28.5 C
Monday, September 25, 2023

Building collapse: Prevention is better than cure

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern.” (a maxim.)

On Wednesday, April 12, 2023, the Lagos State Government was in the news again for the wrong reason. A seven-storey building under construction along First Avenue Banana Island, Ikoyi had collapsed. The exclamation from the members of the public, was: Oh! Not again, not again! Some said it was another building collapse too many. As reported in the media, one person died, 16 were hospitalised, and 25 persons were rescued by the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA).

Building collapse
Scene of the building collapse

In its spontaneous reaction to such cases of building collapses the Lagos State Government officials from the regulatory agency/authority with a remit for building control and physical planning engaged in platitude and hot air statements. They condemned the developer of the collapsed building and vowed to deal with the culprit for the infractions committed.

Seven days later, the LASG through its Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Tayo Bamgbose-Martins, inaugurated a seven-man Technical Committee (TA) on April 20, 2023, under the chairmanship of a Lagos State retired Permanent Secretary, Wasiu Olokunola, a staunch member of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) who is reputed for his probity and professional integrity.

The Technical Committee was mandated “to determine within two weeks, the immediate and remote causes of the collapse, the appropriateness of the construction work on the site and the culpable parties (concerning) the collapse of the seven-floor structure,” among other findings and to advise the government how to curb the recurrence of a similar calamity.

Since the collapse of the seven-floor building at Banana Island, Ikoyi, public outrage and probing comments were immense. A selected few of the comments are instructive about the subject matter of this article. The samples are reproduced here verbatim:

On lack of monitoring: “The lack of government oversight was responsible for the continuous building collapse episodes recorded in the state. The government is not ready to do the right thing.” (Mr. Philips Ayotunde, Treasurer, Nigerian Institute of Builders, Lagos State, The Punch, April 13, 2023). “A seven-storey building will not grow overnight. They have LASBCA officials in every district. What are the officials in that place doing?” The government cannot exonerate (itself). Where were they when the building was under construction?” (ibid).

On weak enforcement of regulations: “No approval was given for the construction of the collapsed structure.” (Verified Facebook page of Lagos State MPP&UD). “If no approval was given, why was work allowed to proceed on the structure?… Why did the officials of the ministry, not step in and halt the ill-fated construction?”  (Nigerian Tribune editorial, April 21, 2023, page 9). “What are the drastic/effective measures being put in place to monitor buildings and give early warning signals before the collapse?” (Sugarcane, member BCPG on social media, April 23, 2023).

What are the causes of building collapse in Lagos?

While there are possible technical causes of a building to collapse such as the use of inferior building materials, wrong design, structural engineering gaffe, and human error, there are other remote causes, which are non-technical viz:

  • Institutional proclivity, inefficiency, and poor monitoring system of ongoing construction as evidenced in this particular case being investigated by the Technical Committee.
  • Negative public perception and mistrust of Regulatory Agencies for such reasons as excessive red-tapism, abuse of office, and corrupt tendencies of official monitors.
  • Absurd building plan approvals contrary to their “extant approval orders” for certain localities (e.g. Parkview Estate, Osborne Phase 2 Foreshore Estate, Banana Island where regulations on building height and bulk are brazenly violated by avaricious developers).
  • Lawless and stubborn developers who would not comply with development regulations and are ready to cut corners thereby endangering the lives of the citizenry as witnessed in the fatal incident of the collapsed building under investigation and previous similar accidents,
  • Under-staffed and ill-equipped Physical Planning and Building Control district offices for the effective performance of routine inspection and monitoring of construction activities within assigned districts.

Most infractions at construction sites are committed when building control monitors are off from the sites or seldom show up for routine inspection and stage certification. Dubious and avaricious developers seize the opportunity of the lacuna created to tamper with their buildings usually at variance with the elements of the building plan approvals. For example, adding more floors beyond the approved limit is a common infraction attributed to the primary cause of building collapse in Lagos State.

On inspection of the collapsed building site at Banana Island with members of his cabinet on April 22, 2023, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu publicly admitted that officials of the building control agency in Lagos State “have not been alive to their responsibility.” It is implied that regular visits by LASBCA field inspectors to building construction sites for proper monitoring and stage certification of the work done by developers are inadequate. And when the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse is inevitable. He further regretted that it is heartrending the government has to go through another building collapse due to irresponsible acts of developers and some venal citizens.

However, the public felt indifferent to the soothing words coming from the governor. Of course, for a justifiable reason: Following the spate of building collapses in Lagos state in the last five years, the LASG often set up a committee of experts to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the building collapse and make recommendations to deter future reoccurrence.

Unfortunately, the public has no kind words for the LASG’s cavalier attitude toward the previous committees’ reports. As they say, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. It is on record that no culpable developers, professionals, or corporate entities had been indicted, prosecuted, or convicted in any court of law for building collapse offenses in Lagos state despite the rapidity of the occurrence of such a tragic accident. All the committee reports are on the shelves gathering dust unimplemented.

Lagos State has had numerous cases of building collapse (115 incidents in the last 10 years) with the attendant losses of human lives and property. Building collapse is preventable if the government is desirous of due diligence and ready to enforce the spirit and letters of its laws with sincerity of purpose. Meddlesomeness and undue interference with the law should be bete noire.

Being preventive is being proactive. The government should stop making simple tasks more complex. For preventive measures, we recommend that a prospective developer must mandatorily obtain a planning permit from the regulatory authority before construction activities commence. Strict enforcement of this provision of the state planning law must be total. No planning permit, no construction. The enforcement of the law should not be selective or subject to official manipulation.

The site of any building under construction without a planning permit must be marked illegal and promptly sealed up to prevent further access to the area. Unauthorised re-opening of a sealed site by any developer must be met with stiff penalty.

The LASG must not show a “passing interest” or lethargy about matters of building collapse. It should have the political will to curb the menace of building collapse in the state. The government should be firm, assertive, and lead by example in its actions and deeds. The rumour mill is rife with government reluctance to yield to professional counsel on the solutions to the challenges of building collapse because of vested interest from industry players and high-ranking government officials who are averse to change.

The government should recruit more qualified personnel to augment the current staff strength of the regulatory agencies. The workload of the current field officers at LASBCA is daunting and overwhelming with “48,000 construction sites in Lagos” to monitor. The government needs external assistance because it does not have the capacity to perform such an enormous task.

Constant site monitoring is imperative. Therefore, the LASBCA officials must up the frequency of their routine site inspections where construction activities are prevalent to check and sign off on adherence to standard specifications. The LASBCA was complicit in the Banana Island collapsed building because it failed to do due diligence. It took its eyes off the ball and disaster struck!

Punitive action must be taken against the culprits of building collapse to serve as a deterrent. If there is no punitive sanction for criminal conduct, impunity reigns supreme. The LASG must be decisive about how to deal with criminally minded developers, professionals, and government officials who are found culpable of building collapse due to negligence. Court conviction, termination of appointment, confiscation of collapsed building sites, and revocation of the license of an errant professional are sanctions the government is at liberty to invoke.

Lastly, institutional collaboration with the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), a foremost non-governmental organisation comprising an array of professional builders and allied experts in the built environment could yield a positive impact on curbing incessant building collapse in Lagos state. The initiative came up in the year 2022 when the BCPG and the state’s Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development agreed to collaborate to stem the tide of building collapse and eradicate all forms of malpractice in building construction in the State of Excellence.

Regrettably, according to Bldr. Kunle Awobodu, the founder and pioneer President of BCPG, not much has been achieved since then to date. Considering the resurgence of building collapse in the state, the talk on “partnership and outsourcing monitoring of construction projects to private companies” by the state government should be revisited. If the suggestion is practicalised, it would be a win-win situation for the two entities.

By Tpl. Yacoob Abiodun, Planning Advocate, Brooklyn, New York, USA

Latest news

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you

%d bloggers like this: