Building collapse in Nigeria: Matters arising (2)
I shall dwell more on this under capacity building. In this regard, there is no doubt that building technology is dynamic. There is the need for the officials, including those in charge of processing approvals, to keep pace with the development in the real estate sector. From time to time, training of the officials must be scheduled. How many of them are conversant with the technicalities involved in the construction of high-rise buildings with the latest technology in the sector? How many have, in the recent past, been exposed to latest equipment in the real estate arena? This equally applies to the equipment required for effective supervision, ranging from mobile equipment to other office ones. All these have no financial implication for the government as they are costs that could be absorbed by the potential developer, particularly those involved in the construction of budlings of three floors and above. Insurance of properties during and post-construction has never been taken seriously in the country, though mandated by the law.
This is another device that could be used to validate integrity of buildings. While ordinarily it would be thought that insurance bothers on post-eventuality, it is not that correct. There is no construction that is insured that will not attract additional supervision by the professionals under the auspices of the insurance company. Once it is insured, the insurance companies engage built professionals that supervise the developments on their behalf. This is another layer of monitoring and supervision that will guarantee compliance with all the essentials. This must be enforced going forward by the Safety Commission and any other relevant body. Of importance again and where no attention is paid, are areas involving the grant of provisional permits and condonation. These are terms or concepts coined by ‘smart’ town planners. Provisional approvals, albeit illegal in my view, are often granted by the agency responsible for approvals, according to the officials, pending the perfection of documentation.
The rational, I am told, is to meet the revenue target of the Agency stemming from the bottlenecks and hiccups associated with the documentation and perfection of title instruments. It is usually granted for the period of eighteen months, long enough to complete some buildings but challenging for most huge real estate developments. Due to this constraint, most commercial developments are built in a haste, overriding most of the safety issues. Compromises of the building protocols feature largely in such developments subject of provisional approvals. That explains why in a lot of situations, such buildings do not endure. Evidence of cracks and other associated integrity issues are visible on them by the time of completion. In most of the instances that such provisional approvals are even granted, recourse is never made to the development again, either by way of ultimate perfection of the approval issued or auditing of the building in terms of compliance and structural integrity. This practice continues to, therefore, constitute a danger to the society.
To. Therefore, prevent future collapse of the buildings built in this circumstance, it is suggested that all such buildings constructed under provisional approvals must be audited to verify not only the existence of valid approval but the integrity of such buildings. All other buildings under such provisional approvals and still under construction must be stopped forthwith with directive to perfect approvals or face the consequence of non-compliance.
Lastly in this regard, the practice of granting provisional approvals must be abolished immediately. Whatever be the rationale behind the introduction must be addressed. If it is title issue, let a one-stop shop be created for the processing of all approvals. This is no rocket science as it is practicable in all ramifications. All relevant agencies involved in the processing of the approvals must share common platforms where all are done speedily. It must be constantly borne in mind that life is more sacred than revenue. No amount of money can revive a lost life. The government must therefore not place premium on revenue above life. Another aberration is condonation. This is used to validate and legalize illegality.
The interesting thing is that in most instances, officials of government encourage such illegal construction with the advice that condonation be sought after. They actively promote the act. Again, this must stop forthwith. Buildings must be constructed from inception to completion in full compliance with the approvals. As a rider to the above, it is incumbent that going forward, there must be inter-agency collaboration in the initiation, processing, approval, supervision and monitoring of developments. This is the way to guarantee speed, efficiency and quality of developments. Compliance and enforcement is another critical area of interest. Compliance with approval is a must. A situation where approvals are granted for something but another thing is erected must stop. This is very rampant in the State.
Recent narrative is that of the Ikoyi collapsed building where it was reported that approval for fifteen floors was granted while the development was already at the twenty-first floor. In such instances, the least acceptable remedy must be the removal of the excess and where the integrity of the entire structure is found to be challenged, the entire structure must be demolished at the expense of the developer.
There must be no form of condonation or waiver. Life is too precious to be gambled with. The time is overripe for the strict enforcement of the various planning laws and regulations. Any violation must be severely and decisively penalized as the consequence of non-compliance usually endangers life. Where demolition outrightly is required, the State must not shy away. Should there be criminality involved, there must be prosecution. Sanction must be imposed on all culpable government officials that compromise processes. There must be no room for sentiment. In the latest collapse, should people be found culpable in the resulted deaths, consequence must follow by way of prosecution for murder. There must be consequences for action and inaction as the reputation for being a nation of no consequence is damaging enough. Enough is enough.
Even in the choice and appointment of people into manning areas of the built environment, integrity must count along other competencies. Furthermore, there must be a robust complaint mechanism platform. The present scenario where complaints by stakeholders or concerned public are never acknowledged nor actioned calls for urgent review. It is imperative that the state must be able to develop such complaint mechanism that is capable of tracking by both the complainant and the government. All complaints must be registered, acknowledged, actioned and update given by the relevant government officials. This is a way of turning everyone into watchmen. Finally, due to the various non-adherence to the planning laws over time and the quality of development all over the place, people’s lives are continuously endangered. Lastly, I strongly recommend the adoption of the National building code to all the states for implementation and where not satisfactory to them, the States can develop or modify it along the States’ objectives. Our capacity to take stock or maintain accurate data is always called to question.
The number of lives that have been wasted to collapse of buildings cannot be accurately stated. Such losses, when stated with statistical accuracy, would inform society to be more serious. Unfortunately, we see such developments as either natural or decreed by God and after a brief period of noise making, we resign to fate. Our capacity to absorb evil is legendary and that is why all sorts of terrible practices and developments go unchecked. It is, therefore, imperative that total audit of all properties over and above three floors be undertaken in the country. The audit will include confirmation of all relevant approvals, compliance with the approvals, conduct of structural integrity tests and enforcement of the laws where there are violations.
This effort does not pretend to be exhaustive of all the prognosis for the prevention of building collapse in the country but just a trigger of further thoughts on the subject. I am only hopeful that various governments and stakeholders across the nation will consider the viewpoints herein expressed and, where found appealing, implement them urgently to forestall further crisis in the real estate development.