Halting Incessant Building Collapse in Lagos – THISDAYLIVE

Against the background of frequent building collapse in Nigeria’s commercial hub, the state government must enforce a more rigorous implementation of the building codes to rein in unprofessional property developers, writes Louis Achi

Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial hub again penultimate week dominated familiar news headlines after a seven-storey building under construction collapsed on First Avenue, in the upscale Banana Island area of Ikoyi.

While many observers try to decipher why Lagos continues hogging the headlines for cases of building collapse, building experts question the role of government agencies in the approval processes for buildings in the state.

According to a former President of Nigerian Institute of Building, Kenneth Nduka, the inability of the government to prosecute those responsible for the frequent building collapse in the country is a factor fuelling its reoccurrence.

His words: “Let me integrate backwards, there have been collapses and these collapses have been investigated. I am yet to hear or maybe I am not being so cognisant of what is happening, but I am yet to hear that Mr. X or Mr. Y has been sent to jail because he participated in the development of a building that has collapsed.”

Nduka further called on the Lagos State government to ensure buildings in the state are constructed under proper guidelines.

“If you are using material, there is a specification of the type of material you use. If you are going to start a multi-storey building, it should be such that there should be geotechnical investigation of the soil,” he added.

According to the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), between 2011 and 2019, there were 88 building collapse incidents in Nigeria. Significantly out of this number, only 21 of this occurred outside Lagos.

Interestingly, according to the Building Collapse Prevention Guild in Nigeria, Lagos State has recorded 115 building collapse incidents in the last 10 years. Whatever the seeming dissonance in specific figures and timelines these statistics speak to a common worrying reality.

This scenario also apparently validates findings by researchers at the Department of Engineering Sciences in Kwara State University, Ilorin, which indicated that the South-west recorded the highest number of building collapse incidents in the country between 2009 and 2019.

That Lagos is leading in recorded incidents of building collapse in the country should have an obvious reason. 

By sheer numbers, Lagos is a megacity. However, it is one of the smallest megacities in the world in terms of landmass. But population wise it is certainly not with its estimated population 20 million. The megacity’s demographics loudly mismatches its landmass.

This has consequently created concomitant economic, social and environmental problems that translate to housing deficit and overpopulation challenges. Many residents here are in constant and desperate need of housing as both public and private sector efforts at increasing supply are grossly inadequate to meet the gushing demand.

According to a Lagos-based architect and urbanist, who spoke off the record, the fact that private developers are the group mostly involved in the re-construction of old houses in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lagos Island is a factor to be looked into. He also noted that verticalisation, to accommodate the ever increasing demand for residential and commercial spaces, is a continuous activity all over the Island.

He apparently hit the nail on the head when he observed that, “while the best of technical and financial means are deployed in Victoria Island and Ikoyi, the same cannot be said of the building consultants, building contractors and the shylock developers involved in the construction of the buildings in Lagos Island.

“And government officials, both responsible for building drawings approvals and building construction supervisions, are not more compromised in Lagos Island than in Ikoyi, Victoria Island or any other location in Lagos for that matter. What sets Lagos Island apart is the government’s overly relaxed attitude to the chaos that has been taking place there for over five decades! There is the seeming position that the place is a mess anyway and cannot possible get worse,” he explained.

He also noted that, “the other reason is that it is the ancestral homes to the indigenous Lagosians even if the most notable members of them no longer live there. This latter is the main reason why succeeding governments have shied away from taking incisive corrective measures.

“Unfortunately, the corollary to that laisser-faire attitude will be the ever recurring collapsing of these precarious buildings. I make bold to say that 90 per cent of them or more are not fit for human habitation especially in this digital YouTube 21st Century. Indeed many of them are accidents waiting to happen.

“Urgent steps need to be taken to guarantee the safety of lives in Lagos Island. And the government must be bold; it can no longer continue the erstwhile “politically correct” postures that have yielded only further chaos instead of positive results.”

The emerging consensus among key stakeholders in the building sector is that the government must declare an immediate moratorium on new constructions in this area even where planning approvals have been granted.  He suggested immediate moratorium on the approval of new building permit requests.

“Update the data of unstable buildings and these must be immediately evacuated. Their controlled demolition must commence at once, starting from the most precarious of them,” he said.

He also believes that government must semi privatize the approval of building plans to augment the capacity of the badly understaffed government officials by utilizing the professional services of the numerous reputable consultancy firms that abound in Lagos.

“The government should almost completely privatise the supervision of the construction of buildings by again utilising the services of the professionals referred to above. This should provide a more rigorous implementation of the Building Codes and will create more job opportunities,” he added.

But Lagos as a city and government has been so lax in minding what happens in its housing sector. It does seem that the regulatory authorities in the state are accessories to the unwholesome activities in the sector that threw up massive constructions with questionable professional supervision.

There is so much more that the Lagos State government can do to end the frequent loss of both human and material resources to building collapse. Time has come for it to prove wrong, popular views that building collapse problem rests with it as its planning authorities seem to be so much in a hurry that they don’t go further than the approval of the building plan.

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