The Federal Government must do all that is necessary to stop avoidable deaths caused by collapsed building structures. The nation’s structural engineers say there are short, medium and long term solutions that must be discussed at a presidential summit.
These days in Nigeria, it takes a lot of will power, when entering a building, not to have flitting ominous thoughts that it could collapse, and it is understandably so because nobody is sure of the building’s structural integrity.
Both old and new buildings are beginning to fall like a pack of cards, and the disturbing aspect of it all is that nobody seems to have a sure-fix solution to the frequent ugly event that is fast becoming the single cause of the highest number of deaths in the country.
Akwa Ibom State Governor Edom Emmanuel had a close shave with death from a collapsed church building recently. Though he escaped unhurt, but he lost some precious souls.
The ugly situation…
The position of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE) on the incessant collapse of building structures in Nigeria was articulated by its President, Engr. OreOluwa Fadayomi at a press briefing held at the institution’s secretariat in Surulere, Lagos, recently.
“We are compelled to once more issue this press statement because the incessant collapse of buildings has reached an alarming proportion. The classes of buildings that are now collapsing know no bounds,” said Fadayomi in his address, ‘Curbing the Incessant Collapse of Building Structures in Nigeria– a Collective Responsibility’.
The catalogue of building collapses and the casualty figures over the years are very high, he said. “Unfortunately, innocent souls and the peasant workers eking a living for themselves, oblivious of the dangers ahead are the usual casualties.”
He recalled “The collapse in 2014 at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos claimed about 116 lives; The Lekki Gardens building collapse of 2015 also in Lagos claimed about 32 lives while the casualty figure of the church building collapse of December 10, 2016 at the Reigner’s Church, Uyo is yet to be ascertained.
This is not mentioning the casualty figures of the Abeokuta Market collapse in Ogun State, the Tertiary Institutions buildings collapse at Oko in Awka, Anambra State and Wudil in Kano State.
“We commiserate with the families of the departed souls and we express our sadness over these avoidable accidents even as we are saddled yet again with investigating the root causes and what should be done to prevent a reoccurrence.”
What to do…
There have been studies, said the President of NIStructE. “Our findings from the many investigations carried out so far on the collapse of these buildings indicate that we all have a role to play in controlling and reducing the incidences of building collapse to an acceptable level.”
According to him, the principal actors in the initiation and execution to completion of a building project are the client, the building professionals, including the contractor, the government and the general public.
There are solutions in the short, medium and long term, he said, insisting that “the President should declare a state of emergency in the building industry and order a Presidential Summit as a matter of urgency to discuss the collapse of building structures and how to mitigate it.”
The practice of consultancy, construction and maintenance works on buildings, he said should be restricted to the registered professionals in the relevant field of Building works as same is being displayed in other noble professions like medicine, Law, Accountancy etc.
Fadayomi said, “For structural engineering in particular, there should be a legislation that would give charter to the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers and forbid engineers that have not been admitted into the Institution from working on structural engineering projects in Nigeria.
“In light of the experience of the Reigner’s church collapse, any uncompleted building should not be put to use until a certificate of fitness for its habitation signed by a structural engineer is obtained.
“Only registered members of the Institution should be entrusted to structural engineering design and construction supervision.”
He said as part of the design process, it should be mandatory for sub-soil investigation to be carried out on all building sites except for simple structures.
There must be zero tolerance to kick-backs and corruption in the award of contracts for building projects, he said and that clients should be diligent in their choice of contractors and avoid giving the construction to unqualified and incompetent hands.
He said “It should be mandatory during the construction of the building for a structural engineer to supervise the construction to ensure that the work is done to design and specifications and that all quality control measures are adhered to.
“All types of building designs from outside the country must be counter-signed as meeting our local conditions and specifications by a Nigerian Structural Engineer who then assumes responsibility for its adequacy and safety.”
He said some aspects of the current Nigerian building code were not safe to apply to engineering structures. “It should therefore be reviewed urgently before being passed into law for general use.
“Some Private Developers do not engage the services of Corporate Structural Engineers to prepare their Design Calculations, Drawings and Specifications. To eliminate quackery, all drawings for approval should carry the NIStructE stamp of the designer alongside the COREN stamp.
“Activities of Developers must be regulated by government. The States should be advised to establish Building Control Agencies and make Regulations to control the building industry in their states.
“Quality control laboratories should be established in many Local Government Areas to test the quality of materials used in construction. The Universities, Technical Colleges and Trade Centers should be well equipped to enable the graduates acquire a sound knowledge of the profession.
“In view of the gravity of the responsibilities of the Corporate Structural Engineer, he should be mandated to provide Professional Indemnity Insurance Cover from a reputable Insurance Company for his projects.”
He said when the building is completed, there should be no conversion of use or change of use without recourse to the structural engineer for advice and a development permit approval. The building, after completion should be regularly maintained to prevent its rapid deterioration.
The structural integrity assessment of the building should be carried out by a structural engineer every five years, he said and that “if a building should collapse, the site should be cordoned off immediately and rescue operation carried out in a controlled manner to preserve the evidences that investigators would need to ascertain the causes of the failure.
“Finally after investigation, the culprits should be prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law to serve as a deterrent to others.
“I am of the firm belief that if we all live up to our responsibilities and the laws are judiciously applied; the incidences of building collapse would be greatly minimized.”
He identified and assigned roles to the client, saying the client could be a private individual, a religious organization, a private firm or government and that the purpose of the structure could be residential, worship, educational, recreational or commercial.
“The client should diligently appoint his Structural Engineer who would in turn wisely advise him on the choice of his Geotechnical Engineer. Where the choice of the Structural Engineer is compromised as is the case when quacks are engaged, the collapse of the building could be imminent.
“Where the client fails to heed the advice of the professionals in the choice of a competent Building Contractor and chose to award to a contractor adjudged not competent enough, the building stood the risk of a collapse. The construction would most likely not be done to specifications, follow safe and good practices in construction procedure and inferior materials might be purchased for the works in an attempt to cut corners.”