Building collapse is, undoubtedly, one of the most frequent causes of death, serious injuries, and property damage in Nigeria today. Although the menace is an aged phenomenon, it has increased at an alarming rate in recent times.
Whenever building collapse in Nigeria is mentioned, the incidence of 12 September 2014 comes readily to mind. On the 12th of September 2014, what seemed like the World Trade Centre 9/11 tragedy struck Nigeria. On that fateful day, activities were going on as usual in the ever-busy metropolitan city of Lagos. All of a sudden, a large undulating mass of dust and flames billowed the premises of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN) and its environs: a six-storey guesthouse belonging to the church collapsed completely to the ground. The number of casualties stood around 113 to 150. Professional fact-checkers from British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) gathered that 115 deaths were recorded in the disaster. In the aftermath of the building collapse, the then church overseer, Mr. TB Joshua alleged that a plane spotted above the building moments before it collapsed necessitated the disaster. And that it dropped some substance on the building. On the contrary, a report of the panel instituted to investigate the cause of the incident revealed it was due to multiple structural deficiencies.
Alas, the event was not the first incident of building collapse in Nigeria but it was historic for several reasons: it involved several nationalities including 84 South Africans; the casualties were many; it was a faith-based house where the quality and standard of building were never expected to be compromised.
Given these unique facts, it sparked a lot of criticisms and brought the menace of building collapse in Nigeria to the global limelight. Consequently, state and federal governments agreed to institute more measures that would tame the severity of building collapse in the country. Also, there was assurance that those found culpable for the incident including the church’s founder, TB Joshua, alongside engineers that constructed the building would be charged to court. Furthermore, during that period, a lot of solutions on how to avert the reoccurrence of building collapse rocked the media.
With this rave, anyone could think that the SCOAN incident would stand pole-high as a rainbow signpost for the end of building collapse in Nigeria, but on the contrary, it seemed to have made no difference after all.
Constant Building Collapse in Nigeria: Causes, Effects, and Solutions
The Current State of Play & the Damages
“Building Collapse in Nigeria assuming embarrassing dimension”—Daily Post Nigeria; “Nigeria Ikoyi building collapse: Race to find survivors”—BBC; “Building Collapse in Lagos, death toll raises to 10”—Premium Times Nigeria, “Buhari laments the frequent building collapses in Nigeria”—Pulse Nigeria. “Eight Dead, 23 Rescued in Nigeria Building Collapse”—Voice of America; “Two dead, three injured as building collapses in Kano”—The Nation…etc.
These and many more are some of the headlines used this month—May 2022—to report the devastating news of incessant building collapse across Nigeria. No doubt, the menace has assumed an embarrassing dimension and the consequences are far-reaching. According to a report cited by Brookings Institution, Nigeria ranks number one in the frequency and intensity of building collapse in Africa. It also revealed that the spate of building collapse has displaced more than 6,000 households with an estimated total loss of $3.2 trillion worth of property.
On the same pedestal, statistics from the GUARDIAN Newspaper stated that from 1974 to July 2021, over 461 buildings have collapsed in Nigeria with over 1,090 deaths recorded and many injured. Narrowing it down, it further stated that within the covered timeframe, Lagos recorded over 295 cases, Abuja 16, Oyo, 16, Anambra 15, Kano 9, Ondo 10, Abia 9, Kwara 8, Rivers 8, Delta 8, Enugu 7, Ogun 7, Plateau 6, Kaduna 6, Edo 6, Imo 5, Osun 5, Benue 3, Adamawa 3, and Ebonyi 3. Others are Niger 2, Kebbi 2, Ekiti 2, Cross River 2, Sokoto 1, Bauchi 1, Akwa-Ibom 1, Kogi 1 and Katsina 1.
Worst still, these are only according to the “official record” in a country where accurate data is as scarce as white tigers in the wild. Notwithstanding, these statistics are not just mere numbers, each represents a human life! Yet, from that July 2021 to date, the figures have kept compounding.
Causes of Building collapse in Nigeria
As it is said, there is no smoke without fire. This sad reality did not spring forth suddenly like Jack in the box. Its causes are well-known. Several studies have traced the root causes of building collapse in Nigeria to include: Use of substandard building materials, Poor workmanship, Poor construction and non-adherence to approved building plans, Alterations of approved building permits, Lack of maintenance of buildings, and Poor enforcement of compliance and safety policies. Let’s contextualize them further:
Use of substandard building materials
There are loads of fake materials, especially cement and Steel rods, also known as reinforcements, circulating in the Nigerian market. Many buy them unknowingly. However, some also procure it in a bid to save fund which in the long run amounts to “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish”. Similarly, in some situations, the standard measurements of the building materials are compromised to save cost. For instance, using a bag of cement to mold more blocks than it is specified.
The use of unskilled and unqualified personnel for building construction is another major cause of building collapse in Nigeria. Poor workmanship metamorphoses into quick deterioration of buildings which leads to unsafe structures and causes them to crumble over time.
Poor construction and non-adherence to approved building plans
Several buildings have collapsed due to poor construction and non-adherence to approved building plans. In some cases, it has been reported that buildings were built without obtaining a building permit from the appropriate authorities, while in others; developers did not follow approved plans when constructing buildings. Inadequate quality control measures by developers during construction also contribute to this problem. This was the case for the 21-storey building that collapsed in Ikoyi, Lagos State on 1st November 2021. The owner of the collapsed building was approved to build only 15 floors but went ahead to erect a 21-story mansion, which the foundation couldn’t carry.
Alterations of approved building permits
Similar to the above point, another common cause of building collapse in Nigeria is alterations of approved building permits by developers. Sometimes they may want to add more rooms or change the size of the structure by making it bigger than what was originally assessed by authorities. A prime example is the SCOAN 12th September 2014 event. The collapsed building was found to have altered the initial structure and added more floors. An alteration of approved building permits mounts extra weight and much pressure on the support beams and foundation of the exciting building which are not strong enough for such an increase in load capacity.
Lack of maintenance of buildings
Negligence of buildings is also an important factor in building collapse in Nigeria. Buildings that are not maintained or renovated over time tend to fall into disrepair and become unsafe for occupants. This can be especially true if they were poorly built from the start. Without regular maintenance checks by qualified workers, it’s difficult for owners to identify problems until they become too severe to ignore.
Poor enforcement of compliance and safety policies
To ensure that buildings are built in compliance with best practices, both state and federal governments have enunciated laws and agencies to guide and monitor building construction activities. For instance, there is the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning (NURP) Law (decree 88 of 1992) which metes out heavy sanctions for anyone found culpable of not adhering to standard practices. Then, there is also the National Urban Development Law of 2006 which is aimed at promoting efficient monitoring of building development in the country; the 2018 National Building Code by the Federal Government equally sets minimum standards for pre-design, design, construction, and post-construction stages to ensure quality, safety, and proficiency in the building industry… and many more. Sadly, however, those laws are rarely enforced. Again, most of the building construction regulatory agencies are managed by greedy and bribe-seeking administrators with a penchant to accept bribery from developers who are unwilling to pay and bypass regulations.
The way forward
There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can completely eliminate the menace of building in Nigeria. Given the pervasive nature of the factors orchestrating the disaster, a viable solution must be consolidated at a point of convergence between the citizens, professional bodies, and the government. Now, the poser is: what collective roles should be played?
First up, to combat the influx of sub-standard building materials in Nigeria, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) should double its efforts to curb the production and sale of such substandard products. Such an initiative would require close cooperation and assistance from Nigerian architects, builders, engineers, project managers, quantity surveyors, and estimators.
Again, and very importantly, Nigerians must begin to realize that hiring the services of untrained construction workers and purchasing inferior building materials may cost them their lives. Hence, individuals should seek qualified professionals to build their houses, and purchase high-quality building materials. Nonetheless, post-construction building maintenance must never be neglected.
Furthermore, with all sense of seriousness and commitment, government agencies in charge of building construction regulation and supervisory should be called to action. There should be proper enforcement of regulatory laws coupled with incorruptible supervision at every stage of building to avoid cutting corners. Also, no matter whose ox is gored, anyone found wanting for flouting building standards and regulations should be made to fully face the wrath of the law to serve as deterrence to others.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the menace of building collapse in Nigeria has taken a very unacceptable dimension. If actions are not collectively taken, its scourge will continue to spawn gloomy tales of pain, death, and perennial loss of properties. The reality remains that as humans, we all depend on houses for shelter. Hence, anyone could be a victim of a building collapse at any time. All hands need to be on deck. If precautionary measures are taken at the individual, institutional and governmental levels, the reoccurring incidence of building collapse and its heart-wrenching scourges will be nipped in the bud.