Some safety professionals in the country have decried the recent Akwa Ibom church building collapse that left no fewer than 32 persons dead and 37 persons injured.
In separate chats with Safety Record Newspaper, President of the Nigerian chapter of American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Herbert Nwaka, and Akwa Ibom State Branch Chairman of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN), George Akalonu described the incident as unfortunate and a misrepresentation of safety professionals in the country.
On Saturday, December 10, hundreds of worshippers converged on the 10,000-capacity Reigners Bible Church auditorium located along Uyo Village Road close to the Akwa Ibom State Government House.
The worshippers, including Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state, were in the church to witness the bishopric consecration of the church’s General Overseer, Apostle Akan Weeks when the building suddenly caved in on them.
While the governor was lucky to escape unhurt, some of his aides were said to have sustained various degrees of injuries.
According to reports, construction of a section of the church building was rushed because of the event.
State Government’s Decision
In a state-wide broadcast on Sunday, December 11, the governor called for the arrest of the contractor handling the project and vowed to order an investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the collapse.
To underscore the state government’s seriousness on the issue, the State’s Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong said at a December 14 press conference that the state government had concluded plans to start issuing certificates of safety on public buildings before they are allowed to host public events.
The commissioner further said that the government was committed to enforcing relevant building regulations and will deal decisively with anyone no matter how highly placed who flouts them.
“Government is committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure that this unprecedented event never happens again,” he said.
Also, Ukpong said that the panel of enquiry into the church building collapse was commencing work immediately.
He said, “We wish to restate, for the avoidance of doubt, that persons found culpable would face the full weight of the law irrespective of tribe, religion or status in the society.”
The state governor on Thursday, December 16 inaugurated an eight-member Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incident and make recommendations.
The commission headed by retired Justice Umoekeyo Essang was given three weeks from the first day of sitting to submit its report.
Safety professionals react
ASSE President, Nwaka, while condemning the incident, said it was a shame and a source of major concern to safety professionals in the country because it misrepresented them.
He made this known in a telephone chat with Safety Record Newspaper on Wednesday, December 13, few days after the incident.
“It is unfortunate. The incident of Uyo is quite a shame and it is a major concern to all safety professionals, especially to the American Society of Safety Engineers and all other engineers because it is only an indication of misrepresentation.
“As the President of American Society of Safety Engineers, I condemn this ugly incident, including the recent Edo fire outbreak. It is a shame. It is also a wake-up call to all safety professionals to be on their toes. We need to sit up to our responsibilities” he stated.
Speaking on the likely causes of the collapse, he noted, “I would say that it is either that there have been compromises or the wrong people have been used or they have not adhered to fundamental safety principles and rules or shortcuts have been applied.
“Like I said, it is a combination of several factors; policies and standards have been compromised and it has brought about a huge price to pay and it is quite sad.”
Nwaka also deplored the governor’s call for the arrest of the contractor handling the project, noting that Nigeria ought to move beyond the era of calling for the heads of contractors when things go round but should put systems in place to address the issues necessitating disaster.
He said, “I will say quite frankly that we have gone far beyond Governors and House of Assembly members calling for the heads of people who are involved in this act.
“We have organisations that are directly responsible for compliance. These organisations should handle their responsibilities.
“If safety professionals are also called upon to do their bit, you will see that there will be no compromises. Incidents like this will hardly be heard of. This goes beyond governors; it’s a systemic failure.
“There are organisations responsible for maintaining standards. These organisations should be empowered to do what they have to do. If that happens, we will have less of this kind of incidents occurring.”
Also speaking on the incident, Akwa Ibom ISPoN Chairman, Akalonu blamed the frequent cases of building collapse in the country on quackery.
In a Saturday, December 17 interview, he condemned the widespread use of quacks for building construction instead of qualified professionals and stressed that unless the practice is stopped, building collapse will continue.
He noted, “We tend to rely more on quacks. Quackery is the main thing in the country. The moment we start using real and seasoned professionals in all that we do, especially in the construction industry, is when we will start getting it right.”
Proffering a solution, Akalonu urged all prospective building owners to involve qualified structural engineers in every stage of the building construction.
He said, “What we need to do in order to prevent this constant collapse of buildings is to ensure that we use real structural engineers, structural engineers that are safety-biased.
“If we don’t have structural engineers that are seasoned, experienced and qualified, then we will continue to have issues.
“When you are building a house, there are times given for set out. There are times given for erections. There are times given for stabilisation of building. Even when you have finished building the house, building needs to stabilise also.
“Remember that we are placing a very heavy load on a surface. If these structural engineers don’t take their time to put these things where they are supposed to be, it is an issue.
“We have factors of safety in all that we do. Has anybody taken time to work out the factors of safety? Has anybody taken time to do the real soil analysis on where you are setting up these buildings? Has somebody taken time to check the quality of materials being used? Apart from the quality, what about the quantity? In a place where you need maybe 10 structural steel members, somebody will make do with six. What are you expecting? You are expecting a collapse.
“If a safety officer that has been trained or a safety engineer that is there knows about the bill of quantities, knows about the structural elements involved in design, then he can detect that there are lapses.
“But these people that go about – you will see somebody that studied business administration – will tell you that he is an engineer. People are cutting corners to make things kick for themselves.
“A business administrator is good in his own trained profession and a civil engineer is good in his own field. You can’t take a business administrator to come and be building house for you. It is wrong. So we need to put our acts together and ensure that we put in best practices in the industry as obtainable elsewhere in the world.”
He also called on the state government to ensure that the report of its panel of enquiry investigating the building collapse does not go the way of others before it.
The Akwa Ibom ISPoN Chairman said, “When buildings collapse, they set up investigations, they come up with recommendations and at the end of the day nothing happens.”
He added, “Again, after the investigation, we need to put holistic measures in place to follow those recommendations to conclusion. It should not be a paper exercise.”