While countries all over the world including Nigeria are currently battling with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, there are other environmental disasters throwing punches on the faces of Nigerian citizens on a regular basis. One of these environmental disasters is the incessant building collapse. The cases of building collapse have become a common phenomenon in recent years in major cities of Nigeria. A year hardly passes by without some cities in the country experiencing series of building collapse cases. It has become one of the prominent and devastating disasters which has resulted into loss of many lives while several families are rendered homeless and traumatized.
Currently, there seems to be no official statistics on cases of building collapse in the country since independence. However, the most notable and devastating building collapse cases in the country include the collapse of the guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in 2014 that killed at least 115 people of which 84 of them were citizens of South Africa. It was also reported that the country recorded 27 cases of building collapse in 2015 with no fewer than 175 deaths recorded. In similar vein, more than 54 cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in 2017 across the country. The fight against building collapse suffered a setback in 2019 as the country recorded not less than 43 incidents within the year. Top on the list was the collapse of a three-storey building at Ita-Faaji area in Lagos Island killing about 20 persons including primary school pupils. The latest collapse in Owerri was the third so far in 2020. These and many more have characterized Nigerian cities as epicentre of building collapse.
Drawing from the knowledge acquired in building technology courses while in the university, a building should be able to last for 99 years with the exception of accidents, terrorist attacks and natural hazards in climes with standard procedures for building construction. However, it is a different experience in Nigeria as there are recorded cases of building collapse during and after construction. This could be attributed to human error. Human error can further be viewed from individual and government perspective. Individual error is directly linked to bypassing of basic professional procedures of getting building plan approval, engaging quacks in building construction, use of substandard building materials, illegal conversion or alterations to existing structures and dilapidating structures and lack of coordination among built environment professionals in the country. The advent of building developers in construction industry who are expected to engage the services of certified professionals as consultants but failed to do so, largely due to an unhealthy profit motivation further compounded the issue of building collapse in the country. For instance, buildings with foundation for bungalow structures that are later elevated into three or even four storeys without any development permits from the relevant agencies to ascertain whether the foundation is fit to carry such loads. This scenario clearly depicts reasons for frequent cases of building collapse cases in major cities of Nigeria.
On the part of government, ineffective monitoring of building development as a result of lack of manpower and insufficient equipment to operate, recruitment of unqualified technical officers in local authorities; unnecessary delay in development approval process and deployment of incompetent staff in an inappropriate position are all to blame for the persistent building collapse in Nigeria. Other challenges include corruption, undue political interference and the lack of public awareness of the existence of building regulations by the relevant agencies. The various disaster management agencies that are supposed to be championing the course of proactive approach of preventing building collapse in the country are busy distributing relief materials to disaster victims in haphazard manner. This process over the years has also been characterized with series of allegations of relief materials been diverted by the officials in charge for their personal use.
Drawing from the above cited developments, the citizens, built environment professionals and government must act accordingly to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of incessant building collapse in Nigeria. The starting point is the sensitization of citizens/building developers by the emergency management agencies and professional bodies in the built environment on the need to obtain planning permit and engage professionals in construction of their buildings.
Professionals in the construction industry should maintain their integrity, code of conducts and professional ethics, and work in accordance to practices and procedures laid down by the standard form of building contracts. In line with this, the professionals must also operate within their area of competence. In order words, Architects are not trained to supervise construction work and builders are not expected to design building plans and structural details. Furthermore, all relevant building regulating bodies should ensure constant and continuous education and development of its members as this will help them update their skills and knowledge.
Government of various states in Nigeria should also prioritize resourcing/funding all the agencies in charge of building development with capable and qualified professionals to ensure implementation of building code regulations in their various states as this would go a long way towards effective and efficient building development in the entire country. Equally important is the provision of modern facilities such as drone and GPS for effective monitoring and enforcement of building regulations.
Finally, strict punishment such as heavy fine, forfeiture of property and jail terms should be enforced and implemented on erring building developers, landlords, and built environment professionals found contravening building control regulations or engaging in activities and unethical practices that could lead to the collapse of buildings in the country.
Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola is a scholar in disaster risk reduction and community resilience with cross-cutting research and program experiences on climate change adaptation and inclusive education in the Sub-Saharan Africa. He tweets @sunkiehabeeb