Building Collapses in Nigeria: A Man-Made Catastrophe Causing Nationwide Concern

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By Cecilia Attah

Building collapses in Nigeria have become a pressing issue, attributed to substandard materials and lax adherence to construction specifications. In a recent exclusive interview with Development Report, Builder Omale Peter Ameh, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Building and the institute’s national publicity secretary, cautioned Nigerians on the importance of consulting certified professionals during construction.

In recent years, Nigeria has been grappling with a disturbing trend – the collapse of buildings, the haunting echoes of buildings collapsing have become all too familiar for Nigerians, as headlines repeatedly announce tragic incidents, resulting in loss of lives and displacement of families. The recurring incidents have sparked debates on construction standards and enforcement of building codes, prompting closer scrutiny of Nigeria’s regulations compared to international standards.

In 2022, the Building Collapse Prevention Guild documented a minimum of 62 disasters, resulting in 84 fatalities and 113 injuries. Lagos accounted for 20 incidents, with Kano and Anambra each reporting five building accidents, and Delta and Jigawa recording four each. Additionally, between 2007 and 2013, a total of 135 cases were reported.

Also, available records on building collapse in Abuja, have shown that no fewer than 49 deaths have been recorded in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory between 2008 and 2018.

A statistical analysis reveals Lagos as the focus of building collapses, with factors like coastal nature and land subsidence exacerbating the risk. Builder Omale emphasizes the need for special attention in Lagos due to soil instability.

“The epic centre of building collapse is in Lagos, that doesn’t mean that it does not happen in other states or regions, but when it comes to the ecosystem, Lagos is not like other regions where there is stable soil, so it requires special care, because of the nature of the soil”

Builder Omale identifies three main causes of building collapses in Nigeria which include negligence, natural occurrences, and human actions. While most collapses in Nigeria are attributed to human factors, instances of buildings collapsing due to natural disasters are rare. Typically, collapses occur because those involved in the construction process fail to adhere to standards or procedures.

Speaking on the ethical and technical aspects of construction, Builder Omale stressed the importance of adhering to scientific sequences to ensure structural integrity. He highlighted the pervasive use of substandard materials and the compromising of construction standards due to cost-cutting measures, emphasizing the need for proper management and adherence to specifications.

“Building is science, before you can have a finished product called building you have to flow scientific sequence that can accommodate humans without threat to life, if these processes are not followed duly, the likelihood of failure coming up is inevitable, in real-time, there are procedures that must be followed for a building o be safe and habitable for human use”.

Mason Samuel Udenyi highlights unethical practices such as improper use of materials, with instances of substandard materials being compromised or falling below specifications, adding that the present economy is contributing to the mishap.

‘For instance, one bag of cement is supposed to give 50 blocks, but when given money to the builders involved, to cheat they use one bag for 100 blocks, that is another problem’

Despite rapid growth in the construction industry, concerns persist about the enforcement of building codes. Builder Omale underscored the necessity of legal backing for the national building code, and advocated for the adoption of the national building code by all state governments, emphasizing the need for enforceable laws to ensure compliance.

“The national building code (code of practice for the built environment) has been put forward to the National Executive Council (NEC) in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime although have gone through several reviews, The national assembly needs to give enabling law backing the code such that it can have an enforceable power when this is put together, there will be a seamless building production, This document needs to be adopted by all state government and used to guide building production in the country.”

The economic and societal impacts of building collapses are profound, ranging from loss of life, and livelihoods to environmental degradation with long-reaching consequences for communities. Builder Omale stressed the need for comprehensive testing of construction materials and emphasized the role of stringent regulations in safeguarding public safety.

‘when there is a building collapse, people suffer permanent disability or losses their life, that is already an economic loss to the community as they might be breadwinners if aggregated nationally it is much, if a project fails due to collapse, economic addition that the community or society could have enjoyed is lost, the environmental impact, some of my colleagues who carried out some scientific research realized that the dust emanated from building collapse travelled 30km to settle, these things are not good for our health, because of the hazardous chemical, every time there is a building collapse, it has an impact on the environment, the community or living around.’

He further advised that the government should consider implementing necessary policies aimed at reducing the occurrences of building collapses, and suggestions put forth by communities or professional bodies should be carefully evaluated and objectively acted upon. This proactive approach will greatly contribute to sanitizing the ecosystem.

Comparative analysis with countries like Germany, the United States, Japan, and China highlights the deficiencies in Nigeria’s building standards and enforcement mechanisms.

For instance, in 2022, Chinese police arrested at least nine people including the building’s owner and members of an inspection firm accused of providing a false safety report, following the collapse of a building in the central city of Changsha, which trapped 18 people.

Following the devastating Kobe earthquake in 1995, which claimed approximately 6,000 lives and left 26,000 injured, Japan dedicated substantial resources to pioneering research aimed at safeguarding structures, this led to the development of a new seismic code, which underwent rigorous testing in 1995.

It is very crucial for the Nigerian government to initiate the enforcement of legislation aimed at mitigating the risk of building collapses within the nation. Proposed actions encompass bolstering regulatory frameworks, improving professional expertise, and increasing public education to instil a culture of adherence.

Addressing building collapses in Nigeria requires a multifaceted approach, urgent action is needed to prevent further tragedies and ensure the safety of buildings and citizens across the country.

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