Lagos building collapse: Averting another tragedy…

In this report, Tunde Alao looks at the various sides to the Ita Faji building collapse with expert views on averting the recurrence

 

Despite the official figure of 41 survivors released by the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital from last week’s building collapse on  Lagos Island, controversy still trails the actual number of the affected victims as residents insist that there are victims yet trapped under the debris, though the rescuing agencies are putting a lie to such claims.

The General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adeshina Tiamiyu, last Thursday said there was no casualty left under the debris of the collapsed building, located on No. 63 Massey Street, Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island.

He insisted: “We stopped work at 3: 00 a.m after recovering the lifeless body of a male and we are sure there is no casualty left under the debris,” said Tiamiyu, who also debunked claims that over 100 pupils were trapped in the collapse.

“I have seen the picture of the building before it collapsed and I can confirm to you that the floor that housed the school cannot accommodate up to 100 pupils,” the stated

But residents disagreed with LASEMA GM, on the conclusion of rescue operation, insisting that there are still people trapped under the debris.

But while the number controversy rages, concerned groups, especially professional bodies and environmental sectors, are more interested in forestalling a repeat of such an ugly development, which they said  ‘is an age-long menace’.

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Reacting to the demolition exercise embarked upon by the Lagos State government, the President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Mr. Kunle Awobodu,  said though the demolition of many distressed buildings, was overdue, the exercise, should not be carried out without proper planning, arguing that the way government embarked on it smacks of panicky approach that may be counter-productive.

According to Awobodu, the immediate past administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola had done the needful by identifying buildings that were structurally defective, waiting for outright or partial demolition, but the exercise couldn’t be carried out before he left office.

“However, it’s gratifying that the current administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, though belatedly, is waking up to her responsibility. But the truth of the matter is that the action is a pointer to the seriousness of government that it will no longer be business as usual,” he said.

Awobodu said he wasn’t comfortable with the decision to demolish scores of houses within one month without letting the public know the relocation plans for the affected residents.

Another concerned professional, Dr. Dele Adejobi, while applauding the commencement of demolition of defective buildings, called for restraint in carrying out the exercise. According to Adejobi, if government wants to go the whole hog in carrying out the exercise, not less than 1000 houses will need to give way, especially Lagos Island in the island and mainland, adding that, “my advice to the government is to make adequate provision for the would-be victims before embarking on a full scale demolition exercise, which to me is reactionary measure.”

In the same vein, BCPG Lagos Island cell, also bemoaned efforts at curbing building collapse, which it said “is being undermined by compromise and political influence. There are many buildings waiting to collapse all around us. A stitch in time saves nine.  Please, save our collective birthplace from constant danger of building collapse,” it pleaded.

 

Town planners’ views

To the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), there’s is an urgent need for workable development plans, and action on distressed buildings.

One of the members who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune, Mr. Jide Omotosho, said the uncontrolled population of the city must be addressed, noting that a city like Lagos where there is shortage of accommodation, including limited land space, will continue to witness this ugly trend of building collapse.

“Added to this are the activities of greedy developers on one hand and the corrupt government officials who provide them with planning approval,” he stated.

NITP Lagos through its chairman, Adedire Adebisi, believes that approved operative development plans must be diligently pursued. The body concluded that government should take urgent action on already identified distressed buildings by asking occupants to quit within a specified period, preferably 14days, and that those affected should be assisted with temporary accommodation prior to their securing of befitting accommodation.

The group also called for immediate inventory of distressed buildings within the state with focus on areas/zones known for transition (change of use) such as Lagos Island, Ebute-Metta; structural stability/integrity test should be carried out on buildings identified as old and dilapidated.

“There should be review of the existing laws, regulations and building codes with a view to preparing such legislations that ensure global best practice in construction industry; effective capacity training across the staff responsible for building control in the public service and provision of standard equipment as well as proper funding for Lagos State Building Control Agency,” NITP stated.

Lack of effective monitoring

Another area of concern is the dearth of monitoring personnel in government employment. On several occasions, the allegation has been that these developers hide under the cloak of darkness and weekends to perpetrate their evils.

“Because these developers realise the limitations of the government, especially in the area of monitoring, they usually carry out construction activities on weekends and in the dead of the night.

“These, sometimes, are done with the connivance of unscrupulous officials,” said Mr. Dipo Ayinde.

Another commentator, Thomas Effiong, noted that, “building collapse has continued to be a mounting challenge to us in the built environment, with the attendant loss of lives and properties,” he said, adding that buildings, like all structures are designed to support certain loads without deforming excessively.

“The loads are the weights of people and objects, the weight of rain and the pressure of wind called live loads and the dead load of the building itself. Bad design, faulty construction, foundation failure, extraordinary loads, unexpected failure modes like natural disaster such as heavy rains, wind, including man-made ones are factors that have been attributed to be causes of building collapse.”

 

Architects’ perspective

The Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) also called for enthronement of relevant laws in building industry.

According to Fitzgerald Umah, the chapter chairman, the Ita-Faji disaster clearly shows that bureaucracy and the need to accommodate certain interests are counterproductive to safety of lives and properties, as the said building had been reportedly marked for demolition before the incident.

Umah hinted that a confirmatory state was alleged to have been credited to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, claiming that several structures in the area had been marked for demolition during his tenure. This statement by the governor, he said, begs the question as to why pre-emptive demolition was not carried out on the ill-fated building.

“The Nigerian Institute of Architects, as a responsible professional institution committed to ensuring the emergence and sustainability of a well-planned built environment, cannot be a silent onlooker as many more innocent lives are wasted and properties destroyed due to the avoidable tragedy of collapsed buildings,” he said.

 

Official negligence

Despite the posture of government officials that civil servants in the “Centre of Excellence” are the best in the federation, this ugly incident where lives and properties are wantonly destroyed, put a doubt to such claim of competence.

For example, in April 2017, the immediate past Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Wasiu Anifowoshe, while boasting before a gathering, claimed that Lagos had put an end to the menace of building collapse but hardly had he wrapped up his press conference when there was another incident as barely 24 hours after his submission, a building under construction in Lekki area partially collapsed. On May 29, 2017, a three-storey building at 24, Daddy Aladja Street, Oke Arin on Lagos Island, undergoing renovation collapsed. Similarly, on July 22, 2017, another building went down at 7, Saidu Okeleji Street, Meiran in Agbado Oke -Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of the state. Also, on July 25, 2017, another building at No 3, Massey Street, Lagos Island, collapsed in the morning during a rainstorm. Another three-storey building collapsed on August 28, 2017, at Saka Oloro Street, Alaba International Market, Ojoo.

This was the trend before the Ita-Faji incident that woke up the slumbering officials, including the professionals, who now proffer one solution or the other.

But there appears a ray of hope if the statement credited to the Lagos State Governor-Elect, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu is anything to go by as he is said to harp on urban regeneration- an urban renewal policy started by the former Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola.

The policy was put in place in Oroyinyin and Anikantamo areas in the Island, where families come together and allow government to rebuild their properties into a solid high rise building, with workable sharing arrangement among the affected families and government.

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