We review the issues causing multiple incidents of building collapse around different parts of Nigeria.
Collapsed buildings have become an alarming trend across Nigeria in recent times. Nigerian building construction professionals, regulatory bodies, and the government have earned massive distrust from the public due to this problem.
Collapsed Buildings in Nigeria: A Quick Look at the Figures
The Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) reported that between October 1974 and November 2022, Nigeria recorded 541 incidents of building collapse. In that period, Lagos State recorded 322 incidents - 60 per cent of the total.
Farouk Salim, the Director-General (DG) of the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) was more economical in reporting the figures. In a recent revelation, Salim stated that over 221 buildings have collapsed in Nigeria within the past four decades. Again Lagos accounted for the highest number of cases. Salim also reported that Nigeria has the highest number of collapsed buildings across Africa - an unsavoury reputation.
These cases may have drawn a quick response from affected state governments (especially Lagos). However, no preventive or punitive measures worth celebrating are being enforced.
Collapsed Buildings in Nigeria: A Dearth of Responsibility
Mr Salim insisted that government regulatory agencies in Nigeria's real estate sector have failed to enforce quality control and compliance. The required site and materials inspection, and the necessity of enforcing standards before giving approvals, are not being adhered to.
The use of substandard materials, poor or no soil tests, poor supervision, and even a lack of required building professionals on sites are common problems. Construction projects on lands affected by excessive rainfall, flooding, poor drainages, and indiscriminately erected boreholes are prone to possible collapse. Yet, the danger is conveniently ignored in many sites (especially on waterlogged and waterfront properties).
Corruption and compromise of the rules by government agencies are also quite rife. For instance, the Lagos Building Control Agency (LASBCA) and Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory (LSMTL) do not use their full powers. Both agencies were reported in 2018 alone, to have arraigned at least 53 accused persons in court. However, so many defaulters in the construction industry have escaped prosecution. Similarly, there have been numerous reports of official bribery and extortion by the assigned staff of these regulatory agencies.
Yet again, the government's double standards and lack of political willpower have been exposed in several related court cases. The building collapse at Lekki Gardens Estate is an example. The then-governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode sacked the Director-General of LASBCA in 2016 following the collapse. But the estate's Managing Director was said to have negotiated with the Lagos state government for a reduced court sentence in March 2020. Even though the presiding judge of the case reportedly rejected the arrangement, the case was never properly concluded.
Lagos state also took the Synagogue Church to court following the building collapse in 2014. Again, a panel was set up to investigate the Ikoyi building collapse of 2021, and its recommendations were handed over to the Lagos state government. However, none of the offenders has been prosecuted to date.
Salim also pointed out that poor structural design is a common offence in Nigeria's construction industry. Pius Okpa, the former chairman of the Cross River chapter of the Nigeria Society of Engineers, supported this claim. Okpa stated in a recent interview that wrong and poor designs are being taken from some quack engineers who operate without licences. Additionally, Okpa stated that it is common for building plans seen elsewhere to be transferred to another location. This is done without considering important specifications such as the depth of the foundation.
Mitigating Building Collapse: An Urgent Need of Reforms
The DG of SON urged construction experts in Nigeria to henceforth enforce the required regulations - both during and after completion of construction work. He further recommended that their clients should be shown the results of any compliance inspections; along with recommendations for future maintenance or repairs.
Furthermore, industry experts insist that state governments need to increase the number of material testing laboratories. In the case of Lagos, there are just five existing labs - which are deemed very inadequate to serve the needs of such a large and populous state.
Additionally, the supervisory government agencies need to enforce sanctions on errant construction professionals. Any builder who refuses to enforce quality control and safety regulations should be punished. Several sanctions have been recommended.
Firstly, to ban or blacklist such professionals from embarking on any other construction project. Secondly, they should face professional debarment such that they would no longer be recognized as building experts. Thirdly, a publicly accessible database of building professionals and companies should be created. Therein, every building construction offender will be exposed to potential clients (local and international). This will stop any such client from patronizing them in the future.
Finally, the activities of officials in the building regulatory agencies also need to be monitored and reviewed regularly. For instance, whistleblowers should be encouraged to submit evidence of malpractice by any government officer to the state authorities. Any such official who violates the rules, or indulges in corrupt practices to harass builders and property owners needs to be prosecuted and disciplined.