Innocent Uche is the managing director of Eldorado Construction and Allied Services, which specialises in architecture, design, and building construction, in this interview with Godsgift Onyedinefu, he speaks on many challenges in the building industry leading to several cases of building collapse in Nigeria. Excerpts:
On the issue of building collapse, what is your take on that problem in Nigeria? And how do you think building can be done better to save lives and enhance aesthetics?
Some engineers want a shortcut to success, they don’t want to follow due process. In every organisation, there is a due process that you should follow, you cannot just start a building without due process. Before you break the ground, you have to do the due diligence to confirm the soil test which is normally called a topographic test. You have to do the test to be certain, and you will have to confirm the quality of the material you will use.
Now, I don’t want to criticise the organisation before they come for me, but the organisation is not doing the right thing which they are supposed to be doing. In Gwarimpa, I see some houses which have decayed. There was a particular one that was built last year, but now the plaza has cracked, and the same person who has that plaza had a collapsed building in the same Gwarimpa earlier this year. So who supervised that particular building? who is the ministry or the organisation that approved the design of that building and who is the structural engineer who supervised the building?
So for us to avoid such a thing, the organisation needs to work harder. Having a certificate doesn’t make you a professional, but being able to know what you have to do makes you a professional. For us at Eldorado, we have a way we run things, we cannot just collect your job and start doing it. First of all, we will request your survey layouts, then we’ll carry out a topographic test which will determine how the foundation will be. But, to be honest with you, I am certain that a lot of people build houses because they believe they are above the law and can put any structure and those in authority cannot question them. Maybe their brother, uncle, or cousins are in government, they will just build a house without the required approval. This is one of the reasons some houses collapse.
Also, when a structural engineer gives you instructions, don’t go against it. You must consult him, that’s why he is there. Imagine if a structural engineer and the architect signed for two floors, and you try to extend it to five floors, that is greed and one of the reasons buildings collapse. It might not be at the moment, but as time passes, all the weight of the tiles, windows, and doors, will cause the building to collapse.
So like I said, the only way to reduce the risk of building collapse is that the ministry and the engineers should be truthful. They shouldn’t be greedy or accept a low-quality or low-priced job. Imagine someone collecting N50 million for two-decking including labour and material. The person will find means to cut costs and get profit and will end up giving a very terrible finishing. That is why I said that the ministry has to work harder. I know they can’t be everywhere but any building that doesn’t have approval should be taken down. That is my suggestion.
The issue of housing affordability is an industry and national challenge, do you sell properties, and what do you think should be affordable housing?
As I said, Eldorado Construction and Allied Services Limited specialises in architectural design and finishing. We don’t build for real estate because we’re not real estate developers yet. The government which is supposed to be the number one leader in this particular aspect of housing cost in Nigeria is not helping matters. The statistics of poverty in Nigeria are high and several people just want to see where they can lay their heads. Sometimes they go to a government-owned land and build a house, but the government will demolish the house without any alternative.
If you go to Egypt, you will see high-rise buildings, we call it condos, and tower houses. But you can’t build these houses here because the light to power the lift is not there. The water cannot even go up. If you go to Turkey, you’ll see houses with 15 floors, and the government helps the people with the mortgage facilities. However Nigerian mortgage banks are only working with real estate developers who refuse to use the mortgage facility aspect to help the less privileged, and the government is not paying attention.
So, to be honest with you, I’m not a politician and I don’t tend to be one, but the only way we can help that is for the Federal government to put rules and regulations on real estate developments because real estate owners don’t have regulation here, they do whatever they wish. For instance, in an area, you can buy a house for N50 million, and another person will sell the same type of house in the same area for N150 million because there are no rules or regulations. How can we build affordable houses when there’s no regulation? For us the private sector, we can’t create affordable buildings, I won’t even promise you it is going to work because I can only build where I will make a profit unless the government gives me approval for real estate development for the communities or rural areas or villages. This is my position for now on affordable housing.
What are the major challenges you see in the building industry in Nigeria?
We have a lot of challenges in Nigeria, number one is sourcing materials. 75 percent of materials are imported because the local ones are not well finished. The only few local materials that I would personally tell you are of high quality are the electric wires, for example, it is 100 percent high quality.
Also, some doors made in Nigeria often start to shake after they are installed; the quality of Nigerian tiles is low. If you put the door in a very busy area it starts to peel off. Nigeria still produces substandard tiles, yet the price is not cheap.
So, if we try to source the materials abroad, the clearing fee will make you run mad. The only thing we’re getting in Nigeria is cement, sand, granite, and the labourers. Cement costs N 5,200 per bag. I bought a trailer load a few days ago at almost N5m. So in building construction, we’re facing a hell lot of challenges. Cement is high, sand is high, everything is high in the market, and everybody fixes prices anyhow he wishes.
You are also forced to increase the wage of your labourers from N2,000 to N3,000 because if they go to the market and are no longer able to afford the food, they will start crying. I wish there would be a forum where people can hear us speak, to understand the challenges we are facing.
In addition, we don’t have an organisation that controls our markets in the building industry, so it affects us very badly. Furthermore, because of the price of things, people need to survive first before they can think of building. So currently, it is survival of the fittest in the industry. If you don’t have contact or if God has not blessed you, you will be facing a lot of challenges in getting a client to release the funds to you to do anything.
What is your projection for the building industry in Nigeria, in another five years?
Currently, we still have mud houses, you’ll see them if you travel through Kogi. In the far north, they still use raffia palm to build. This makes Nigeria’s progress still far from where we want to be. We are still an underdeveloped country, and the development of Nigeria is still on its way. Remember, the building industry provides shelter and beautifies the city. Without us, you can’t have the beauty of a city. So, the building industry in Nigeria still has wide opportunities for everybody to thrive and excel.
In five years to come, if the economy becomes stable and makes sense, things will work perfectly. There are lots of opportunities and in five years, things will be better and more youths are coming up to join the race.