Nigeria has suffered unquantifiable losses as a result of building collapse. These losses come in the form of loss of life or property and in majority of cases both. The complexity of the situation seems to have defied all known methods as the more people look for solutions, the more the tragedy.
Building collapse can be a scourge if allowed to persist without efforts to curtail it. The problems associated with building collapse can no longer be regarded as challenges, but rather, a monster.
Building collapse may not stop in Nigeria until people change their ways of doing things. Building construction is like a sick person and when such person is referred to a carpenter for treatment, it is either the person would die or continue to be sick. In the same way buildings would continue to collapse if we continue giving construction activities to those who are not professionals on the job. Until building construction is given to engineering professionals, the nation will continue to grapple with the menace and its attendant effects.
Collapse of building in Nigeria, like in many other countries, can be traced to a number of factors which a lot of people have variously failed and refused to put into consideration. The neglect of these and many other factors can result in devastating avoidable damages in buildings. Sometimes, people do not consider soil texture or its acidity.
In most cases, the soil in these areas are sandy and loose; it is not strong or compacted soil, hence the requirement of building construction professionals are usually high here. For most of these buildings, they dig long and strong piles foundation. However, few still collapse. Most three or four storey buildings on Lagos Island last at best good 15 years. Remember, these lands are not strong and people build on them using templates used for better and more compacted lands. So what causes the collapse of these houses or buildings? An attempt to unravel these will lead to government and private individuals being culpable.
•The first problem is neglect of professionals
Nigerians rarely call for and use the services of professionals because they feel that engaging the services of professionals is costly. This issue has been overflogged both in print and electronic media but the same problem still persists. There is also a problem of eggheads professionals that believe they know all and are not ready to take advice from a colleague. There are known cases like that, that turned awry. The big buildings that are collapsing on Lagos business district were handled by professionals.
•Greed among contractors
Contractors trying to make gains at the expense and lives of the users of the buildings is another problem that has to be tackled. The contractor will, in order to make enough gains, either cut corners by using unbalanced formulae in terms of sand, cement and water in that case. This shows that there should be a check from policy makers to ensure specification is thoroughly followed by contractors.
•Use of fake or inferior materials
Most Nigerians do not prepare well before going into project construction. Because they are not prepared, they either fail to know the quantity of building materials that will be enough for their projects or decide to change the pattern halfway. This, at times, gives the foundation more load than it can carry. When a foundation meant to carry three floors is now made to carry seven floors, the implications are that the building will not last before it collapses.
•Human activities on building
As insignificant as human weight may seem, the moving up and down of live loads and dead weights contributes over time in no small measure in wearing down the building. It will take long time though, but houses also expire, and in the case of the types of buildings we have in Nigeria, their lifespan is shorter than others in the civilised world.
This is the most important part of a building. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not giving adequate monitoring to this and it is causing more problems. A registered structural engineer is very important if you are planning on building a strong and solid multi-storey building.
Many do not know that buildings also have lifespans. Most of the building on Lagos Mainland have spent 25 years and above, despite that they have shallow foundation and were built with low quality materials. As you lay your bed, they say, so you’ll lie on it. If you use low quality materials in a bid to cut cost, then also be expecting to pack out of that building very soon.
The truth about it is that we were all trained in Nigeria, whether lawyers, medical doctors, among other professions, but why do they single out engineers as people who are not properly trained? The truth about engineering practice in Nigeria is that like in all other countries, substantial investment of national resources is in infrastructure and infrastructure are mainly engineering projects and because of the quantum of fund available in that sector, everybody wants to have a piece of the pie and they go to any length to get it.
Unfortunately, the trained engineers are not able to compete in terms of lobbying like the non-engineers because they are bound by ethics. For instance, an engineer cannot advertise himself but a non-engineer can do anything or promise anything to whoever will give out the job. Even if our engineers are not qualified, is it a better option to give non-engineers the job in place of trained engineers?
Many engineers had the opportunity had done very well. If you talk about revolution in Nigeria in some critical infrastructure, it is because of the inputs of our engineers. The card reader used during the election was designed by Nigerian engineers and nobody is talking about it. Nigerian engineers are doing good things abroad and are well respected.
Government has not been able to prosecute those people who handled failed projects. If an engineer handles any failed project, he would be reported to COREN and a tribunal would be set up to investigate the matter and if found guilty, would be punished but the non-engineers cannot get punished because they are not bound by engineering ethics. So when you see that nothing has happened to those who have committed heinous crime in terms of failed project, it is because they are not members of ethical organisation.
The advice is that the government should recognise that they have a responsibility to every citizen of the country and Nigerian engineers are citizens of this country. They have a right to be patronised, they are not asking to be spoon-fed but to be given the opportunity they rightly deserve. Every nation of the world that has developed invested in its engineers and Nigeria cannot develop without taking that path. Any attempt at deviating from the path of using our own internal and human resources to develop our country is meaningless because there would be no sustainability in such developmental effort, so government must recognise engineers. Nigerian engineers have been tested and they have passed exceedingly well.