The collapse of a 7 storey building in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Friday, 23rd November 2018, has apparently brought the disturbing trend of building collapse to the fore once again. The nation’s multi-storey structures are increasingly looking like disasters waiting to happen and an end seem not to be in sight to the menace.
This issue has become a cause for concern, the question to ask here is, are the building owners and/or their building professionals cutting corners in construction and putting up sub-standard buildings? Are unqualified people being employed to do the jobs? Or are they circumventing building regulations (with the connivance of the staff of the Building Authorities)? Or could it be that the liability for these mishaps may lie with the Building Authorities, who may have approved less than adequate building plans?
Whatever the case, legally, if a building collapses and it is proven that it was sub-standard, then someone or people will have to be held accountable. In Nigeria, the main cause of building collapse has been found to be mainly structural failure, followed by poor workmanship and faulty designs respectively. In these circumstances, investigations usually reveal that specifications for the required building materials and safety procedures are sacrificed on the altar of profit and time, that is, to complete construction in record time.
To curb this ugly trend, builders and their clients, must ensure that all engineers on the construction project are COREN approved.
As a matter of urgency, there should be a review of the laws relating to construction, like the Urban and Regional Planning Law and the National Building Code, to ensure that all the bases have been covered. New legislation to fill any compliance gaps, which may have resulted in frequent building collapses, must be promulgated.
The steps to obtaining building plan approvals seem to be quite clear and robust. However, ensuring compliance to and enforceability of the laws, during the construction project, seems to be more of a challenge. Building Authorities must ensure strict compliance to the existing laws, by those involved in construction projects.
Frequent inspections of construction sites by the Building Authorities, must be carried out for instance, while constructing a building with approval for 3 floors, the owner may decide to increase the number of floors to 5. However, an additional building plan approval for the extra 2 floors, must be sought and obtained, before the extra floors are added.
The onus is on the Structural Engineer to do the calculations to ensure that the existing structure can carry the additional load. However, in practice, staff of the Building Authorities that look the other way, permit these additions to be implemented, while assessments, regularisation and obtaining the approval for the additions are done later.
This practice must be curtailed, as it has resulted in several building collapses. Property owners should be careful of who they give out their projects to. To avoid building collapse, due diligence should be done. It is better to employ contractors based on referrals and their credibility. Contractors also popularly known for quality can be approached in cases where personal investigation cannot be conducted.
In conclusion, if we take proactive measures, we can drastically reduce the frequency of building collapses in Nigeria if not totally eradicate it. We only need to make simple changes and we will be on our way to having better buildings.
Affa Dickson Acho
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