‘Lack of adequate monitoring fueling building collapse’

Solomon Ogunseye

The Chairman, Lagos chapter of Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), SOLOMON OGUNSEYE has heaped the blame on the incessant tragedies on several factors, including lack of a National Building Code. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the recent approval of the code by the Federal Government and other issues.

The Federal Executive Council recently approved the National Building Code. With Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) mandate including to enforce the code, how do you see the review and approval of this document?
I think the approval is one of the best things that can ever happen to this country because before now, people are just building anything they want without any law. You can’t build anything in London or in the United States without adhering to their specifications. The building code actually specifies what you are going to do, what you are supposed to do in the building industry. So the building code as approved by the council will make adhering to norms and practices in the built environment.

Can this renewed effort, rev up the mandate of your association?
Yes, because it has alerted people to know their responsibility. In Britain, you cannot just go and do anything without knowing the implication of what you are doing. My institute, Nigeria Institute of Architect participated in all process in ensuring that we have a very standard building code.

Building collapse has continued to be a recurring decimal despite public outcry. What remedy will you be advocating to address this malaise?
The objective of BCPG is to make sure we have zero tolerance for collapse buildings in the whole of the federation, especially in Lagos state. That is why we have all professionals in the building environment in our midst. We have been telling government that they should not engage quacks parading themselves as architects and engineers in whatever projects they want to engage because there is no other way to do that. We have been involved in advocacy visits to agencies of government, especially in Lagos state on the need to collaborate with us so that they can actually see the progress and achieve the zero tolerance. Lagos state don’t’ have enough staff for monitoring, we are just complementing their efforts as an NGO. Lagos state governor has actually been helpful by making sure that professionals are employed in agencies like the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), and the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. For instance, at LASBCA, there are professionals but not enough to do work. BCPG have ceils in all the 57 local councils including the LCDAs. We have our coordinators in these areas in order to actualize zero tolerance for building collapse in line with Lagos State Government policy.

In way is the guild ensuring that building control mechanism is adopted in the country?
Not that the building control is not there, but people are just actually going against it with impunity. We have professionals to handle supervisions but it is not only when people have the approvals. It is necessary to sit down and actually monitor them during the construction, during every stage of work. The professionals must have to sign every state of work. You can control the collapse of building by adhering to that very standard. You will agree with me that some people will actually have an approval on a land but what they built on it is different. That is the reason why we are saying that there is need for collaboration to monitor those with approvals in order to have a very perfect control of physical developments.

The professional bodies in the built environment seem not to have a meeting point to harmonise it affairs. What ways will you be advocating to stabilize the sector?
That is a wrong impression. I was at the meeting of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) the other day in Abuja. There is a good cooperation among professionals. What we are saying is that we need monitoring of activities in the built environment. APBN is not only for construction professionals, it covers all the segments of professionalism, doctors, engineers, architects and lawyers. The harmonization, you are talking about is what APBN has generated among professionals in the country. The body is in a position to advise the federal government on what to do.

What roles do you think that regulatory agencies in the sector and Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) can play in mitigating incidences of building collapse?
SON has been doing a great work but I think they should do more. People are still bringing in bad building materials into the country. They should periodically go into all the areas to check even our local manufacturers because we are have local materials that are sub standard. SON has responsibility of regulating their activities. I believe that they should add more impetus, maybe they are short staffed, they should be properly staffed to empower them search everywhere because local materials are being produced here and most of them are substandard. SON has tried its best but within their limit of what they have, I believe that with new improvement we will be able solve the problems.

Just as you said, a lot of building substandard building materials always find its way into the market.

How do we regulate building materials or equipment to curtail building collapse?
For any construction going on there are norms, fortunately, Lagos state has set up building materials testing laboratories. Are people aware of it, of course they are not aware, they still go and continue to build without testing their materials. In every stage of work, you have to test your materials, either blocks or iron rods. SON can also monitor the production of these things by going into their factories, and make them comply with quality standards. I believe, these are the things SON can do. SON has standards, they actually put into consideration all these quality of materials but our local people, being what they are, still cut corners, you see 6mm road and they will tell you it is 8mm. That is why you have to actually carry out this test so that people will have value for their money. No matter what SON is doing, Nigerians are so much disgusted they want to sell their product at a very big profit therefore they cut corners. So, SON has to go into the factories, to make them adhere to quantity control in such a way that before the material get out they will do a certification on it.

What type of sanctions do you recommend for developers and professionals that aid building collapse?
When you give your projects to a quack, you don’t know how to trace him. We had a seminar for developers last year, when I questioned one of the directors, he told me that most of these developers you see are not registered, to be able to pin them down, you have to register first. Architects and engineers are registered. If anybody actually cut corners then their professional bodies know how to deal with them. You cannot lay hold of people who are not registered. So, the professional bodies can step up to be able to pin them down, they have their own way of punishing any professional.

The guild elected you as the chairman of the Lagos branch, how do you hope to drive the body to ensure that you live up to the expectation of the body?
We want to collaborate with all the organs of Lagos state government that deals with building to tackle the issue of quacks in the built industry. I will be doing a lot of seminars, training because there is need for us to retrain professionals in such a way as to add value to their professions.



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