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Building Failures, Opinion

Building collapse as engineering absence

I am not an Engineer but fate always expose me to engineering splendours and wonders. I grew up in a village called Yamoussoukro and it seemed people knew one another in that village to an extent that I almost interacted as a lad with all the people around the President of the country who was also there every weekend with lots of goodies for everyone.

Within 10 years, that village turned to the most beautiful city ever known to me by its engineering wonders and I never heard that those magnificent buildings ever cracked till this March that I re-visited Cote d’Ivoire and got more marvelled by what Alassane OUATTARA is doing there after the doldrums’ period of failed past presidents like Henry Konan Bedie who divided the citizens so much so that General Robert Guei could even think of seizing power and was made to retrace his steps by the revolting populace, chasing him away not minding bullets, to allow another failed past President Laurent Gbagbo create deeper division that brought Cote d’Ivoire to be a war zone.

Now, rescued by Ouattara; the preferred Prime Minister of the then President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Orderliness is what you observe in both persons and so it was in Yamoussoukro where I grew up. And as engineering profession dictates – precision, orderliness and sense of measure as per strength of material and cohesion of carrying capacity – Boigny and Ouattara personify those traits.

Buildings collapse because there is no engineering presence just like governance fail because the building blocks to its totality of wellbeing of the people fail in precision and sense of measure management; that is no engineering mind set.

Engineers in Nigeria are quick to tell you that they are always ignored in construction works as if that is not their domain and as if they cannot raise alarm. Now hear this, my first job after graduation was with Engineers. I was recruited to help them organise a conference involving Engineers in Africa and one warning given to me by them was never to use the language describing them as Organisation of African Engineers instead it should be Engineering Organisations in Africa.

That was nice but it sounded as if dodging responsibility. But that kind of objected description was strongly upheld by Israeli Engineers when they were fully involved in building Yamoussoukro as people liked them and were quick at associating with them. And I believe some of them are found in German construction works. Shying away from responsibility will not help Africa.

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In all the building collapse noticed in Nigeria, Engineers shy away from accepting responsibility whereas every university in Nigeria with Engineering Faculty produces highest number of first class than all other disciplines and thank God the President had accented to a bill keeping them off the teaching line during Youth service as it makes nonsense of the mantra of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Fear and failure should not make them shy away from what they have been declared first class materials of, if in deed peer review had been taken into account in giving them the grades, as per external professors’ endorsement. As once expressed by a former Vice Chancellor that even at 99.9% of success the remaining 0.1% could be critical and result in failure but the important thing is to remain alive and account for that 0.1% of failure to avoid repeating it and that is where Engineers in Africa should concern themselves more. After all we have seen and heard bridges collapse in advanced countries like USA, Canada and China. What they would not allow to happen is repetition based on the same fault.

Please one is not endorsing engineering mishaps but it is necessary to note that elementary engineering like building houses or constructing road or bridges could be perfected as great research efforts are available to avoid mishaps.

It also reminded me of a rumour I heard as a in Yamoussoukro that the revered Boigny gave his fellow president’s friend son the architectural design of a School which could not stand the test of Israeli engineering prowess and as it was proved the Engineers condemned the whole design and embarked on their own rework of it not minding the money already spent; the name seems Olympio. What it means here is that Engineers can even see wrongs at preventive stages so as to avoid greater damage to humans. So, also Engineers in Africa should do.

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One of the measures noticed in Cote d’Ivoire is the strong presence of what they call ‘concrete and material control checks’ unit available in any city like it is done for excise duty of goods produced in Nigeria. That unit seems to exist in Nigeria as weight and measure unit or something like that; and it seems to be existing just in name to collect budget allocation without any function and it is supposed to be recruiting engineers for its function.

It is a unit that makes sure that any material or concrete mix for construction is submitted to it for laboratory check and certification before full blast casting. The worry about Nigeria is that testing of concrete or even foundation testing for certification purposes before casting seems non-existent. These are duties of Engineers as neither bricklayers, steel benders, scaffolders, carpenters nor even the labourers that cast the concrete for cheap labour purposes know what the failure of weak material could cause.

I was watching a building that has gone to third level of its superstructure collapsing at second level and some people seem to believe that it is not grievous as it is only formwork and no one seems to see that weight was involved. The point observed there is that there was greatly an engineering absence as the poor artisans employed for cheap labour purposes are only interested in getting their pay and not what happens next.

It seems to be what happens in all construction sites in Nigeria just the same way some pharmacists at a given time, or still doing, in Nigeria, by just collecting royalty to have their names attached to illiterate chemist shop operators without minding what go on there if not for the intervention of Prof Dora Akunyili.

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Engineering absence is seen in many activities in Nigeria and it does not tell well of a country with enormous capacity for engineering outputs. Like I mentioned of the great engineering spirit of Boigny and Ouatttara as presidents so also it reflects in the engineering GDP contribution of the wealth of Cote d’Ivoire.

The Abidjan stock exchange shows the worth of engineering activities there and in Nigeria it is rarely seen even when we lay pipes from Port Harcourt to, as intended, Algeria, the engineering precision, sense of measure and proactive engagements are not there. Please Engineers in Africa take pride in enforcing your presence and mitigating damages in Africa. Infrastructure collapse is engineering and nothing more.

Source:  Victor C. Ariole

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