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Averting building collapse in Nigeria

By Adedotun Ajayi

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The frequency of building collapse in Nigeria in the past few years had become very alarming and worrisome.
In the building industry today especially in Lagos, building collapse has been one of the major problems being faced by both the private and public developers. Lagos metropolis is a city where building collapse occur frequently and has the highest number of building collapse incidents that claimed about 64 lives between 1982-1996. In the past thirty seven (37) years (1974-2010), Lagos State recorded quite a number of cases of building collapse in areas like Ebute- Metta, Lagos-Island, Mushin, Oshodi, Maryland, Ojuelegba, Ikeja, Agege, Idumota, Ketu,Central Lagos, Surulere, etc, as well as Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano that also have the high number of building collapse cases.
The incidence of May 24, 2019 remains fresh in the memory of Ondo State people, where a pupil died and many suffered series of injuries at St Andrew’s Grammar School, Ondo town, Ondo State, when a building in the school suddenly collapsed.
It would also be recalled on March 13, 2019 where 20 people died and 45 people suffered series of injuries at 63, Massey Street in Ita-Faaji, Lagos Island, after a three storey-building collapsed.
Research reveals that there have been 175 building collapse cases across the country, from 1971 to 2020, resulting in 1,455 deaths.
Investigation by The Hope revealed that one bag of cement is used to mould 6 inches blocks. Without adequate supervision, contractors can engage in sharp practices. Cement- Sand ratio is better obtained in weight and not in volume. It is necessary that steel reinforcement bars undergo tensile strength tests to determine its standard strength. The country and the higher institutions cannot boast of adequate number of laboratories to carry out these tests including concrete cube tests for concrete and water quality. The use of substandard materials and untested construction methods is a major contributor to structural failures of buildings.
Absence of Building or Planning Permit, It is illegal to commence construction works without approved drawings from the approving authorities. The three tiers of government- the Commission (for Federal Lands), the Board (for State lands), and the Authority (for Local Governments lands), are vested with the duties of granting approval to prospective developers. Sometimes defective drawings are used for construction without approval from the approving authorities. Some are done out of ignorance. Others are done where the operation of the authorities are ineffective.
Corruption: Sometimes drawings are not read by officers of the approving authority to detect defects. They sometimes engage in corrupt practices by granting illegal approvals.
Non-Adherence to approved building plans, This comes in form of illegal alteration to approved drawings. Sometimes, a building originally specified to undergo in-situ concreting is changed to pre-cast methods because the expatriate contractor tends to prefabricate the components overseas and ship to Nigeria. This practice if not properly controlled could spell danger years after the buildings are in use.
Contractors engage inexperienced personnel to take charge of construction works,
Sometimes firms resort to use unqualified staff to act as principals on construction sites in order to save cost. The consequence of this practice is that the unqualified staff may not be competent enough to detect fraudulent practices of smart contractors. This may lead to covering up of shoddy or defective works.
In Nigeria, it is common that most contracts are first awarded to businessmen who front for politicians. The practice is that the businessman gets the contract and sells it to incompetent contractors known to them without following the normal contract procedures and without investigating the competency of the contractor. The result is shoddy performance which can lead to building collapse.
Speaking with The Hope while Olukayode Oyawole, an architect and building expert on this issue, he said that “Defective Architectural and Engineering drawing may result in building collapse if architects fail to do or insist on carrying out feasibility studies, soil and site investigation which are the bases for design of adequate architectural and structural drawings.” He added that poor design details, low quality materials and works specifications may also contribute to building collapse. “Engineers (structure and civil) may contribute if they fail to insist on carrying out essential soil test, foundation design, errors, omissions and inaccurate data from professionals may lead to problems if not detected on time”
“Also there is something called defective construction, this arises when contractors fail to carry out the works in accordance with architects and engineers’ specifications. They do this in order to maximize profit. Sometimes, specified materials are substituted for substandard ones. Other areas of concern include poor concrete mixes, premature removal of formworks and general poor workmanship.
On how to avert building collapse, Olukayode advised, “The use of quality building materials is one major way to prevent a building collapse.
A research by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria show that poor quality building materials, especially the cements, are major causes of building collapse in Nigeria.
To therefore ensure the avoidance of building collapse, builders should always ensure that the right materials and cement specification is used for the appropriate construction types.
Many people build without hiring the services of a competent building contractor. The engagement of a competent contractor is very important for building construction.
In using local builders, they must be able to do the job. A good way to discover this is to check their previous work, speak with their previous clients, and check their staff strength including number of skilled and unskilled workers.
Poor maintenance culture is another reason buildings collapse. Even the best constructed buildings need constant attention and if the attention is delayed, what starts as something very minor can turn quickly into an expensive man-made disaster?
It should be noted that all buildings deteriorate and so maintenance is necessary.
Soil testing is very important before a building is erected. It enables the builders to determine soil strata, foundation type and where to lay the foundation for the building proper.

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