The incidences of collapsed buildings no longer traumatises Nigerians because of the frequency of such occurrences. This is because agencies of government charged with the duty of monitoring buildings to avoid capital errors often look elsewhere while errors are being made.
The resultant effect is the toll it takes in terms of live and property lost coupled with the trauma it will create in life of the people. Building collapse can be traced to a lot of many factors that if are checked, would help to at least minimise the level of casualties.
For instance, following a building collapse in Lagos, which killed at least 11 people, experts observed why such tragedies seem to occur so often in Nigeria and some African countries. While investigations are still underway as the cause of this collapse, engineers have noticed some common problems.
One of the reasons building collapse will not stop in Nigeria could be because the foundation of some of the structures is very weak and because the developer wants to cut cost he made the foundation weak. You know truly well that solid and adequate foundation can be very costly.
The solid foundation can cost up to half the price of a building going by the observation of built environmental experts. This, could be due to lack of supervision on the part of government agencies. By this observation, two things should be considered when you are building; the foundations, the solidity of the soil and the heaviness of the building and its contents. Lagos, because of the swampy ground, requires strong foundations, far stronger than solid ground.
But most developers do not consider all these. Even on solid ground, foundations need to be strong enough for the load. However, most developers save money that should be spent on foundations when building on the city’s swampy ground and so many buildings have collapsed in the city as a result of that. Inadequate foundations for a four-storey building was one of three reasons given by investigators for a building that collapsed in northern Rwanda in 2013 which killed six people.
Another factor that can result in building collapse is the building materials in use. Many developers consider poor solutions or inadequate materials in the mixture thereby making the building materials not strong enough to carry the building. Some materials that are not strong enough to withhold the load are sometimes used in the casting the foundation.
Mr. Hermogene Nsengimana from the African Organisation for Standardisation, whose organisation met in 2016 in Nairobi to discuss why so many African buildings collapse, suggests there is a market for counterfeit materials – going as far as to say that sometimes scrap metal is used instead of steel.
When a six-storey building in Uganda’s capital Kampala collapsed in April 2016, the director of the city authority suggested it had been constructed with counterfeit materials. It was also observed that there were even cases of counterfeiters faking authentification certificates, while contractors also knowingly use the incorrect materials to cut costs.
So they may use concrete intended to bear the load of a one-storey building in a four-storey building. Another factor in the building collapse issue is the fact that when workers are given the right materials to make the concrete, they decide to mix them incorrectly. As long as this continues, building must be collapsing. Because this will results in concrete which is not of the sufficient strength to hold the load.
Some developers are also fund of cutting costs by employing unskilled workers who are cheaper than trained builders. This is one of the reasons put forward by civil engineers to explain why building in Uganda collapsed in 2004. Research showed that the workers did not take the correct mixing ratios of the concrete.
The above mostly happens when people use wheelbarrows instead of measuring gauges for cement. The five-storey BBJ new hotel collapsed at the construction stage and 11 people died. In this style, the bricklayers and even technicians called themselves engineers, but it seems that the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers did not take note and therefore the poor work continued.
Those who want to save money on professionals, and use quacks which is penny wise and pound foolish in the use of materials and professionals should watch it. A total of 199 people died in four Nigerian collapsed buildings between 2014 and 2016, according to the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute. For the impact of building collapse to be felt in Nigeria, it is important to call to mind some of the fatalities experienced in the course of losing building through collapse.
After reviewing the causes, you will be with me that building collapse may not stop in Nigeria. In 2012, about 33 buildings collapsed in Lagos State alone while 22 collapsed in Abuja, going by the information offered by Federal Housing Ministry.
In 2013, about 17 buildings collapsed in Lagos wherein 20 collapsed in Abuja. In 2014, 13 buildings collapsed in Lagos while two pulled out in Abuja. It will be recalled that more than 54 cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in 2017 across Nigeria with the latest beginning the year 2019. Some experts believed that another factor that brings about building collapse is when the load the building is carrying is heavier that it was expected to carry. But people will continue to overload the buildings.
A building collapses when the load put on it is beyond its strength. This is equivalent to asking a boy of 10 years to carry a bag of cement. The boy will not even stand let alone moving because the load is heavier than he can carry. The boy will not be able to withstand the strain.
Nonetheless, even if the foundations and the materials are strong enough for what they were originally built for, that purpose may change. This is because if a building was designed to be a home but is then turned into a library where boxes and boxes of books are piled up, the building may strain under the weight and cave in or surrender.
Another reason why the load is often heavier than the original design is because extra storeys are added. For instance, in March 2016, an upmarket apartment block which had more storeys than planned collapsed in Lagos, killing 34 people according to PropertyMart reports.
This came two years after a church accommodation for the famous preacher TB Joshua collapsed. Authorities said, the building collapsed because it had more floors that it could hold. In that case more than 100 people lost their lives. In some other cases, the strength of the building was not tested to ascertain its healthiness. It is highly important for authorities to test the strength of the building at all points of construction.
It also does not stop at testing, the authorities must be strict in policing buildings. Since the law said you must test, it behoves the authorities to enforce every aspect of the law without fear or favour. It becomes a big problem, when at every stage of construction there is someone with a strong motivation to save money or take money. There are many physical reasons a building can collapse but the driving motivation for that to happen is money. Corruption is therefore, the real reason buildings collapse.
So, as long as corruption thrives, buildings will continue to collapse. But the story doesn’t end there. Just because unsafe buildings are constructed, it doesn’t mean anyone has to die. This is because the buildings could be knocked down. And that is what does happen next. But things go wrong in those situations too, leading to the loss of life.
Fatalities could result in building when despite that it was initially condemned, people defiantly decide to live and stay under it. In the case of the building that collapsed this early 2019, the building had been condemned as unsafe since 2017 and marked for demolition. People, due to poverty, or for want of a replacement, they continued to stay.
The Lagos State Building Control Agency said in a statement that the building was marked as distressed in 2017, and had remained empty but then, the recalcitrant owner renovated it with gravel as granite without carrying out a thorough engineering appraisal and integrity test on the structure. He went ahead to let it out for use.
Many a time, buildings collapse because government inspectors will be given briefs and details on a condemned building but they will not be backed up by security officers who can enforce evacuations. So they can ask nicely, but those requests are often ignored.
By Maduka Nweke,