Building failure in Lagos
The collapse of a five-storey building under construction in Lekki Phase One, Lagos, the other day, which killed scores of people was yet another tragedy that could have been prevented had the appropriate state government authorities done their job.
The contractor and the developer too would have saved the nation such an agony had they complied with appropriate building regulations. Interestingly, only a few days later, another building failed in Ketu, killing a woman. These incidents enter the huge catalogue of collapsed buildings that now seem to define Lagos. And it is commendable that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has personally taken charge of efforts to stem this deadly trend.
There was outrage when the six-storey Synagogue Church building in Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos State, collapsed in September 2014, and killed at least 115 people, including 84 South Africans. That incident registered Nigeria in the consciousness of the international community as one country where shoddy adherence to building codes endangers lives at will. At the time, it was thought that the outrage over that tragedy would bring an end to such accidents. Alas, this has not been the case.
Although, Mr. Ambode, in the wake of the recent events, has appropriately sacked the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), and three others, to register the state government’s pain and displeasure over the loss of lives, the matter calls for further action to prevent any more tragedies.
This, probably, is the first time, in the history of buildings collapsing in Lagos State, when the officials who are responsible for regulations would be punished for negligence. It is a good gesture too that the contractor and owners of the collapsed structure have been arrested, while investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the collapse.
Mere sacking of officials without a determined effort to enforce all the building rules and regulations to curb the ugly incidents would, however, be meaningless.
A well-thought out systematic approach is what is needed to stem the case of buildings failing. Also, sealing off other parts of Lekki Gardens Estate and ordering the occupants to evacuate is an understandable instructive reaction, but the innocent families occupying those buildings deserve a kind consideration. Efforts should then be accelerated to cushion their pains while integrity tests are being done on the buildings as the living should not be put into undue stress while mourning the dead.
It is, however, pertinent to ask why the usual stability test was not carried out on all buildings before they were occupied. Arguably, the LASBCA did the same shoddy job in many other cases.
The five-storey Lekki Gardens building at roofing level collapsed without any warning before dawn, during an early morning rain storm. About 50 people, comprising mainly workers, were in the building when it caved in, out of which 30 lost their lives, while 12 were rescued alive.
Among the dead were a nursing young mother and her one month-old baby, who came to confirm that her husband had not been paid his salary. Her story also illustrated the pathetic poverty ravaging most Nigerians: a nursing mother had to go to a construction site so early in the morning, in the rain, to get some money from her husband, and in the process perished with her baby!
The building is said to have been originally designed for three storeys but the developer allegedly, without approval from the state Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, decided to raise it to six-storeys. Besides, the state regulatory authorities had reportedly once sealed off the building but the developer was alleged to have defiantly continued with the construction until the accident occurred.
Certainly, Lagos State has a serious challenge in its hands, even as there seems to be no solution in sight yet. The ineptitude in regulatory supervision, in ensuring that builders and developers comply with building code is responsible for the frequent building failures. The water-logged terrain of Lagos State places extra burden on the authorities with regard to building and other engineering structures. This is especially true for the Lekki area in particular. Experts say it is wrong to reclaim marshland and begin construction immediately. Instead, the reclaimed land should be allowed to stabilise over time. This is hardly ever observed in Lagos.
Besides, high-rise structures on reclaimed surfaces, which is tantamount to building on water, again requires special expert engineering attention. Unfortunately, contractors and builders collude with regulatory agency officials to cut corners in order to save cost and thereby endanger the lives of members of the public.
The time has come for the Lagos State Government to rise to the challenge and find a lasting solution to the live-ruining spectacle of failing buildings.