‘Compliance with laws will stop building collapse’
Recurring collapse of buildings across the country, especially in Lagos, has become a source of worry for citizens and government. The major challenge for government is how to arrest the situation or limit the frequency. But in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a Lagos-based lawyer and associate partner with Synergy Attorneys, Lady Edith Uduji, says strict compliance with building laws by all stakeholders, will reverse the ugly trend.
Who should be held liable in law, when a building collapses?
This question is very relevant. When a building collapsed or keep collapsing and proper laws are not put in place on who is to be blamed, then we begin to ask and transfer blames on who is or are responsible for the collapse. For example, we ask ourselves questions like, is it those that manufacture the building materials? Is it the contractors? Is it the engineers? Is it the architects or is it the lawyers? So this is a serious area of concern and unless proper laws are put in place, invoked and executed this bad development may continue for a long time to come without solution. In order words, it is strict compliance to laws on the part of all stakeholders that can stop the trend of collapse buildings.
I asked the question because there are many professionals on a site?
Yes, but before you apportion blame, we need to put into consideration the facts of each incident upon investigation, legal roles or responsibilities of all building and construction control agencies, managers or those who monitors the activities of companies, developers as well as the existing regulatory laws. Those must be considered and the risks to be taken care of must be considered as well. For example, there could be business risks, injury, loss of lives, etc. In order to find out who is liable, all these things have to be considered and we should also know that construction is wider in itself, it includes reconstruction, remodelling and renovation. These issues should be addressed and put into consideration in order to find out who is liable when there is a case of building collapse as we experience these days.
Some building experts have blamed the situation on the lack of proper laws to regulate the sector. Do you agree with this position?
No, I do not agree. The collapse of buildings cannot be blamed on lack of proper laws, rather, it is due to lack of adherence to the laws. In some cases, the reported incidence are based on human factors, which includes lack of regulated oversight compliance, fairly designed foundations, human activities on buildings, contractors cutting corners and if not outright avoidance of services of unqualified support professionals. I believe it is time to apply the full weight of the law to sanction those found culpable in cases of building collapses.
How do we at the interim forestall the trend?
To forestall the frequent cases of building collapse, I believe it is important to critically examine the law related implications of identified risks. We will also need to take proactive steps so as to avoid identified risks and other post incidence management of the consequences of risks when they do occur and interrogate the remedies open to innocent parties.
In 2006, Nigeria came up with the National Building Code to regulate the conduct and operations of professionals and stakeholders in the construction industry. How effective is that regulation today?
It appears the relevant professionals and stakeholders do not appreciate the objectives of the National Building Code and have not thus effectively utilized it well enough for the country to enjoy the inherent benefits. Given recent happenings, the impression by the Federal and State governments to review our building laws have become even more compelling.
Most of the buildings in Nigeria don’t have title documents. What is the legal implication of this?
The lack of title documents inhibits the property owner from dealing freely with his property. For instance, using the property as a security for loan. If you want to borrow money from bank or use it as a collateral you cannot use it because you don’t even have full right over the property. You cannot give what you don’t have. It is the document that shows you are the rightful owner of that property so when you don’t have a title document to your property, it limits your rights. You cannot freely use it. For example in Lagos state, if you have a building and the building collapses, where you don’t have documents supporting you as the rightful owner of that building, then that is the end of the story. As long as you do not have papers, the government will acquire it. It is as bad as that.
Are you in support of the abolition or reform of the Land Use Act?
I don’t believe that the Land Use Act should be abolished. Land Use Act as far as I am concerned is a very good document. I believe it should be reformed and issues such as governor’s consent, compulsory acquisition of lands and compensation should be reviewed.
I understand you want to hold a workshop in this regard. What’s your aim?
The workshop we are organising is titled: “Legal Due Diligence on Building and Construction”. The aim is that at the end of the day, we should have been able to address the neglected significance of compliance gaps that have been created in building project conceptualization and execution, which have been resulting to the incessant building failures and collapse experienced in contemporary Nigeria. We would have also addressed the shortcomings observed in the entire gamut of building and construction industry and to also generate a compendium of easily accessible reports for use by the industry stakeholders and regulators.
What do you mean when you say legal due diligence?
Due diligence in this context refers to sets of information on all the stakeholders in the industry which are expected to have been obtained and investigated before embarking on construction. In any area of project management, there must be due diligence conduct. But the one that is central to the workshop that is coming up is the legal due diligence and by this we want to come up with a due diligence checklist at the end of the workshop so that if you are embarking on building and construction, you will have your due diligence checklist as to guide you to reduce the risks that you are exposed to and to become more competent.
Who are the stakeholders expected to participate in this workshop or is it meant for lawyers alone?
No, the workshop is not meant for lawyers alone. It is a workshop that will cut across different professions. It involves those saddled with the responsibility of building conception, construction, civil engineering, building contractors, banking, insurance, design contractors, real estate, surveyors, architects and different other professions that are involved in this industry. We are also looking for a very defined audience of about 60 participants but if the demand is so high there might be a repeat much later.
What are the benefits?
The benefit of this workshop to the intending participants are many. First and foremost, it will enlighten participants on the tenets of the building and construction industry, the various regulations to be complied with, roles to be played by the various regulatory agencies in ensuring that due diligence is conducted to avoid dire consequences. They will also be made to appreciate the impact the existing legislation regulating the industry has done so far, identify the various lapses of this legislation and the enforcement which have resulted in the various building collapses and work together to find ways to prevent future occurrence.
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