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Building collapse in Nigeria: Time to stem the tide

Building collapse in Nigeria: Time to stem the tide
November 10
12:34 2021

BY MUKHTAR YA’U MADOBI

The recent collapse of a storey building that happened at the heart of the most populous city in Nigeria, Lagos, was a topical issue of concern that dominated Nigeria’s discourse atmosphere over the last week. The devastating incident happened on Monday, November 02, 2021.

The building, located on Gerald Road in the city’s affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood, is a construction site for luxury apartments. It is unclear how many were inside when it fell, but many people were feared to be trapped and most of them are believed to be vendors selling food for workers at the site.

Search and rescue operations from multiple agencies including National Emergency Management Agency(NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) etc. were still underway. The authority has so far put the casualty figure at 42 and still, there are fears that the death toll may rise as some workers are still believed to have been trapped under the rubble.

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The modern version of Nigeria’s National Security Strategy 2019, a document produced by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), captures the urgent need for response and management of crisis situations. In the event of a national emergency, the federal government will discharge its responsibilities for crisis response through statutory organs such as the National Security Council (NSC), National Defence Council (NDC) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for security and defence emergencies as well as national disasters.

The incidence of buildings failure and collapses in Nigeria has reached an alarming level and the stakeholders need to wake up and stop treating these continuous occurrences with levity. On several occasions, it led to unnecessary loss of lives and destruction of peoples’ properties, thus becoming an issue of major concern since it poses threat to the national development of our great nation. Because, on such every occasion, affected individuals are rendered homeless while businesses are lost.

Building collapse, though a common phenomenon all over the world, is more rampant and devastating in developing countries. It is a major problem in Nigeria and mostly occurred in Lagos, which has the largest population of residents in the country. In fact, it has now become a familiar occurrence, even to laymen on the streets in Nigeria.

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The rising status of Lagos as a megacity and a commercial nerve centre in sub-Saharan Africa has come with a number of challenges. One of these is the safety of buildings.

In 2019, figures obtained from the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, an advocacy group of building professionals, indicated that Nigeria has recorded not less than 43 cases of building collapses. The report showed that Lagos had the highest figure with 17 cases, accounting for about 39.53% of the total number of collapsed buildings.

Anambra state had the second-highest number with six collapsed buildings while Plateau and Delta states recorded three each. Oyo, Enugu, Ondo and Osun states recorded two collapsed buildings each in 2019 while Imo, Kwara Abia, Adamawa and Katsina states each had one building collapse incident.

Some of the most notable and devastating disasters 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 South Africans. It was also noted that the country recorded 27 cases of building collapse in 2015 with no fewer than 175 deaths recorded. In 2019, another three-story building in the Ita-Faaji area in Lagos Island collapsed which resulted in the death of about 20 people including primary school pupils.

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Building collapses are common in Lagos and hardly a year passes by without cases and each time it results in the loss of many lives. For instance, it was reported that 115 buildings, mostly residential, collapsed in Lagos between 2005 and 2016. And about 4,000 families have been left homeless and traumatized. In addition, out of 152 buildings that collapsed in Lagos between 2005 and 2020, 76.6% were residential, 13% were commercial and 9.4% were institutional and most of them are typically multi-storey buildings.

Many of the documented cases of building collapse in Nigeria are due to the use of defective or substandard building materials, lack of requisite technical knowledge, non-adherence to building codes, standards and regulations, lack of maintenance, use of non-professionals and the high level of corruption which has ravaged every sphere of the construction industry including government and private parastatals.

In addition to the established causes of the collapse of structures, empirical data from developed countries of the world has shown that many of the recorded cases in this climes are due to the fact that the current codes of practice do not make provisions for unexpected loads and an unexpected failure of a single member may lead to an all-round collapse of the entire structure.

Generally, citizens, building professionals and government must take a step in order to prevent the common problem of building collapse in Lagos, and Nigeria at large. The responsible government agencies and professional bodies must create awareness of the need to obtain planning permission before building. They must also insist on the need to engage professionals in the construction of buildings.

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State governments must fund all the agencies in charge of building regulation. They must also ensure that capable and qualified professionals are employed to ensure the implementation of building code regulations. This would go a long way towards effective and efficient building development in the entire country.

Finally, in the recent Ikoyi event where the state government claimed that the owner of the building was granted permission to build a 15-storey structure but went ahead and built 21, punishment such as heavy fines, forfeiture of property and jail terms should be meted out to any professionals or property owners who contravene building control regulations or engage in unethical practices that could lead to the collapse of buildings. Erring individuals should also be made to fully compensate victims in the event of building collapse.

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Mukhtar sent this piece from Kano via [email protected]

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