The manner buildings under construction are collapsing across the country, coupled with the number of deaths and injured persons being recorded, has become a source of serious concern to many Nigerians.
In this report OKECHUKWU OBETA writes that experts and stakeholders have identified use of substandard materials and greed on part of builders as a key factor in the rising rate of the unfortunate incident, as well as measures being initiated by various stakeholders to arrest further occurrences.
Across the country, the manner buildings under construction are collapsing is currently dominating discussions among many of the residents. From the discussions, it is clear that many people are now afraid of packing into newly constructed buildings.
The popular belief is that they are being constructed with sub-standard materials and therefore they may come crumbling any moment.
Apparently what gave rise to the current level of fear are the two buildings that collapsed mid-last month in Onitsha, the Anambra State commercial nerve centre.
The first incident involved a three-storey building under construction at No.7 Ezenwa by Ogalaonye Street which suddenly crumbled on Wednesday, May 17, 2019. About eight workers were on the site and it claimed the lives of about five of them, with the other three sustaining severe injuries.
The second incident occurred at No. 44 Modebe Avenue, Odoakpu area of the commercial town just two days later. Though no life was lost in this latest incident, about five persons (all females) working at the construction site were however said to have sustained various degrees of injuries when a decked attachment to the building collapsed.
Unfortunately, even before the latest development, the building collapse has become a common sad experience in the state.
In 2016, for instance, two buildings were reported to have crumbled in Oko, the home town of the late Second Republic Vice-president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. According to the Anambra state Vice-chairman of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Prof. Peter Katchy one of the incidents which happened at Okoani village area of the community involved a building which was meant to be a hostel for students of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko.
Three labourers working at the building site were said to have died in the incident. Again in 2014, about eleven buildings under construction were recorded to have collapsed in different parts of the state.
Interestingly, the circumstances responsible for the unfortunate incident are certainly known as far as the major stakeholders in the housing delivery sector in the state are concerned.
In fact the reasons are essentially as a result of the use of sub-standard materials, engagement of quacks to handle building constructions, as well as non-compliance to Government’s regulatory guidelines on building constructions.
As a result of greed and desire to have their buildings delivered to them at the cheapest cost not minding the obvious risk such poorly constructed buildings pose to the prospective inhabitants, some indenting housing developers engage quacks to handle their building constructions for them.
Following the out-cry by stakeholders against the use of sub-standard building materials and the attendant sudden collapse of many of the affected buildings in 2014, the state government had set up a Raw Material Testing Laboratory and made it compulsory that anyone under-taking building construction must take the materials to be used in such building construction for testing and certification at the laboratory before using them and spelt out penalties against anyone who failed to comply.
To ensure compliance, the government had even then threatened that it would confiscate any building that collapsed in the state, the site inclusive.
The Commissioner of Police in the state then, Mr. Sam Okaula, also alluded to the fact that the use of sub-standard materials was responsible for the collapse of the buildings. He stated the state police command had launched a manhunt for the owner of the building.
He said, “We learnt that the owner of the building lives abroad. We are making efforts to get him and the site engineer.
“Two persons have been confirmed dead and we learnt that the collapse was caused by use of substandard materials”, the state police boss said concerning the collapsed building at Oko in 2014.
So, when the state government inaugurated a Panel of Inquiry to investigate the circumstances responsible for the latest building collapse in Onitsha, the state chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects(NIA) had in a swift reaction dismissed the action as unnecessary, insisting that the unfortunate incident would have been prevented had the state government implemented the white paper produced from the report of the earlier panel it set up that investigated the similar incidents which occurred in 2014.
The professional group rather insisted that the state government already knows the causes of the incessant collapse of building in the state. In fact, the group blamed the State government for the numerous cases of building collapse in the state, saying that more may even occur if the state government continues to refuse to implement recommendations made by the group in a white paper.
The 2014 investigative Panel from whose report the white paper was produced was headed by Architect Peter Okpala with eight other seasoned building professionals as members.
The NIA state boss, Arc Osita Okafor who addressed newsmen shortly after an emergency meeting of the institute expressed displeasure with the government refusal to implement the white paper produced by following the report of the Panel of Enquiry it set up in 2014 on collapsed building.
Okafor said, “We are taken aback by the news of the inauguration of the panel without implementation of the recommendations of a former panel set up by the same government on 9th June 2014.
“The building industry is regulated, and we know that there are defined roles for various professions. It is therefore unconventional and unacceptable that non-architects now assume the role of architects.
“We therefore use this opportunity to draw government’s attention to the implementation of an already published white paper report on building collapse in October 13, 2014. That white paper stressed the need to establish a one-stop approval process. By these processes, all relevant professionals in the building industry will vet drawings, /documents submitted for approval.
“Finally, the NIA frowns at a panel to investigate and deal with a serious matter as grievous as building collapse, and the architects, who are the prime consultants in the building projects all over the world are excluded from the panel.”
The group said that with such constitution of a panel, and non implementation of the previous panel’s report, the issue of collapsed buildings may not abate soon in the state.
It charged the governor to take a dispassionate look at the posers raised by the group with a view to correcting them to ensure that building collapse was checked once and for all to discourage building collapse in the state and engender the spirit of quality and solid buildings.
Also, following the Onitsha building collapse, the State chapter of the Physical Planning Board headed by, Barrister Chike Maduekwe as the Executive Chairman, convened a meeting of stakeholders and professionals in the building Industry in the State.
To mitigate the menace, the experts are urged the State government to implement the Government White paper report of the Panel of Inquiry it set up to investigate eleven collapsed buildings in the State in 2014.
The meeting was held at the State Physical Planning Board office in Awka.
Other professional groups present included Nigeria Institute of Architects, Nigeria Society of Engineers, Nigeria Institute of builders, among others.
The 2014 investigative Panel was headed by Architect Peter Okpala and eight other seasoned building professionals.
According to them, everything that will help government curb or reduce cases of building collapse in the State are contained in the 2014 report, adding that a government white paper has even been produced but is yet to be implemented.
For the Chairman Nigeria Society of Engineers, Awka Branch who is also the Chief Fire Officer in the State, Engineer Martin Agbili, over the years, the issue of what he described as internal quackery has been there, added that their Organization have been trying it’s best to check the malady, urging people to stop patronizing quacks in the name of saving costing, adding that it has the portential of a detrimental outcome.
The President, Nigeria Institute of Building, Mr. Okafor said that building project delivery is team work, ranging from the roles of the town planner, quantity surveyor, land surveyor, to the role of engineers.
Stating that they have undergone trainings to deliver on the expectations of the society and to indemnify the public from all forms of dimensions of safety hazards, he added that building collapses usually occur because the roles of professionals are usually neglected, just as the former Chairman of Nigeria Society of Engineers, C.Y Anaeto said that he was a member of the said investigative panel which helped reduce incidents of building collapse, and called on government to as a matter of urgency, enforce the content of the white paper.
While saying that the Governor is upset about the ugly trend and instructed that they take necessary actions, the Executive Chairman of Anambra State Physical Planning Board, Barrister Chike Maduekwe, emphasized that the board has a clear cut role of land use and making sure that developments are placed at the right locations.
He however stressed that all the experience required by the State to eliminate building collapse are at their disposal, saying that the meeting is pursuant to their earlier meeting where they set up a panel to ensure that all approvals, supervision and post approvals are done by competent professionals, to provide safe building environment for ndi Anambra.
Meanwhile, the 10-man panel comstituted by Governor state governor, Chief Wilillie Obiano, headed by the traditional ruler of Uke Community, Igwe Charles Agballa and mandated to investigate circumstances surrounding the collapse of the three-storey building and come up with appropriate recommendations on professional practices to be adopted so as to curb the menace has as its secretary, Mr. Nwabufo Nwankwo as secretary it was given one month within which to turn in its report.
Other members were: ACP John Obuagbaka, Representating the Commissioner of Police in the state,Mr. Mustapha Dandaura; Mr Emeka Ezenwunne, Commissioner for Utilities and CSP Chinedu Anigbaoso (CSO to the Governor), Mr CY Agupugo (Executive Director, SEMA), Mr Alexander Chukwunwike (Rep. NSE), Mr. Afam Afugbuom (Rep. Nigeria Institute of Builders), Mr. Alloy Uzor (Rep Nigeria Institute of Town Planners) and Mr. Ebosie Ezeoke (Rep. Material Testing Laboratory).
During the inauguration, governor Obiano had described the task given the panel as very important and spelt out its terms of reference to include, “look at cases of structures constructed on drainages and those without approvals”. The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu inaugurated the panel at the Government\House, Awka on behalf of the Governor.
It is indeed strongly believed that unless the relevant agencies of the state government rise up to their responsibilities of enforcing the necessary regulatory guidelines for ensuring quality house delivery, the incident of building collapse would continue to occur in the state.