Legal framework delays new building code implementation

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Six months after the Federal Executive Council approved the revised National Building Code (NBC) that specified standards for the construction industry, implementation of the law is being marred by the inability to back the document with a legal framework that would aid its enforcement.

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Formally launched in 2006, the NBC is a document that was evolved just in time to proffer a lasting solution to the persistence hazardous trend in the building industry in some part of the country. This includes incessant collapse of buildings, building infernos and other built environment abuses and disasters.

These disasters come about from lack of plan of our towns and cities, use of non-professionals, insufficient referenced design standards, use of untested products and materials; so called substandard materials, and lack of adequate regulations and sanctions against offenders. The guideline, passed by the National Assembly NASS, was to be reviewed after three years.

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Specifically, under the new code, which was earlier approved by the National Council on Housing, Land and Urban Development has the headship of the building code enforcement division limited to registered architects, builders, structural, mechanical or electrical engineers, unlike in the old code, when it was open to all the registered professionals.

Also, the government, after the new wave of flooding experienced in some parts of the country, provided some specifications and guidelines to ensure safety of residents. Other issues taking into consideration include the endemic and improper housing maintenance as well as unhealthy construction practices which impact negatively on eco-balance and eco-friendliness.

Similarly, some facilities like foam plastic insulation, garage (private), gas cabinet, gas room that were not specified in the old code are well spelt out to be chiefly considered by the inspection team, who are now empowered to determine if any material or its chemical components are hazardous, thereby preventing its usage. Temporary structure, which was pegged at 60 days, is now being extended to 180 days.

The Guardian learnt that the delay has been as a result of the promoters trying to back the document with a legislation, which will make the document enforceable, especially ensuring state governments lead the drive to institutionalise it through adaptation, legislation and enforcement.

The plan is to ensure that the 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA will adapt and adopt code, as a regulatory tool in their spheres of influence, and enacted by their respective legislatures, as part of their jurisdictional code.

The Second Vice President, Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA), Mr. Enyi Ben-Eboh said that it is necessary to come up with legal backing to the document to ensure its enforcement. According to him, when there is no law, there would not be punishment for offenders.

He explained that physical planning and development control are vested on state governments; it becomes mandatory for the state authorities to adapt and domesticate the NBC. “If it is not domesticated, it is not enforceable.”

A town planner and former President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Moses Ogunleye said that “there is the issue by some other stakeholders, including professional bodies that the document should be passed and signed as a law. The process of this has not been concluded.

“This may be part of the delay. But to me, the National Building Code need not be made a law before it can be implemented. A code is like a standard. It is a recommendation for best practice. Normally, it is a technical document on how building material, construction/ methodology and process are applied for the purpose of ensuring quality, safety and health. What each state should do is to prepare their own sub-codes to regulate building construction, “ he said.

The Chairman, National Building Code Advisory Committee, Jimoh Faworaja, an architect, had said that the consequences of an ineffective and non-operational national building code in social and economic terms are so monumental for any sane society to ignore.

His words: “The review has therefore addressed lapses noticed in the first edition with structural re-alignment and in-depth additional inputs to adequately take care of our peculiar national challenges as they relate to the built environment.”

Faworaja called for a collective effort to ensure the implementation of this document as a way of arresting the national embarrassment occasioned by the increasing cases of the built environment failures and the near dominance and takeover of the industry by quacks.

It will be recalled that in 1987, the Defunct National Council of Works and Housing directed that a National Building Code be evolved for Nigeria. All the stakeholders in the Building Industry were duly contacted for input.

Thereafter the defunct Federal Ministry of Works and Housing organised a National workshop at ASCON, Badagry – Lagos State in 1989. To further fine tune the Draft National Building Code, another workshop was held at the Gateway Hotel, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State in 1990. The product of the Ijebu-Ode Code was approved by the then National Council on Housing in 1991.

Unfortunately this document was not ratified by the then Federal Executive Council for use in the Country. The 1991 approved document was re-presented to the second National Council on Housing and Urban Development held in Port-Harcourt, November, 2005 and the Council directed that the document be widely circulated to all stakeholders for input to facilitate the production of an acceptable National Building Code.

The code was reviewed after professionals pointed out grey areas as it is based essentially on foreign codes – some of which may not have direct relevance to our environment, another salient objective of the exercise is to encourage professionals in the building industry to produce the most appropriate Code suited to our environment for subsequent use and application.

The new document is expected to open a new vista in the building industry and eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum the incidents of collapsed building in Nigeria; promote safety and qualitative housing for every Nigerian.

Besides, the main objectives is that every tier of government, (federal, state and local) must imbibe the spirit and intent of this Code. To this end, State Governments are implored to integrate the provisions of this Code into their local laws particularly those relating to Design, Construction and Maintenance (Post Construction) and efficiently monitor the implementation of the Code.

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam

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