By Maduka Nweke
Buildings are like human beings and when they are not tended well they are bound to show signs of decay. This could manifest in various ways that include but not limited to caving in or even surrendering the various loads.
Buildings, like other structures, are designed to support certain loads without deforming excessively. The loads are the weights of people and objects, the weight of rain and the pressure of wind–called live loads-and the dead weight of the building itself. Any type of building can collapse but multi storey buildings are more prone to catastrophic collapse. Recent building collapse in Nigeria particularly in Lagos State in recent weeks are as a result of so many defaults both from government and private individuals.
Arc. Ladipo Lewis, Chairman Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA) Lagos Chapter, said building collapse is very complex because it emanate from various factors. According to him, it could emanate from negligence, from ignorance, it can also emanate from the act of God.
While painting a scenario, he said, if you are going to develop a building and you brought in professionals, they would know the processes involved and the risks inherent. “I am sure there is no one who wants to enter an aeroplane and knows that the pilot who wants to pilot it was his friend in school who never finished school and who never went to an aviation school, but absconded to become a carpenter down the road and he said he is the one going to fly the plane. I am sure you would get out of the plane. But people would go and build a house and would not check out the qualifications of the one who they want to give the project to. Because the truth is, if you are going to develop a house, you do project report and analysis to know the kind of person you are going to give your project to handle. Even the Bible tells us that no man should go and build a house without first finding the cost. That cost is, also, what does it take to put up this development. Then you get a professional who is experienced enough to do the design so that the project would be safe. There is also the aspect of monitoring where even the owner himself starts to change the design after it has been established which you don’t do. To avoid building collapse, you don’t increase floors, you don’t modify the building without following the right process. That is also where issues come in. If you look at most of the collapsed building, it is even all over the world. It has been the issue of over loading buildings”. He noted that in very minor cases it has been the fact that the original building had a faulty foundation design. It was actually because of over loading. Go and check most building collapse. A good number of them has been due to additional load put on the building. The famous one in Bangladesh that killed thousands of people was overloading of the building. They added many more floors and even put generators on upper floors. Even the signs were there, the building started to crack and dust was coming out of the walls. The bankers moved out, the owner allowed the garment workers to still stay in the building. It eventually collapsed and killed a lot of people numbering into thousands, he said.
Lewis noted that if all the errors above were taken into consideration and avoided, the various buildings that collapsed wouldn’t have collapsed.
In order to avoid incessant building collapse, government and the public should check incompatible land uses where offices are located in residential areas, industry next door to a school, a church sharing the same premises with a residential building and other planning oddities too numerous to mention due to space constraint. There should be a guide to man-made traffic problems where commercial buildings, banks, fast-food joints and event centres are located in ever-busy arterial roads without minimal standard of required parking space. Unsustainable increase in housing density creating problem of air circulation due to lack of minimum space prescribed by physical planning regulations. In some instances, houses are built like pack of sardines. Institutional inefficiency and lack of constant monitoring of on-going development/construction activities in the Lagos Mega City region as evidenced in the collapsed building at Lekki Phase I earlier referred to. Ridiculous building plan approval at variance of extant approval order for certain localities (Parkview Estate is a classic example. Too many planning violations abound in that estate). Lawless developers who would not comply with development regulations and ready to cut corners thereby endangering the lives of the citizenry as witnessed in the recent building collapse at Lekki Phase I last March. Flagrant violations of operative Lagos Model City Plans in such districts as Victoria-Island/Ikoyi, Apapa, Agege/Ifakoijaiye).
Non-existence of an Urban and Regional Planning Tribunal required by extant LASG physical planning law, where cases of planning violations/disputes can be petitioned and adjudicated by an Independent jury. Feeble citizens’ participation in plan formulation and the processes leading to it. Under-staffed and not-well-equipped Physical Planning District Offices for effective performance of routine supervision and monitoring of developmental activities within assigned local planning district(s). Paucity of useful information online for public use from the websites of all government institutions responsible for physical planning, environment, building control and allied matters. Arbitrary conversion of building without the necessary permit from planning authority for change of use. There is an area at Anthony Village where the fence always collapse whenever it rains. The reason is that they are not using retaining walls and retaining walls are very expensive to build because they are force concrete. So that has to be put in place.
I have another case where the fence actually collapse and killed somebody outside the fence because it wasn’t actually concrete retaining walls. So these are issues and you have to make sure that the foundations are deep enough to be seated on the required bearing capacity for this foundation. Nigerians also believe that government are familiar with fire brigade approach to issues especially in issues concerning safety of lives and property. Immediately, after the collapse of the Lekki Gardens, last month, Lagos State Government ordered integrity test on other Lekki Gardens’ houses. For some of the affected occupants of the houses and concerned Nigerians the exercise is mere medicine after death because the havoc has already been done. They argue that if government had done what they ought to do at the initial stage, the building and other losses recorded in the incidence would have been averted. Nigerians who do not support government target by the exercise argue that government has become firefighters who visit the scene of incident when the damage has already been done. They argue that there are other construction sites they ought to visit now the damage has not been done. Mr. Patrick Ekwemozor, a textile dealer is not happy that while the pile up that would get to the damage is ongoing, government agents would be busy extorting the builders and by that loosing sight of what is going on in the site. “After government officials have collected ‘egunje’ they would no longer supervise accordingly thereby endangering the lives of the innocent citizens. It is not enough to sack these officials, government should also dehook those under chains,” he said. Also one of the residents, of the Lekki Gardens, Dr. Samuel Dachi said the integrity test proposed by the government on the occupied houses is surprising, giving the fact that you cannot carry out such an exercise on already built an occupied houses. Dachi felt government should have carried out such test on houses built by the company, which have not been completed. He said that much as the residents appreciate the response of government and its determination to protect the residents of the Lekki Gardens, they find the idea of integrity test on occupied houses strange. It is sad that an uncompleted building collapsed few weeks ago but that should not be used as an intent to condemn other houses, they argued. For the fact that building collapse has continued to ravage our nation is an indication that all efforts by government and other related bodies are yet to find solution to the menace according to a town planner, Mr. Okechukwu Obodoeze after reviewing the various laws put in place by government to check incessant building collapse in the country. Okechukwu said that either that the laws made in that regards are not effective or that there is no apparatus to enforce its implementation. He stated that many a time government officials pervade justice in their enforcement of the rules guiding such implementation. Mr. Obodeze noted that another problem militating against impartial enforcement of the rule is the idea of using different yard sticks for different people. He said this seems to give some people a status that is above the law. Why should there be different measures for different people when default of the rule is concerned, he asked.
adding that with that, no law would be effective at all because those involved would be looking for opening to wriggle out of the conundrum. That is bad for our country, he said. It would be recalled that in the wake of the Lekki Gardens building collapse, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode approved the dismissal of the General Manager of the Building Control Agency (LASBCA) Engr. Adeigbe Olushola. The Governor also approved the dismissal of the Head of Inspection and Quality Control in the Agency, Adeoye Thomas Adeyemi, the Zonal District Officer in the Agency, Dosunmu Gbadebo, while the Zonal Head of Eti-Osa West of the Agency, Mrs. Akinde Adenike Sherifat was compulsorily retired from the Civil Service. This again is firefighters’ method. Governor Ambode in the statement that sacked the officers signed by the State Head of Service, Mrs. Olabowale Ademola, said the affected officers were dismissed having been indicted of negligence, which according to him, is an act of misconduct under the Public Service Rule 040401. Rule 040401 of the Public Service act of misconduct states inter alia: “a willful act of omission or general misconduct to the scandal of the public or to the prejudice of discipline and proper administration of the State Government” should be visited with dismissal from the Public Service in line with the Public Service Rule 040503.