The recent collapse of the three storey building in Ita Faji, Lagos Island, Lagos State brought a lot of inadequacies to the forefront.
The very “old” three storey building which was once marked for demolition last year and quick notice served to occupants of the building contained residential buildings, a creche and kindergarten school, a primary school as well as a shop complex.
The school occupied the first and second floors, while the ground floor and third storey were residential and shop complex.
Just like the “Wall of Jericho”, the three storey building finally fell down flat on Wednesday, 13th of March, 2019 around 10:00 am while classes were ongoing and many claimed that scores of children are still trapped under the rubbles even after rescue action on Wednesday. However unlike the biblical wall, this building gave signs of fatigue and according to reports, the building was shedding debris just that morning before the great fall; the innocent children who knew less to nothing paid for the negligence of adults who should have known better.
Witnesses have said up to 100 children could have been in the primary school when the three-storey building collapsed. More than forty persons were rescued mostly pupils, a pregnant woman was also released but she later died in the hospital.
Lagos State, Nigeria has recorded quite a number of cases of building collapse although other states are not left out of this man made disaster. If we could recollect the case of the Synagogue Church of all nation guest house collapse and the Reigners Bible Church building collapse at Akwa Ibom State that claimed the lives of over 300 persons. However it is a common occurrence in Lagos State and the case of Lagos Island is spectacular.
Lagos, Nigeria; with a land mass of about 557,500 hectares with water covering about 17% of the space has a population of over 21 million. Despite been the smallest state in Nigeria, the state has the largest population in the country and it is the commercial hub of the nation, so it is no surprise that there is a pressing demand for building structures and craze for shelters in the metropolitan city.
The Lagos State Government identified the principal causes of collapse within the Lagos areas as: deficient foundations, inadequate steel reinforcement, poor materials and workmanship and inexperience professionals, hasty construction, no soil test, greed, poor supervision and non-adherence to the building codes.
Now who do we blame for all these listed by the Lagos State Government;
The government has the primary duty of protecting the lives of the people in the state and when lives are lost where it could have been avoided then the government should be blamed. According to Mr Kunle Awobodu, the National President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), “there are over one thousand buildings unfit for human habitation just in Lagos Island”. Many of such buildings have been marked for demolition not once but many times but but the building regulatory agency has not demolished it.
Government marks the buildings for demolition but the landlords bring small money and the relevant Lagos state government agencies look the other way instead of demolishing the creaking property.
Sometimes the regulatory bodies keep moving in circles while money keeping changing hands and the dilapidated house is kept standing until it gives way without the need of a caterpillar.
The Ministries including the Ministry of Education
Site inspection by the Town Planning Authority in Nigeria is non existent. This means that buildings are put up anyhow without the Authority knowing anything about details of the construction. Unfortunately, these details are only known when such buildings collapse and their element get exposed for all to see. By that time lives probably may have been lost.
Also many buildings have no plan or drawing, instead it is erected as a guess work. Those that have a plan have been altered either by the contractors on the directive of the client all in a bid to cut corners and maximise profit.
The Town Planning authorities also approve technically deficient drawings at times. This could be as a result of ignorance on the part of Town Planning personnel who vet and approved these drawings or as a result of outright corruption on their part. Money may at times change hands resulting in the approval of such drawings.
Also authorities are also suppose to inspect and monitor a building with approved plans to know whether the owner is following the compliance of the stated building. This is not the case in Nigeria and especially in a city like Lagos.
It is not a rare sight to see a building built for residential carrying a church billboard on the third or fourth floor and a crowd of over hundred is thumping and jumping, clapping and dancing while a loud speaker is at the window amplifying and blaring the sound of the instrumentalist or preacher. This is a very common sight that has become a normality in our society.
Or why should a creche, nursery and primary school be located in a residential building, is there no department in the Ministry of Education responsible for the accreditation of schools. It is sad that such a creaking building can house over 100 pupils at the top of the building.
The sad reality is that many of such schools and daycares are operational in the city and they are all nothing but disasters and death traps waiting to happen.
Our Greedy landlords/Property Owners
Landlords and property owners play a big role in the collapse of building in the Lagos State. Property ownership is big game in a metropolitan city such as Lagos and Landlords are demigods in the city, this has made it the desire of everyone to be a property owner especially in a place like Lagos even in the absence of the resources.
Many of the buildings in city are dated back to the early 1900s and ownership have changed hands. Many of these buildings have seen very little or no renovation whatsoever yet house owners keep receiving mouth watery sum in form of rents from tenants.
Many property owners are careless about the maintenance of the property; some of the buildings have breaking walls, broken louvers, cracks on walls, leakage in roof etc. Little by little these will reduce the strength of the building as one faults leads to another and at the end leads to collapse.
Mouth watery rents have also enticed many property owners to derail from their approved plans just to make more money. Many of the houses in the city and most especially on the Lagos Island was originally a bungalow or a storey building before the owners decide to raise it further. Some owners have the nerve to raise the building to a four storey building without any regard for the foundation supporting the building.
Even an illiterate knows that it is only a matter of time that the building give way then the owners play ignorant of event.
Most of the recent houses built in the city is not better off as the building owners shun professionals in order to cut costs. Most of the owners (clients) have a penchant for cutting corners by not employing qualified personnel to produce the contract documents and supervise the building while under construction, as they want to spend minimum amount of money on the construction. Even where qualified professionals are employed for design and supervision, most clients insist on having the final say on what goes on in the site to detriment of proper execution of the contract.
Also greed has played a big role on the part of the property owners; why rent a three bedroom space built for residency to be used as a school or house of worship or even an office. This is because these organisations pay better than a family who is looking for a home to live. This is done with little regard to the speculation of the building structure.
In structural engineering, there is something known as resonance and even if the building is well built, coordinated sound of people or children at the top floor of a building amplifies movement due to distance from the foundation to the top.
Truth be told, many of the collapsed building have once been marked for demolition but these landlords resisted with every fibre of their being just because they do not want to lose their investment, some even go spiritual about it.
The structural Engineers/Developers (Contractors)
In Nigeria any one can be a contractor, all you need to do is be connected or know the owner of the property, little consideration is given to your qualification but this should not be the case.
How many people actually consult experts before erecting a buliding in Nigeria?
Instead we ask for an estimate from a local bricklayer who in most cases is a quack and after giving an estimate, he cut corners to make more profit for himself. The local bricklayer try to stretch a bag of cement and sand for as much block as possible and at the end of the day, the building can not stand the test of time.
Generally, structures do fail over time but in Nigeria, collapsed building does occur as a result of greed, incompetence and corruption on the part of the contractors and developers in building industry.
The high cost of building materials has led greedy contractors with eyes on profit, to patronise substandard materials. This has contributed immensely to the occurrence of failed buildings in the city.
It is evidence to see the cracks on the wall and the squeaks with every step, yet parents and guardians could drop their wards there and some adults could rent the property to carry out their legal activity or live there. Should we blame poverty, ignorance or desperation. It is sad that parents or guardians saw the poor state of this death trap yet they dropped their ward there every morning. Now we are all calling names
Truth be told, most of these property owners do not live in these buildings so the tenants are the ones aware of the state of these buildings and also will bear the brunt in a case of any collapse. So why risk it all?
Many at times, it is the tenants or even people who are not affected that are quick to raise their voice in anger when government demolish a property. Many call it witch hunting or call the government insensitive to the plight of the poor, yet it is the same persons that call the government names when such disasters as this happens.
The case of a man whose three kids stayed at home all through last week because he could not pay their fees just to clear the fees and they resumed this week. Now this week the three are dead in the collapse. Sad indeed but had he known than to send his children to be killed.
Poverty has played a role, a man who has no place to lay his head or is in constant battle with his landlord for rent will try to build his own house just to escape the landlord. He may not be able to buy the quality material due to the high cost and persistent increase day-to-day, so he goes for less quality which is harmful and leads to building failure.
The contractor will minimise cost to barest minimum by buying substandard materials, so as to keep some money in their personal pocket, even though they have collected their contractor fee for the job. Some engineers and architects will emerge in for more contract by this, will not be able to supervise the job properly.
Also the government agent that is sent to site to inspect the material that are used are also collecting bribe for their selfish interest and will not see anything wrong on site of construction.
Every actor is to be blame even the crowd that gathered at the scene of the event to catch a glimpse of the victims.
It all boils down to greed, corruption and ignorance on the part of every actor. The government who failed to protect the lives of its citizen, the ministries who failed to do their job by demolishing such disastrous building or even the ministry of education who allowed children to be taught in such an environment, the contractor (quack) who erected such a ridiculous building, the greedy property owner who rented out such space to be used for such activities, the parent/guardians who sent their wards to such a school and the crowd who gathered and did not allow the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) to effectively do their job.