• Experts caution on collapse, seek review, domestication
• We’ll not compromise on integrity of structures, says FCDA
Nigeria might be losing trillions of naira to the non-review and non-domestication of its national building code. The loss includes the cost of rescue operations and deployment of emergency equipment during building collapse, and the cost of building materials, and treatment of injuries.
Besides, over 309 deaths, preventable by a functional building code, have been reported following structural collapse in the last 10 years.
What is currently regarded as a national building code was bequeathed to the country by colonialists and is no longer applicable for modern-day construction.
A building code, also known as building control or building regulation, is a set of rules specifying standards for constructed objects such as buildings and non-building structures.
Construction experts said the absence of an acceptable national building code explains why there are substandard constructions and recurring building collapse in the country.
A survey of reported collapses in selected Nigerian cities between 2009 and 2019 shows that over 57 buildings and structures caved in. Another survey carried out in 2015 shows that an average of 27 buildings gave way within 14 months. Of these, 175 deaths occurred while 427 persons were injured.
A further breakdown of the survey shows that 17 of the incidents involved residential areas. An estimated death toll of 44 lives was recorded. Over 60 persons were injured. Six of the cases were church buildings. The estimated death toll was 134, while about 176 persons sustained injuries. The other collapses included plazas and uncompleted buildings.
The southwest zone of the country had the highest record of building collapses within the period, with Lagos accounting for about 134 deaths and 159 cases of injury.
The average cost of erecting a bungalow, according to experts, is about N8 million. This means that for the 27 buildings that gave way in 2015, approximately N216 million was lost.
The cost of a standard storey building is about N56 million. The 57 buildings that collapsed between 2009 and 2019 could be valued at about N3.192 billion. The cost might even be as high as N976.752 billion, given that the buildings had a collective total of as many as 308 floors.
A Lagos-based quantity surveyor, Olaitan Oresanya, noted that this figure excludes collapsed fences. He also pointed out that with the addition of the traditional 10 per cent cost of supervision charged by building professionals and the 18 per cent fee demanded by contractors, the overall loss could be above N1.07 trillion.
Depending on location and height of the structures, the cost of each rescue operation might be valued at between N500,000 and N1 million. The cost of rescue operations at the guesthouse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), for instance, lasted several days and might be valued at about N10 million. The building fell September 12, 2014.
The SCOAN tragedy specifically hit religious tourism in the country with loss of revenue. This is besides about 115 deaths and 131 cases of injury. The incident was one of over 20 other cases of collapses recorded in different parts of the country between January 2013 and September 2014.
Quite worrisome is the inability of states to properly prosecute building collapse cases due to lack of legal instrument, which the code should have provided. This explains why no conviction has been recorded and culprits, including building professionals, walk free. With an average of five deaths recorded yearly in Nigeria as a result, the problem has become a source of great pain to the economy with attendant loss of human and capital assets.
The August 26, 2019 collapse of a hospital structure under construction in the Gwarimpa area of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, could have been avoided if professionals handling the project were guided by a functional code. Ironically, the hospital is located near the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
The Guardian learnt that the project, which was being handled by a senior professional, caved in because its foundation was changed from raft to strip without a proper assessment of the soil, which appears rocky but is actually clayey and swampy.
Adherence to an acceptable code could have saved the resources lost and enhance the prosecution of those involved.
Over the years, the Federal Government has toyed with the idea of setting up a suitable building code. It set up a committee led by the then Minister of Works and Housing, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, to work with stakeholders like the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) to draw a comprehensive code.
But 15 years on, the code is still enmeshed in controversies, despite efforts by Babatunde Fashola, the then Minister of Power, Works and Housing.
Lamenting the situation, the immediate past president, Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN), Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, said the uncertainty over the code is creating a lot of problems among professionals.
“Generally speaking, there is a lot of confusion. In most of the places where codes are very important, people rely on international codes. Technically, we don’t have an operational code; in the sense that it is not the code that everybody agrees on and uses,” he said.
According to him, the dilemma has made many housing consultants to use British, American and European codes because some of the items used in building come from these countries.
Also, president of the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA), Mr. Njoku Adibe, noted that existing and approved documents have become outdated and therefore need review.
Adibe’s predecessor, Tonye Braide, on his part, blamed the non-domestication of the existing document to accommodate cultural differences across the federation.
He said: “When Mimiko finished the work and the ministry sent the building code to South Africa for printing, he said that it should be domesticated, in the sense that each state was supposed to put one or two things on it because of cultural differences. For instance, the size of a window in Awka is not the same in Kaura Namoda.
“We should involve the 36 state Houses of Assembly by forming sub-committees in the states. There should be something that will be general, based on the fact that many of the imported materials are coming from the same place. But there should be cultural consideration.
“The process has to be decentralised. Let’s have a national conference, so that people from the states will come out and some committees will be created to set an acceptable national code that will stop the incessant building collapse across the nation.”
Kunle Awobodu, president of the Nigeria Institute of Building, noted that the absence of a code results in substandard constructions, which eventually collapse.
He advised: “We should continue to agitate for proper domestication of the building code to all states across the federation. There is a school of thought that feels the code does not have to go through the states’ Assemblies, since it is something that requires frequent reviews as the need arises. But I think the essence of sending it to the lawmakers is to give it legal strength.
“It is a necessity that we should collectively work on it, this time. We are losing a lot and it is affecting the nation’s economy. When buildings collapse, government deploys emergency machinery. Rescue operations cost money. Although it creates activities for those in the unit but it is high time we started evaluating the cost of these emergency rescues.”
Meanwhile, Shehu Hadi Ahmed, Director of Engineering Services at the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) has told The Guardian that there was no building collapse incident at the Gwarimpa hospital.
“There was no demolition or collapse of any structure. The FCDA only went there to pull down a part of the building that was not in the original plan of the hospital. Besides, that same portion also failed our laboratory/integrity tests. So, the only option left for us was to pull down that very part, to avoid a future collapse,” Hadi said.
He added: “We do not have anything to hide, here. Just go there and see things for yourself. Remember that FCDA took a similar bold step with the Nigerian Union of Journalist building at Utako. We also pulled down the initial structure because it failed our integrity test.”