Building Regulatory Agencies have turned Construction Monitoring into gold mine – Awobodu

Immediate past President, Nigerian Institute of Building, and an ex-President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Mr Kunle Awobodu, speaks to ADEPEJU ADENUGA on the collapse of the 21-storey building in Ikoyi, Lagos, and housing deficit in the country, among others

A lot has been said about building collapse in Nigeria, especially with the recent 21-storey building collapse at Ikoyi, Lagos, what is your view on this?

Words could fail an active participant in the building industry when such a tragedy befell a nation suddenly. Having been on that site for two days monitoring the rescue operation and the process of dismantling the collapsed structure, extracting mangled bodies from under the rubble, and getting the bereaved to identify the corpses in a grim and stench-filled atmosphere was an experience that dampens the morale of a construction professional. Why should the building profession be desecrated, polluting the serene environment of Ikoyi, the pride of a nation? Honestly speaking, this is the mightiest building collapse in Nigeria’s history.

We must do more to prevent building collapse. We cannot continue to punish people unduly. Occupants must stay in the buildings and feel safe. The psychological resonance of those, who are potential buyers of high rise apartments and those who are in the process of purchasing apartments will have a second thought. This incident alone will affect real estate business; those who are in the process of getting buyers will suffer low patronage. Those who are already living in high rise buildings in Ikoyi, especially with the recent one, will not be feeling comfortable.

With what I saw on Friday, I was almost saying the government should make it a law that high rise buildings should no longer be constructed, because accidents in high rise buildings cause massive damages. If our competence and expertise for high rise buildings are not fully convincing in the area of performance, the construction of high rise buildings should be suspended. A nation that can’t boast of adherence to high standards of building construction should not venture into the construction of multi-storey buildings.

What are the causes of building collapse?

We have highlighted those factors over and over again. All the causes of building collapse, including poor workmanship, substandard building materials and design errors, boil down to incompetence or what I will call quackery. If a right person is put there to handle the building process, then competence should not be an issue. Competent architects should design the building and the drawings should pass through the Ministry of Physical Planning’s assessment and come out successfully and given to the owners of the building, the next step is who is going to construct the building? That is where the problem lies mostly.

The Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development should be mindful of the fact that their work should not stop at vetting documents; they should go further to identify who will handle the construction. They should go further to certify the competence of those who will execute the construction of the building. That is the missing gap.

There are so many quacks out there, who call themselves engineers. The name, site engineer, has been bastardised. If anyone calls himself/herself a site engineer, you need to find out what they studied? Clients should go further to be inquisitive. When a building collapses, it is a colossal waste of resources. Nobody in his right senses should be careless to allow charlatans to superintend over their buildings.

Setting up a building control agency is right by the government. On every site, there should be a professional trained in building construction, who should be held accountable; it is that person that the monitoring officer follows up with. Until we understand the process, we will unnecessarily burden the monitoring officers. There is also the problem of safety; if you give jobs to artisans directly, you are committing suicide, because their commitment to the work is low. If there is no proper construction team, professional errors will appear. That’s why the education of a builder is versatile.

One key issue raised in the case of the Ikoyi building is the alleged alteration of the plan from 15 to 21 storeys. Why was it possible for the developers to ignore getting a permit to make the change?

About this building that has just collapsed, an investigative panel has just been set up. This panel will find out who among the professionals were involved. We have not concluded that no professional was involved in the project. What we are saying is that any registered professional, for instance any registered builder, involved in the project will be held liable. We don’t have details of who is involved yet.

There have been a lot of speculations about the approval; we have not seen the approval, but the panel can ask the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development to present the approval plans in its procession. That is what can be used to answer this peculiar question. How many people have seen the actual drawings approved by the ministry? Until they say this is the approved one given to the company called Fourscore Homes, we won’t know the truth.

Beyond just approving plans, should the government focus on monitoring buildings under construction and enforce existing laws?

What we are saying is simple; there is a difference between monitoring and quality control. The government cannot employ workers to sit perpetually on another person’s site except that person is going to pay the government staff members. The government employees, who are monitoring construction sites, are not sufficient for the job. When they get to a site and seal it off, before they get back to the site, it will take them another couple of days. Meanwhile, those who are developing have already broken the seal and continue with their work.

This is the problem we are facing all over. People too are not obeying laws. Impunity is a great problem in our building industry. Some of these people will employ street urchins to protect their sites. When monitoring officers come to the location, they are harassed. Before you can bring enforcement that is centrally located, it will take a lot of days. Before then, substandard development would have taken place. We are deceiving ourselves if we think monitoring officers, who are to check adequacy of structure on site for the construction work, will turn to quality control/assurance officers.

What monitoring officers should do is to identify professionals to be held responsible for what happens to the project. That is why we need a project board on the site, which shows adequate information about the different professionals involved. For the collapsed Ikoyi building, the addresses of the professional firms were not on the board and the phone numbers were looking suspicious; the information on the board was not transparent.

Some of these agencies have been turned into revenue generating agencies whereby their target is on contraventions. So, when they monitor round, because they already have the target to deliver, they are more concerned about how to generate money. It is ironic that their prayer is that let people contravene, so that we make more money. That is also a problem; they have been turned to tax collectors. Even developers begin to cheat on building processes with the intention of paying charges for contraventions. In the process of generating revenue, they are encouraging infringement.

The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has refuted the claim that there was no housing deficit in Nigeria. What is your view on this?

The answer is obvious. How many graduates are being churned out by our institutions of higher learning yearly? You can get that through the National Youth Service Corps data. Every graduate that comes out is a potential family man. Once you get married, you must have a comfortable apartment for a young couple. When you multiply such young couples’ apartments all over the country per annum with the number of apartments constructed in the country per annum, you will discover that there are housing shortages.

That’s just an example of graduates, not to talk about other sectors of the population. So, what the minister is saying is that when you construct a building and patronage is not as regular as expected, you may be tempted to draw a conclusion that maybe there is no serious shortage. The minister may not be considering purchasing power of individuals that are supposed to own their apartments. Many people are squatting; many graduates are still married in their parents’ homes. That’s a simple analogy.

Source: African Housing News

Compare listings