, but should not be abused,” he said.
A tribunal of inquiry set up by Lagos State government in 2013 identified weak implementation, as well as deliberate flouting of regulations and gross corruption across the board as factors hindering the effectiveness of construction and building laws in the country.
The experts also called for the strengthening of regulatory agencies in the built industry to be able to carry out the mandate of ridding the country of recurrent cases of building collapse.
The role of government in combating building collapse
Few weeks ago, professionals from the seven built-industry organisations-The Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA); The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB); The Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS); The Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP); The
Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors & Valuers (NIESV); The Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS); and The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) congregated in Lagos to discuss ‘Building Collapse: Challenges and Way Forward’.
According to the professionals, there is a need for government to rise up to its responsibilities. “Must we continue this trend of visiting sites of collapsed buildings to make statements that time would soon be consigned to mere rhetoric and exhibitionism as words could not be matched with action? The fact that building collapse has become a recurring decimal in this part of the world draws skepticism from promises of government officials at the instance of a collapse,” they said.
Thus, they said it was pertinent to draw the attention of Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, to the “The over 1,000 buildings that failed integrity tests on the Lagos Island and left unattended to for years should be demolished as soon as possible; a systematic approach at conducting extensive integrity tests on buildings across Lagos State should be adopted.
“The staff strength of Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) when juxtaposed with the Lagos mega city status is grossly inadequate. LASBCA is of 253 staff. If all the staff, including the general manager, could go on-site inspection, it means an average of 4 LASBCA officials would cover each of the 57 LGAs and LCDAs. This is a mission difficult to accomplish.
“Inspection or monitoring of sites should be executed by relevant professionals, who have knowledge, experience, and competence to identify substandard building production process and also possess the ability to discern conflicts between the approved building plan and building being constructed on site. Please, let us have round pegs in round holes, not otherwise,” they added.
It is hoped that those saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring the quality of buildings live up to their responsibility to forestall further loss of innocent lives through building collapse in the country.