Building collapse investigations and lack of open measures

On Monday, November 1, 2021, at about 2:45pm, a 21-storey building still under construction located at 20, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, collapsed, killing 42 people including the owner, Femi Osibona, who was managing director of Fourscore Heights Limited.

On Thursday, four days after the collapse, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, inaugurated a six-member panel of inquiry headed by Toyin Ayinde, the president of the National Institute of Town Planners, to investigate the cause(s) of the collapse of the building.

It was alleged that the building was originally planned for 15 storeys. On January 5, 2022, the panel submitted its findings with, perhaps, far-reaching recommendations.

This reinforces our belief that governments at both federal and state levels lack will-power or the political will to address the issue of building collapse, even with its waste of human and material resources

Thereafter, Sanwo Olu set up a four-man sub-committee headed by the commissioner for special duties, Tayo Bamgbose-Martins, for the implementation of the report. It is believed that if implemented, it would help the government to bring lasting solutions to incidents of building collapse, not only in Lagos State, but nationally.

There has been more building collapse in Lagos State, particularly. And any time this incident happens, an investigation panel is set up to usually find the cause and probably recommend punishments.

In March, 2016, a five-storey building belonging to Lekki Gardens Estate Limited and located at Elegushi in Lagos also collapsed, killing about 35 people. While investigation on the collapse of the building was on, the managing director of the estate, Richard Nyong, was immediately arrested by Lagos State government led by Akinwunmi Ambode for defiance as the initial plan of the building was three storeys as alleged.

Nyong and one of his contractors, Taiwo Odofin, were later granted bail by Chief Magistrate Afolashade Botoku of an Ebute Meta Court. She ordered that the duo should report at the State Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Department (SCIID) Panti-Yaba, until the police investigations were concluded. She asked them to submit their international passports and should not travel out of the country until the case was concluded.

These two cases are not the only building collapse incidents in Lagos. There are many others in both Lagos and other states. In some, investigations followed thereafter, after loss of lives and materials.

Some of the common factors identified in building collapse in the country, especially in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt by various investigations include use of poor materials, incompetent building professionals, faulty design, foundation failures and corruption.

Investigations, we believe, also make recommendations to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges. We think that where poor materials and incompetent engineers, architects and others, rather than natural factors are established, such incidents should attract appropriate punishments on the developers and professionals if they fail to follow due process.

Read also: Building failure: Lagos, experts mull domestication of nat’l building code

Surprisingly, while state governments and agencies are quick to announce and inaugurate investigating panels in public glare after buildings collapse to unravel the causes, the report of the investigations, implementations and punishments become a matter which very little is known or understood afterwards.

Also, very little is heard about compensations to the families of the victims of building collapse, especially when such an incident is induced by human rather than natural factors. It is not yet clear what actions Sanwo-Olu’s government has taken on the collapsed 21-storey building in Ikoyi in addition to the inauguration of the investigating panel, receipt of their report and the subsequent setting up of a sub-committee on implementation.

This reinforces our belief that governments at both federal and state levels lack will-power or the political will to address the issue of building collapse, even with its waste of human and material resources.

We are however not unaware of efforts at both federal and state government levels to check building collapse, which is not peculiar to Nigeria. But we want them to do more because, in our view, their best so far is not good enough.

We, therefore, suggest that all actions in the process of ending building collapse, including investigation, implementation, compensation and punishment should follow the same degree of noise generated whenever buildings collapse.

The implementation of panel reports and the subsequent punishment, we believe, will build up confidence and give assurance to the public that measures are not swept under the carpet. When this happens, developers anywhere will take appropriate and standard steps in building and construction on the understanding that the axe is capable of falling on any of them that errs.

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