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Destroy This Temple By Rudolf Okonkwo

“When we reflect how difficult it is to move or deflect the great machine of society, how impossible to advance the notions of a whole people suddenly to ideal right, we see the wisdom of Solon’s remark, that no more good must be attempted than the nation can bear.” -Thomas Jefferson

“When we reflect how difficult it is to move or deflect the great machine of society, how impossible to advance the notions of a whole people suddenly to ideal right, we see the wisdom of Solon’s remark, that no more good must be attempted than the nation can bear.” -Thomas Jefferson

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 In 1914, Real Estate mogul, Fredrick Lugard achieved what then was called an impossible feat. He combined the first, second and third phases of the largest British project in Sub-Saharan Africa. This huge 250-story building was magnificent on paper and from outside looked like one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th centuries. It has been described in many occasions as a temple, the most important temple for blacks all over the world. One hundred and five years after its construction, and 50 years after the management was handed over to Nigerians, the building has failed to provide a suitable environment for human activities. It has, therefore, defeated its purpose and should be destroyed.
The problem with this huge low-income housing project otherwise called Council flat by the British, began with the design. The planners, the architects, the engineers and the builders all committed structural and environmental errors that were then permissible in 1914. They ignored the powers of natural forces and were naive as to the capacity of environmental conditions in undermining the structural integrity of the white-elephant project. A recent appraisal of the project exposed a whole range of flaws in both the design and maintenance status of the building. One century after, it is being realized that even the building did not suit the landscape.
In the first instance, in 1914, the land cost was so low that it did not make sense for Lugard to build a skyscraper. That decision has been seen as irresponsible on his part and a search for glory for the British without having anything to do with the needs and the desires of the tenancy. Lugard apparently wanted a single building from which he could have a direct control over a vast population rather than a collection of buildings that would span a wide area. There is also the question about the building budget. The contractors apparently used the cheapest labor and the cheapest materials in the project. Their goal of making the maximum profit led to the current endangerment that the building has become to its occupants. Lugard also went foul of the zoning restrictions that had been in place for centuries when he linked the three phases of the project in 1914 amalgamation.
The British constructors used a primitive construction technique in their work. Even though the technology of that time was not as advanced as it is today, the strength of the building materials they used was below the recommended figures. Poured concrete used for the floor was watered down. Columns were made of inferior materials bought in Burma. Anchor Bolt, Splice plates, angle plates and base plates were all made of very brittle steel. And so were the girders. The concrete foundation was not deep enough to withstand the weight of the structure they had in mind. It could not even withstand gravitational forces. Frame-shear wall system was not observed. The whole structure was susceptible to severe damage by wind forces.
Partitions made of wood frame were inadequate even for the standard of 1914. The mechanical and electrical systems in use were the ancient type. The cooling, the heating and the lightening systems were either insufficient or outdated. Plumbing, insulation, waste disposal, and air-conditioning were seriously deficient. Noise pollution became a common occurrence. Consequently, systems like the elevator could not carry the estimated capacity of occupants as at the time of the design. The depth of the structural faults was so enormous that both the superstructure and the substructure were giving way at the same time. The poor workmanship in design and application led to poor close spacing of ties and poor anchorage lengths of longitudinal bars.
Over the years, there had been efforts to switch from bearing walls that support the floor to reinforced concrete but rather than strengthen the building, such moves ended up weakening the entire structure. To make matters worst, the forces acting on the beams connecting the different phases were not in harmony with the central equilibrium arrived at the time of its design. Despite this pronounced structural imbalance, the management of the building was handed over to the Nigerians on October 1, 1960. The British left and took away with them, the little maintenance culture they had in place. What followed next was unprecedented in the history of building maintenance.
The first threat to the structural integrity of the building that emerged was in form of a violation of necessary building codes. There were no fire protection for walls and critical members of the building structure. There was lack of adequate fire fighting equipment. The ceiling height was below the recommended minimum. The mechanical and electrical system could not withstand conditions necessary to achieve a sanitary environment. Boiler, wiring and special occupancy requirements were either insufficient or totally lacking. Privacy and personal safety were not taken into consideration in the initial design. Every little movement led to a form of lateral displacement.
It did not take time before these inadequacies began to manifest. From 1966-1970, a fire began that killed 2 million people in the building. The fire that started in the northern wing of the building led to an assault on the occupancies of the East wing of the building. That was when it became clear that there were no exit plan in the design and the interior furnishing were not fire proof. By the time the fire stopped, the building structure had been damaged the more. Without the needed cranes and derricks, attempts at reconstruction were shabby and half-hearted. With time, the damage distribution moved into the epicenter of the building.
Every little earth tremor now leads to panic in the building as the weakened structure shakes at the slightest movement of the earth. A recent look at the blue print of the structure showed that there was no initial approval of the proposed design by the occupants. There was no approval of the construction to ensure that it conformed to the design. And finally, there was no kind of regular inspection to ensure that the building as it is currently occupied is in compliance with the regulations. Currently, a fresh fire is smothering in the northern wing and there is no sprinkler system available. The emergency exits are currently blocked with household items. There is a tragedy waiting to occur and nobody seemed concerned.
As a result, even though the building has been classified as one of the historical structures, there is no more justification to have it standing when it could no longer serve the purpose of which it was constructed. The sentiment of those who knew it when it was the pride of Africa must give way to a new reality where it is nothing but a danger to the safety of those who occupied it. Recent developments in the fields of structural and material engineering had been used to try to strengthen it all to no avail. Prefabricated reinforced concrete had been used to replace some failed structures in the building. Also concrete caisson columns had been put in place to support the substructure but the building has remained shaky and deficient. As painful as it may sound, it is time to destroy this temple before it destroys all those who live in it.
In place of the temple, a series of family homes in the form of estates should be built around the spot where the temple is. Such estates would give space for families to own garden, and playgrounds for children. It would be a conducive environment where people are free to explore their environments and maximize their potentials. Ventilation would be in abundance and there would be a drastic reduction in congestion and the stress that follows. But most importantly, the irrational battle to secure a place at the top of the building would cease. In the estate, people would have direct control over their basic amenities like water, power supply and security. It would usher in an era of personal responsibility, which would in turn bring in efficiency. For those who are eager to return to the dark ages, they would be free to do so without having to pull anyone along. The forest would be accessible for them to walk right in without hindrance.
Death, the philosopher said, kills a man, but the idea of death saves him. Those who love what the temple signifies, those who wish to save it, should all come together to design an alternative to this temple after which we should destroy the temple. It is better we evacuate the occupants and destroy the temple than to wait for it to collapse on their heads. In any case, the cracks are everywhere. The question is not when the collapse would take place but how. Would it be pancake type, intermediate floor type, overturn type, or collapse of the first floor?
This temple can no longer bear any good. Let us destroy it. It is the only way to progress. It is the only way to a better tomorrow. The rest is just patch-patch.
(Since the year 2000, I have had reasons to republish this piece every 5 years -each time at the heat of a challenge to the Nigerian idea. It is always presented as an alternative solution. As expected, it is universally rejected every time it is presented, even as the mess piles up. The few who are genuinely doing something to fix Nigeria - not to protect their selfish interest -continue to lose grounds to the many who are doing something to destroy Nigeria. Meanwhile, the multitude in-between who are doing nothing but wishing and praying for things to magically be better, swell.) 

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