The Synagogue: Indictment of professionals stirs controversy over building control

ALTHOUGH real estate professionals involved in the construction of the collapsed section of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), have been indicted and recommended for prosecution, controversy has continued to trail building control in Lagos.

All along, the common refrain in built environment has been that it is of a necessity to employ the services of professionals to ensure save building and live-able environment.

In every gathering, be it of the architects, engineers, town planners, builders, emphasis is always placed on their respective roles as the custodian of safe environment.

But the recent indictment of an ‘architect’, whose membership with the Nigerian Institute of Architect (NIA) could not be confirmed as at press time, put a huge moral burden on the association’s stance against “unprofessional conduct”.

Besides, the contractor in question, government officials, whose role is that of oversight in construction industry, have become issues of concerned to stakeholders in building sector.

In Nigeria, building failures have been attributed to so many factors ranging from the use of substandard materials, poor workmanship, low quality of blocks, concrete and other factors. While some stressed that building failures are attributed to design faults, lapses on construction site and product failure, others categorized the following as major causes of structural failures: environmental changes, natural and man-made hazards; improper presentation and interpretation in the design and essentially, use of non-professionals in building construction.

However, from the Coroner’s Inquest that investigated the collapse of a building within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), the client, SCOAN, was found culpable for the tragic incident.

The six-storey building, which served as a guesthouse, had collapsed on September 12, 2014, killing 116 persons that included 22 Nigerians and 85 South African nationals, five Beninoise and a Togolese.

The Coroner, Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, in his judgment, said the church breached all rules and regulations guiding construction of the collapsed edifice.

According to the coroner, structural failure “due to the combination of designs and detailing errors” caused the building to collapse, saying the church did not obtain building permits or approval in respect of the building, dismissing the insinuation that a roving aircraft, which hovered over the building shortly before its collapse, was responsible for the building collapse.

“The insinuation that a roving aircraft, which hovered over the building shortly before its collapse, was responsible for the building collapse was out of it. Foundation failure was the remote cause of the collapsed building”, said Komolafe.
Aside the indictment of the church, the Chief Magistrate also recommended that the two structural engineers, who supervised the construction of the building, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji, the architect and the contractor, Akinbela Fatiregun of Hardrock Construction Company Limited, should be tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authority.

Based on the evidences presented, the magistrate recommended that the Synagogue Church of All Nations be investigated and prosecuted by the relevant authority for not possessing necessary building permits.

The court also recommended that detailed ‘fitness for habitation test’ should be carried out on all the structures and buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, situated at Segun Irefin Street, Ikotun, Lagos State, by the relevant authority.

Judging from the verdict, three issues stand out for critical analysis, namely: the role of supervising professionals; extent of oversight carried out by government officials and impunity by the church authority, which embarked on building without approval.

Officials’ reaction at the time of the unfortunate incident suggested negligence of duty, to say the least, if one couldn’t establish official compromise.

Collapse building in the church

Collapse building in the church

The immediate former Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Olutoyin Ayinde, who said investigations were still on going then, said there was no proof that the church obtained a permit to add additional structures.

“We have no proof that there is a permit. We have asked the engineering team to meet us because we have questions to ask.

“Besides, the building was not professionally constructed”, he said adding, “even if the building doesn’t have approval, it ought to be built professionally,”

The response leaves industry’s observers wondering whether it is correct for individual, group, or organisations to embark on building construction without permit approval and that when such infraction is being committed, no official warning was given, not to talk of “stop work order”.

Another question begging for an answer is that to what extent, is the 2010 Building Law of Lagos being applied, or put differently, what is the level of awareness, not to talk of degree of implementation? The 2010 Physical Planning, Urban Development, Urban Regeneration and Building Control Law for Lagos State, when signed into law by the Former Governor Babatunde Fashola, was hailed by professionals, described it as “capable of reordering the haphazard nature of physical development in the state, addressed the encumbrances in the building plan approval process and ensuring strict adherence to approved building plans”.

A member of the council of the Lagos State Chapter, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Mr. Femi Shodunke, said, “Sincerely, I have to wait to get a copy of the law before I can make reasonable comments. However, I may say that with sincerity on the part of the government, coupled with Solomon’s wisdom, true love for the citizens and the environment, as well as putting right personnel in right places, tremendous success can be achieved with the new law.”

The Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Mr. Jide Oke, said that the enactment of the law was another step by the administration to ensure sanity in physical development activities in the state, noting, however, that “one can only hope and pray that it will not suffer implementation problem.”

President, Association of Town Planners of Nigerian (ATOPCON), Mr. Moses Ogunleye, in welcoming the enactment of the law,

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