Lagos Govt: Way out of building collapse challenge

“We’ve promised to be open and thorough in investigating the cause of the collapse. In that regard, I have set up a high-powered professional investigative panel whose membership consists of professionals outside of the government.”

‘’Engineering geologists are not usually involved in the building foundation studies and estate development beyond simple soil tests. Yet many of the buildings are located on poor, faulty ground; those with expansive soils, sulphate soils, collapsing soils and weak rocks.’’

-Prof. Siyan Malomo (then Director-General, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency).

The poignant and thought-provoking statement, as posted above was made when the respected civil engineer was the Guest Lecturer at the Maiden edition of the Annual Lecture series of the College of Engineering, Bells University of Technology, Ota on May 2, 2012. It istherefore, painful to note that years after the warnings were given about the menace of building collapse they are yet to be heeded by policy makers and even some professionals.

Beyond the blame-game, what is critical has to do more with the value we place on human life and the full protection thereof. And it is all because life is precious, pricelessand irreplaceable. We must therefore, do everything possible by taking pro-active and pragmatic actions to reduce its wanton waste by the agents of greed.

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Building collapse

The recurring ugly decimal of building collapse was brought to the public sphere again on the black Monday of November 1,2021 at about 3 pm with the collapse of the 21-storey building at Gerrard Road, Ikoyi,Lagos state. Ever since, it has been tales of sorrows, tears and blood.

In fact, as at the time of putting this piece together not less than 20 lives have been wasted.Some of the victims, lucky to be alive, including a youth corps member, Zainab Oridamola were making strident calls to family members for rescue. And it took the protest by some of those family members for 10 young men to be selected to join the rescue team. That was after the South-West Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye appealed for calm from the agitators.

Perhaps, they would all have been still alive but for the stiff deafness to heed the voice of reason by the construction firm, Prowess Engineering Limited. It had allegedly warned the owner of the facility, Fourscore Heights Limited of the dangers ahead.

That was in February 2020, when it withdrew its services on grounds that it no longer shared the same vision with its client as addressed in the letter titled, ‘Re: Proposed Gerrard Terraces For Fourscore Limited,’ and signed by the company’s managing director, Muritala Olawale. In precise term Prowess stated that: “We couldn’t guarantee the integrity of the third (collapsed building) from anything above the fourth floor.”

Simply put, one hates preventable death of any kind. Unfortunately, they keep unfolding at alarming rates, especially here in Nigeria day after day.According to media reports, when the building under construction collapsed some 50 workers were feared trapped under the rubbles. Emergency responders had to work all-night under the floodlight, deploying the available eight cranes in the rescue operation, according to the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu.

Of critical importance here are the lasting lessons we all should learn from the clearly avoidable tragedy, the best strategies to be adopted to reduce the recurrence of such mishaps since issues such as this have happened before. According to Prof.Malomo, the scourge of the collapse of buildings and bridges in the country could have been long prevented if geologists in the universities, who are actively involved in soil researchare called upon before such projects were embarked upon.

He made specific reference to the vital roles and inputs made by geologists drawn from the then University of Ile- Ife, now called Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria for the groundworks before the take-off of the Federal CapitalTerritory (FCT). Such involvement formed the basis for the location of the solid infrastructures including buildings, roads and airport in Abuja.

Quoting reports carried out by NGSA for over a decade-between June 16, 1990 and January 29,2012-about 500 avoidable deaths were recorded while over 1,000 victims sustained injuries of various degreeswithin the period under review. Between then and now, series of similar mishaps have claimed more lives with many more sustaining serious injuries at different places across the country. This simply means that we have said more than we have done towards stemming the tide of the menace of building collapse.

Some other factors responsible for it are poor construction practice and choice of building materials, including the quality of cement, iron rods and laterite. But it does not take rocket science for one to understand that soil texture plays a significant role in all of this. For instance, Lagos being an aquatic environment with sandy soil would definitely require more solid building materials than for similar structures in the rocky hinterland. We must learn from history.

It would be recalled that onMarch 20, 2019it was reported thatthe thenstate governor, Akinwunmi Ambode inaugurated a five-man committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the immediate and remote cause(s) of the collapsed three-storey building on 63 Massey Street, Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island, which claimed 20 lives, including school children.TheLASG also directed the owner, developer of the ill-fated property to appear before the panel or face sanction.

According tothe former Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye residents should assist the government by exposing any building with signs of distress across the state.

In fact, the current Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Oludeserves commendation for cutting short his official trip to Rome, to return and exhibit the spirit of compassion with families of the victims of the collapsed building. That shows the humanist quality in him.

Beyond that, he has set up a six-man independent investigation teamwith the President of Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP), President of Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Toyin Ayinde, as the chairman of the panel, while Ekundayo Onajobi, a lawyer in private law firm, is the Secretary. Its mandate is to probe the remote and immediate causes of the collapse of the 21-storey building and has 30 days to submit its report. It is also good to note that the list comprises of a professional builder, town planner, structural engineer and legal practitioners – all from the private sector.

The panel’s terms of reference also include ascertaining whether there was a compromise of the building codes by the developer, his contractor and statutory regulatory agencies.Already, the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Arc. Gbolahan Oki, has been suspended indefinitely by the governor.

According to the Deputy Governor, Dr.Kadri Hamzat who paid a visit to the site of the collapsed building, from now on buildings under construction in Lagos state will be subjected to the Structural Integrity Test for appropriate action.

Also, the suggestion by the state police commissioner for more rescue personnel to be employed, trained and equipped with relevant equipment for prompter intervention should be taken into consideration.

What is of utmost importance is for Gov. Sanwo-Olu to ensure, as he has promised the families of the victims, that the full wrath of the law would be brought on anyone found to have compromised. This will certainly serve as deterrence to others with similar inclination to bend the rules for material gains.

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