The incidences of building collapse in Nigeria have become a great concern to authorities and stakeholders in the building industry. Many lives and properties have been lost in the collapse of buildings — mostly residential buildings. Many lives, including those of property owners, have been sent to their early graves because of a few actions and inactions of some individuals.
Despite the advancement in technology, cases of building collapse do occur in advanced countries and developing countries alike. But its occurrence is more in developing countries. Records show that building collapse in developed countries is less attributed to man-made causes. They are mostly due to natural disasters like earth tremors, flooding, wildfire, earthquakes and so on. In developing countries like Nigeria, man-made causes are usually the leading factors. There is the challenge to provide adequate shelter for numerous rural-urban migrants and this makes the cases of building collapse more in developing cities as a result of the influx of people trooping into these cities.
Usually, a combination of factors come into play when unravelling the cause of building collapse. But from many incidences, structural failure has become a major factor accounting for building collapses in Nigeria. By structural failure, it means the loss of the load-carrying capacity of a component or member within the building. Structural failure does occur when a design does not capture the actual loading conditions on a building. Such a design becomes defective and can lead to the collapse of the building.
Using inferior construction materials can also cause structural failure which in turn can make a building collapse. Since loads on a building are meant to be calculated bearing in mind materials of specific characteristics, the use of the wrong or substandard materials becomes a huge compromise. For instance, when a 16mm steel rod is used in place of a 20mm rod, or when bamboo is used as an alternative for steel reinforcement especially for permanent structures, it becomes a matter of time for the cookie to crumble. Even if the design is satisfactory, a building may still fail when the materials used are not the appropriate ones or when unskilled labour is employed for construction works.
Overzealous clients and their over interference on building contracts can lead to building collapse. These clients change contract documents and the scope of work of building projects at will. They usurp the role of the contractor and the contractor is left with no choice but to follow the client’s instruction hook, line and sinker just to keep his job to the detriment of safety.
Corruption, bribery and greed have also been a recurring decimal whenever the root causes of building collapse in Nigeria are investigated. Some building contractors, government officials and professionals in the building industry have been indicted in this regard. On most tragic occasions, they don’t come out smelling of roses. The contractor wants to minimize cost to the barest minimum, and so he buys substandard materials to divert some monies to his pocket. Sometimes, this is done in connivance with the shady structural Engineers and Architects. It is even saddening to see this happen when contractors are not owed any contract fee. Also, unscrupulous government officials sent to building sites to inspect materials will collect bribes from developers and end up compromising inspection results. The situation is indeed a grave one.
An Igbo adage is translated to mean, ‘when someone else’s corpse is being carried, it looks like a firewood.’ If you haven’t lost a close relative or friend through a building collapse, then, that adage may not make any meaning to you. Oftentimes, when the mainstream media report these incidences, they show no respect for the dead. They do not tell the true story. Sometimes, casualties are under-reported to save some heads from rolling.
On Monday, 1st November 2021, the month was heralded with the heart-wrenching news of the collapse of a 21-storey building located on Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos trapping scores of people while others were injured. Many were feared dead. The Ikoyi building collapse has been trending for over a week now and it has been plagued with a lot of controversies. One week after the collapse, there have been no fewer than 44 casualties from the debris and 15 survivors though there is still no official figure of how many people were in the building when it caved in.
This is a building that was meant to be an apartment with two other towers not as high as the 21-storey. The structure was said to be 80 per cent completed. It comprised four-bedroom maisonettes flats, duplex and penthouses, and was 65 per cent sold out according to Highbrow living Magazine. ‘The 20-floor strictly residential facility is the brain works of Fourscore Homes, evolving from a desire to build an original masterpiece. The concept is to have service flats in the three towers for residents to experience a stress-free lifestyle, complete with a hotel flair with a 360-degree view of Lagos state,’ the magazine reads.
The proprietor of the collapsed multi-storey building and the Managing Director of Fourscore Heights Limited, Femi Osibona, whom himself died in the tragedy had exhibited expertise in property development in the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa. Also, Nation newspapers reported that his real estate development firm is a member of the National Home Builders Regulation Council (NHBRC) in South Africa and Zurich Building Guarantee in Europe. Yet, there have been allegations that he used sub-standard materials and cheap labour to execute the gigantic project.
There’s been a lot of controversies all week regarding the ownership of the tragic property. SaharaReporters’ publication of November 4, 2021 reads, ‘Different sources on Tuesday told SaharaReporters that the landed property was bought by Osinbajo from Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, founder of Elizade Motors (Elizade Nigeria Limited) shortly after he became the Vice President. However, in a swift reaction, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo had vehemently denied any insinuations linking him to the ownership of the collapsed multi-storey building. Premiumtimes reported that he had also threatened legal actions against sources that made the allegation.
In an opinion article on Thisdaylive titled, ‘The unsolvable Jigsaw of the Ikoyi Tragedy,’ Dele Momodu, a journalist and writer says the late Femi Osibona, owner of Fourscore Homes and developer of the 21-storey building that collapsed was a cousin of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. One then begins to wonder if anyone can conveniently connect the dots because nobody seems to own anything in Ikoyi when accountability is needed. Does the N13billion found in an Ikoyi flat ring a bell? Ownership of properties in Ikoyi does appear to be shrouded in secrecy.
Meanwhile, a staff member of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) in the same November 4, 2021 publication told SaharaReporters thus, ‘I know the building is owned by a top government official, the man in question, Osibona was only fronting for the government official. We received an order from above to stop going to the site during monitoring. I heard the Vice President intervened when the project was sealed off early in the year but I can’t say maybe he is the owner. Don’t forget they are both from Ikenne in Ogun State.’ The report further disclosed that Gbolahan Oki, the General Manager of the agency was suspended.
Also, there have been controversies as regards how the building became 21-storeys. Conflicting stories have been heard between the Deputy Governor, Obafemi Hamzat and of course the suspended LASBCA boss, Gbolahan Oki. SaharaReporters again gathered that while Obafemi Hamzat claimed the owner of the collapsed building got approval for 21 floors, Gbolahan Oki maintained that the building got approval for a 15-storey and that the limit was exceeded. Mr Oki further alleged that the materials used were so inferior and terrible. However, the Deputy Governor would later disclose that the ill-fated building was sealed around June because of some abnormalities. ‘They were taking corrective actions when this (collapse) happened’ he said.
In a related development, Vanguard revealed that Femi Osibona, the deceased developer of the Ikoyi building which collapsed, ignored directives by the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority, LAPPA, to insure the structure. He failed to insure the liabilities associated with the construction of the building. Findings show that ‘a developer of any building above two floors shall insure his/her liability in respect of construction risks and submit a Certified True Copy, CTC, of such insurance policy certification with his/her development permit to LASBCA.’ Would this be a lesson for developers to take insurance frameworks seriously?
Well, amidst the tragedy and confusion, one good thing is that an investigative panel has been inaugurated by the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. While some Nigerians have lamented the barring of journalists from the panel, others have alleged that the panel is sworn under an oath of secrecy. So, they fear that the panel’s findings may never be made public. Some however commended the governor for the executive bill he signed to give legal backing to the panel during their period of sitting.
While it may not be appropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the inquest and the investigations of the panel, Nigerians expect the panel to leave no stone unturned. They expect a post-mortem to be carried on the bodies before they are released to their families. It is expected also that survivors of the building mishap should be made to stop talking to the media. They can potentially become witnesses and so, their identities and locations should be protected because it is gathered that Witness protection does not exist in Nigeria.
Nigerians want the six-member panel to be pretty professional and factual in their findings. This is the only way the circumstances surrounding the collapsed Ikoyi building can be demystified to bring all culprits to justice. This will prevent a recurrence of such tragedy.
Then, if the Lagos State government is truly sincere, those who own interests in the Ikoyi collapsed building must be known and investigated. No sacred cows. There should be accountability for the dead and families who lost their loved ones must be compensated. May the souls of those who died in the Ikoyi building tragedy rest in peace, amen. May God grant grieving families the strength to bear the loss and may He also grant speedy recovery to the injured.
About The Writer
Chukwuemeka Oluka writes in from Enugu, Nigeria. He is a passionate writer and a research enthusiast. He is also a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He tweets @mekus_oluka and can be reached via “firstname.lastname@example.org”