Bldr. Ogbagha James is the Chairman, FCT Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB). In this interview with Lambert Adinoyi, the professional builder proffers solutions to the spate of building collapse in Nigeria, stressing that ‘until the National Assembly exercises political will needed to pass the National Building Code into law, buildings would continue to collapse in Nigeria.’ The National Building Code is a regulatory document that has been before the nation’s lawmakers for more than nine years.
Three days after a church building collapsed in Uyo, another building collapsed in Lagos. What are the reasons for the buildings collapse?
The NIOB sends sincere condolences to the family of the victims and the people and governments of Akwa Ibom and Lagos States. I want the government to know that the tragedy was preventable. Unfortunately, the failure of appropriate authorities to do the needful led to the tragedies. As an institute, we continued to warn successive governments of the dangers because as professionals, the dangers were obvious. So, it is the lack of appropriate regulations in the built environment that led to the construction of weak structures which eventually collapses.
The right thing to do as is done in other climes is this: Building plans must go through a number of processes. Checks should be carried out by relevant authorities to who will certify that respective construction works-in-progress are safe. It is as a result of adhering to set rules that the skyscrapers in Europe and America are still standing strong even after hundreds of years.
Government agencies must ensure that designs are according to the plan for the areas where the houses are to be built. Then, there must be soil test to confirm that the type of building planned for the soil type is appropriate. This is because some soil types cannot bear the weight of some massive buildings, therefore the house can sink and thereafter get soaked and collapse.
Then your design stages must be evaluated and put to test. The architect designs the drawing; the structural engineer designs the structural elements. All these are put together and handed over to the professional that is trained to build, the builder.
If all these were followed, the incidences of building collapse would never have happened. But the contrary is the case in Nigeria. Anybody can mix a bag of cement and put bricks upon other bricks and boast of having built a house. It is very hazardous to live in such houses. Unfortunately, no law stops them from.
In order to deliver a safe building, the inputs of the various professionals in the built environment are required. The architect must come and check to ensure that the builder is building according to the design he evolved. In likewise manner, the structural professional must also do the same. The builder on site must follow the various stages specified by the other professionals of the built environment.
This done, the house will be built safely because an authority is accountable for every process of the building production. In order to give legal backing to this very important need, the National Building Code must be urgently passed into law. Passage of the code into law will make it lawful to identify culprits and quacks and it will discourage criminals from joining the illegal trade of building production.
As we speak, Nigerians have suffered from too many incidences of building collapse but no quack has been arrested or apprehended because there is no law that defines quackery with regards to the built environment. In Nigeria, not a single quack can be effectively charged to court since his misbehavior is not defined as a crime in the law books. The culprits of the Synagogue Church were arrested probably because some high profile personalities involved especially expatriates that died in the process. Yet, as we speak, the prosecution is weak because no law states that it is illegal for quacks to build a house.
So the impunity in the building industry is surely responsible for the collapse. But the impunity is somewhat being support by the lack of government to summon the political will to pass the National Building Code.
What is the statutory responsibility of the NIOB?
The Nigerian Institute of Building is a body of professionals, established by laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The component professionals are trained in the science and technologies of building. Builders are responsible for building production processes.
So is NIOB responsible for the registration of qualified builders?
The NIOB is an association that operates within its own jurisdiction, in cooperation with a regulatory body known as the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON), a government organization. So CORBON exists to regulate the activities of registered builders. So CORBON issues practicing licenses to qualified builders to practice the profession. So both NIOB and CORBON consist of, and work with would-be builders who are trained and afterwards awarded a CORBON Certificate. The Certificate from CORBON authorizes trained personnel to go into the business of building. Only those who are successful after passing through various learning processes are awarded the certificate.
Does this mean every builder in Nigeria should pass through the NIOB-CORBON learning process?
Yes, they should pass through the organisations and become registered builders with basic qualifications from school, being Building. This means they must have studied Building Technology or Building in the tertiary institution.
So why do building collapse despite these strategies in place?
The sad commentary bedeviling the built environment in Nigeria is that it is an all-comers affair. All manner of quacks call themselves attractive names even when most of them are not professional builders. This involvement of quacks has led to the construction of sub standard buildings that collapse in no time. So the sector is unregulated, and this makes houses very unsafe.
It is very sad that just anybody can become a building contractor because he can get the contract. Some of those who get the contact fail to employ the correct professionals to do the building of the structures. This leads building collapse.
Until the National Building Code is passed into law, the NIOB as an institute can only bark, it cannot bite. This is so because it is not yet lawful for us to enforce the provisions of the National Building Code since it the document is yet to be passed into law.
Various successive governments have paid lip service to the bill, but it was not passed into law. For this reason, the masses have continued to groan under the weight of building collapse.
What is it that delays the passage of this very important document?
I can’t speak for the national assembly, but as a professional, I can assure you that if the National Building Code is passed into law, it will provide for the regulation needed to correct the anomalies associated with building construction in Nigeria, and consequently end building collapse.
There are seven professionals in the built environment. They all worked together to draft the National Building Code in order to effectively regulate the build environment.
But we have to understand their limitations: they can produce the National Building Code, but they cannot pass it into law. The Code needs to be passed into law before those who go against its provisions can be punished, thereby correcting the built environment. If the code is passed into law, it will certainly usher the built environment into an era of safe housing production.
As an institute, the NIOB can only continue to advocate as it has been doing. We have educated the national assembly in order to make them understand the need to pass the bill into law. So we will not be tired to continue our advocacy until the needful is done.
We are sad because preventable deaths continue to rise from spate of building collapse. The sad truth is that the deaths are avoidable and government knows this truth.