Shelter is one of the basic needs of human beings and shelter is provided in a building. Recognising this basic fact, the United Nations (UN) designated first Monday in October every year as World Habitat Day to draw global attention and emphasise the collective focus on affordable, comfortable and sustainable shelter to the world population. Safe and sustainable buildings affect the quality of life of the people and the general environment of a place, economic and social status of the inhabitants as well as providing source of income to government.
Building is a finished product. As a product, a building must pass through the various stages of the building production process. The stages of building production process are predesign, design, construction, postconstruction (maintenance) and deconstruction (demolition).
At every stage of the building process, various construction professionals are involved collaboratively working toward a safe finished building. This makes building construction a team work whereby no single professional can handle the professional responsibilities of other professionals. In a case where one professional claims to know and carry out duties of others, it is quackery of the highest order. Each professional is trained to master a specific aspect of the building value chain.
The followings are the professions in the building industry in no particular order: Building Technology, Architecture, Engineering, Estate Surveying and Valuation, Quantity Surveying; and Urban and Regional Planning. These professions have their respective regulatory bodies, to wit: Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB); Nigeria Institute of Architecture (NIA); Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE); Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV); Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS); Nigeria Institute of Surveyors (NIS) and Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP).
In 2004/2005, Rivers State witnessed incessant building collapse in places like Tombia Extension and Abacha Road, all in GRA Phase 3, to mention a few. Again, there have been cases of building collapse in Rivers State in recent times. In 2016, a section of the Nigerian Bar Association secretariat building under construction then, collasped and the Rivers State Government set up a committee to investigate that ugly incident. This year 2017, the following cases of building collapse have occurred in the state: In March, a 2-storey building collapsed in Alakahia community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. In July, another building collapsed in Woji and in September, another 2-storey building collapsed in Nkpolu-Rumuigbo, Obi Wali Road. All these building collapses came with attendant losses and raised several questions on safety, quality, professional competence, roles of government and individual developers, etc.
There are various factors that cause and/or contribute to building collapse. Among these factors is poor/inadequate foundation appropriate to the type of soil condition of the proposed building site. The swampy/waterlogged nature of Rivers State soil conditions poses a high degree of building collapse threat due to foundation failure.
Also, substandard building materials can cause/contribute to building collapse. For example, the use of iron rods (for concrete reinforcement) with lower tensile strength than required/recommended by design codes in building construction is a recipe for building collapse. Other building materials such as cement, sand, water, iron sections, wood, etc. in their substandard forms contribute immensely to building collapse. Although the causes and/or factors contributing to building collapse are not limited to the few mentioned above, human factor is the prominent cause of building collapse.
This is because building is a product of human beings i.e. the various building construction professionals involved in all the stages of building construction are humans. The engagement of non-professionals and quacks to handle the process of building construction is the worst criminal activity that causes building collapse. This is more prevalent in the building industry in Rivers State and Nigeria in general.
Being an experienced block layer for 20 years neither makes a block layer, a builder nor an iron fitter (bender), a structural engineer. Several reasons to engage quacks in building construction projects include relatives, friends, political associates, religion and low compensation package (cost) to mention a few.
It is generally believed, wrongly though, that it is far cheaper to hire non-professionals or experienced artisan to supervise building construction projects than to engage the services of registered professionals to professionally handle the building construction projects according to their areas of expertise. This wrong notion is not only misleading but also a disaster that has been happening or waiting to happen both in short and long term basis. And the disaster is the incessant building collapse experienced in Rivers State.
In a nutshell, building collapse is caused by technical and/or human errors which signify that building collapse is preventable.
The prevention and checking of building collapse in Rivers State can be achieved through firstly, the political will of the Rivers State Government to implement fully, the provisions of the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law 2003 starting from when it was passed.
In addition to the flaws in the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law 2003, the law needs to be amended or totally repealed to reflect modern day realities and tackle challenges bedeviling the building construction industry in the state. The Rivers State House of Assembly should emulate the Lagos State House of Assembly to use the instrumentality of making relevant laws to checkmate cases of building collapse in the state.
A lawmaker in the Rivers State House of Assembly representing Obio/Akpor Constituency 2, Hon. Michael O. Chinda, was quoted as saying that he was drafting a bill on the mandatory engagement of qualified registered construction professionals to handle and supervise building construction projects in the state by estate developers, government and private home owners. This is a commendable bold step towards ending building collapse in Rivers State. The engagement of registered professionals in all the stages of building construction can never be over-emphasised.
The right professionals must be deployed to take charge in the areas of their specialities. More so, Hon. Chinda should also study the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law 2003 to either seek for an amendment or repeal to make the provisions of the law more robust and all-encompassing to check cases of building collapse. Whichever way, it is most important to liaise and work with the Rivers State chapters of the various professional bodies in the built environment to strategically outline the various roles, responsibilities and penalties each profession/professional is to undertake to avoid one profession usurping the duties of other professions. The professional bodies are NIOB, NIA, NSE, NIQS, NIESV, NIS and NITP.
Foundation types for buildings are not just chosen by instinct rather they are determined through practical soil tests and analyses to arrive at the appropriate foundation type for a particular building project site. Proper soil tests should be carried out at the design stage to enable structural engineers to design the foundation appropriately and adequately based on the results of the soil tests.
It is worrisome that there is availability of substandard building materials in Nigeria. Professional bodies should train their members and professionals share ideas on how to detect substandard materials by physical inspection. Building materials should further be subjected to laboratory tests to confirm their soundness and acceptable standard. Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) must live up to its expectations and statutory responsibilities by preventing substandard building materials from entering the country vis-à-vis Rivers State and conducting random sample tests on building materials for the purpose of identifying substandard materials, remove them from circulation/market and punish importers to serve as deterrent to others. This way, the high incidence of building collapse in Rivers State and the country will be a thing of the past.
A building control unit comprising representatives of various professional in the built environment should also be established as a matter of urgency in the Rivers State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. The sole responsibility of this unit will be continuous monitoring and supervision of building construction projects/sites in Rivers State to ensure that buildings are constructed in accordance with the approved building development plan as permitted by the ministry.
Again, it is imperative for the Rivers State House of Assembly to domesticate the National Building Code, NBC. The NBC contains detailed guidelines and specifications in designing and construction of building structures as well as the construction professionals who will be involved at every stage of the construction processes.
It is no more news that building collapse comes with loss of lives and destruction of properties worth millions of naira in Rivers State. In working towards ending this menace, all hands must be on deck. The state government should take the lead by providing the legal framework and full implementation of such laws and policies. Adequate punishment should be meted out on defaulters according to the law. Estate developers, individual home owners, corporate organsations, etc. should endeavour to engage registered and certified building professionals who can be held liable to handle, supervise and manage building construction projects in the state.
Building construction professional bodies should checkmate each other and discipline their members that involve in unethical and unprofessional practices that could contribute to building collapse in Rivers State.
Atangaedi is Assistant General Secretary, Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB), Rivers State Chapter.