Uyo Church Tragedy and Safety Standards in the Construction Industry in Nigeria

On 10 December 2016, Nigeria witnessed another avoidable construction tragedy as the Reigners Bible Church International Uyo, Akwa Ibom State collapsed during the consecration of her founder Apostle Akan Weeks as a Bishop. Over 23 lives were confirmed died and hundreds more were injured. At the time of the collapse, the State Governor, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel was present at the occasion; fortunately he made it out of the building while many of his aides and top government officials sustained serious injuries.

Since the collapse, criticism and calls for investigation has filled the media, with the Christian Association of Nigeria calling for sanctions over builders’ “satanic antic”. The state government has also set up a committee to look into the issues surrounding the collapse.

Recall that on September 12, 2014 a guesthouse within the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed and 115 persons were reported dead, 84 of whom were South Africans. This tragedy coupled with the incessant cases of building collapse in Lagos reveals a major problem in our construction industry; the absence or implementation of safety standards.

As far as the construction industry is concerned, the strict adherence of practitioners to safety standards is not negotiable. There are cases in other climes were those who were to lead construction projects pulled out because they were not comfortable with the implementation of safety standards in the project. That day has obviously not come in Nigeria. The high rate of poverty and lack of professionalism in the sector makes it easy for someone to be available to take up a construction project without the requisite qualification or the implementation of basic safety standards.

When the media coverage of this tragedy wanes, we may just return to normal except those whose responsibility it is to make or enforce such safety standards rise up to their responsibilities. We look forward to a day where public buildings like churches, mosques, clubs, factories and others will have to obtain genuine safety certifications before they become operational and such buildings should also be subjected regular safety inspections.

Stakeholders in the construction industry should come together to review the issues and challenges in the sector and come out with an harmonized position that will take the nation out of this dark ages of building collapse due to construction safety errors. We cannot keep doing the same thing in the sector and expect a different result; we cannot solve a problem with the same attitude that created it. Human life is sacrosanct and those entrusted with it in building construction industry must be guided and goaded to do the right thing.

Soji Olalokun is Country Director and President of World Safety Organization, Nigeria)