Since the March 13 building collapse in Ita Faji, Lagos left 20 persons dead, two more have occurred in the same Lagos Island and another in Ibadan, Oyo State. Could you give your reaction, as a safety professional, on how to end the scourge of building collapse?
Ajao Emmanuel – HSE Consultant, OSHA Association
I want us to understand that many of the building standing in Lagos Island are inadequately planned. The day before yesterday, I was at the Town Planning Ipaja to make approval of a plan and at the end of the day, I was being told that that plan cannot go for some reasons. But I wish if most of the houses – if you look at Lagos houses most of them don’t stick to approved plans and at the end of the day those who are even supposed to sanction them collect money and forgets about them. And we would keep having building collapse if these things are not stopped. If you look at most houses in Lagos Island many of them have no building plan approval; most of them were bungalows before they started becoming skyscrapers and nobody monitored to approve them. This is really a bad phenomenon.
On a more serious note, most town planners have to go out and do their jobs. They are not doing their jobs, and not only just going out, but a lot of task force also has to be set out. For now if we have to say what should be done, I think a lot of the houses have to undergo a thorough investigation of building approvals to be made in Lagos state most especially in the island where it has become money issues; everybody is fighting to build skyscrapers to collect money at the detriment of people’s life. I believe continual outing of the town planners will be better.
Emmanuel Abayowa – HSE consultant, and Director of Admin World Safety Organization in Nigeria (WSO)
There are two major commissions that supervise building construction in Lagos state, which is the Lagos State Safety Commission and Lagos State Building Control Agency. Most of the buildings in Lagos Island are skyscrapers and before they are built, they have to ensure that the foundation of the house can carry the number of stories they want to put on it.
For instance, if you already have a house that you built and it is meant for two story building then the foundation you made is for a two-story building. And for you to start adding two or three structures on it is out of it. So, the plan for the building should be followed to ensure its safety. Once you have drawn a building plan, it should be followed without attaching buildings on top of it. Again, before building a house – if you look at the incident that happened in Ita Faji, the house actually sank, that means they probably did not do the survey well and the safety measures too were compromised.
So, the two basic things are for the regulatory bodies that need to ensure the job must be done, they have to ensure the safety aspect, the precaution before building the structure; things that were supposed to be put in place where not properly put in place. Secondly, as a rescue measure, the moment you discover that there is a tendency of the building collapsing and marked for demolition, it has to be carried out. Hence, delay in execution of enforcement can also compound disaster issues like this.
The truth is that it’s not all the buildings in Lagos state that are sound, as a result, I advise that they carry out demolition on marked buildings. However, as safety professionals, they still have to enlighten the public on the need why that thing happened to them. Number one thing is awareness to the public and building owners on reasons why demolitions must be carried out, either in Lagos or at the federal level; then secondly the enforcement. One should come before the other. So, awareness should come before enforcement – you do awareness before you carry out enforcement for people to understand.
Lucky Oderhohwo – MD RHOLUCK SERVICES, Lagos ISPON official
Standards are not complied with and landlords think that they can use what they call bricklayers as civil engineers. The fact that a bricklayer has been working for 20 years does not mean that he knows about civil work; it doesn’t make him a structural engineer.
The landlords or building owners should shy away from making money at all costs. Greed is another thing. Somebody owns a bungalow but wants to immediately convert it to a storey building. Rather than breaking it down and building another foundation that can take support a storey building, they’ll just remove the roof somewhere and put one small pillar somewhere and start taking the building up.
The government also is not helping us. From the local government level, they have health officers. They have so many other units that move around the streets. What are they doing? When they notice such structures, why don’t they raise alarm? They will leave it and common, innocent people on the streets suffer because of building collapse.
We have all failed, but when we say ‘government’ we think that it only applies to Buhari that is sitting on top. You are as a husband, what do you do? As a landlord, wife, child, what do you do? So it is a major challenge. Not until we wake up and say, ‘This is what we must get done’ we will not go anywhere. Everybody has a role to play.
That is why at Lagos State ISPON, we have started a campaign wherein we identify some structures, hazards on the streets, on the roads, take a photograph, place a poster on it, and share it on many platforms, especially Facebook, Instagram, and others. We also send it to the authorities that we think can help to actualise it. That is what we are doing in Lagos ISPON but everyone has a role to play.
You as a builder, do you have the money to build? If you have it, do you have the approved building plan? Majority of the buildings are just coming up and because of the initial challenges, an old house will overnight turn to a big complex. These are some of the challenges.
We as the occupants, when we see an old building, we should first of all do a risk assessment. It doesn’t need you to become a safety professional first. When they give you a morsel of food, immediately you know that the food is not enough. So why can’t you do the same thing if you’re going to rent a house? You should assess it with your layman’s knowledge and determine if the building is good enough for habitation or not. You don’t go and rent a place where you’ll die.
It’s not just the old building now. I’m sure you heard about the building collapse in Port Harcourt (in November 2018). That was a new building being constructed.
So the standards are not complied with. You can imagine a structure is coming up, somebody has his own money and he wants to go and buy the structure. After buying the rectangular structure, he’d say he wants it spherical, but he won’t break it down. He’ll tell the builder: Can you break this end and make it spherical? We must follow structural engineering standards. Once you cut off reinforcement from a building that is rectangular and make it spherical, the load shedding must have been altered. The reinforcements are piled together to help one another, to help carry the load. So if you cut off reinforcement from one side and start tying it to the existing one, you have not actually calculated the load-bearing capacity. So when it is going up, the building will collapse.
Some of them are also not conducting a soil test to know the load-bearing capacity of the soil. So if you construct a three-storey building on a soil that cannot bear the weight of a two-storey building, what happens? The building certainly will come down.
Engr. Oluwemimo Sam-Aghedo – HSE Manager, Dori Construction and Engineering Services
A building should be used for the purpose to which it was built. Its load should not exceed its strength.
The lifespan of the building, design errors, incompetent builders, use of inferior building materials, etc contribute to building collapse.
If truly we value lives in Nigeria, then we expect more law enforcement from the government as regards both building construction and demolition. Safety of lives should be paramount. Enforcement of zero tolerance to illegal building/development is needed to prevent further risk of collapse. Also, safe and secure alternative accommodation should be provided for those already affected by these unfortunate incidents.
Proactively, construction of newer buildings should be professionally monitored and supervised.