22 January 2011

Nigeria: National Building Code Long Overdue

Lagos — The delay in the enactment of the National Building Code (NBC), forwarded to the National Assembly about five years ago, is causing ripples of discontent and agitation among professionals throughout the nation's construction industry.

The Code regulates the conduct and operations of professionals and other stakeholders in the industry, an essential guideline for those who operate in the built environment.

Its absence makes the construction industry vulnerable to quackery as it is seen as "a free entry and free exit club" without proper regulatory mechanism - but with consequent disastrous toll of deaths, injuries and destruction of property if any building collapses across the nation.

The Code's importance notwithstanding, the draft NBC bill sent by the Executive to the National Assembly (NASS) for consideration and passage, is yet to see the light of day. And the construction industry professionals are urging the national lawmakers to accelerate work on passing the bill to minimise the ugly incidence of collapsed buildings which has rocked the country in recent times.

Taking readers down memory lane would underscore its importance and why the lawmakers ought to move the draft NBC bill to the front burner.

Seven professional bodies make up the built environment in the country namely, the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS), Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) and the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB). Prior to the conceptualisation of the NBC, all these institutions held several meetings to fashion out a single code to which all the professional bodies in the built environment will adhere harmoniously.

The presidents of the professional bodies convened the series of meetings to find a lasting solution to the recurring disaster of building collapses that were rampant at that time (and are yet to abate even till now).

Predictably, there were initial hiccups about who among the presidents would be the primus inter pares to head the committee set up to draw up the code. Meanwhile, the presidents of the seven professional bodies agreed that to eliminate the incidence of collapsed buildings, the construction industry would be better off if there was a National Building Code to regulate activities of the industry operators.

When the bill was finally drafted, it was submitted to the Presidency for vetting before its final journey to the National Assembly for deliberation and passage.

Suffice it to say that before former President Olusegun Obasanjo left office, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the draft NBC bill and subsequently forwarded it to the National Assembly.

Since then, the bill has passed through the second reading but seems to have run into a brickwall. The absence of the National Building Code, so it seems, has been largely responsible for the incessant incidence of collapsed buildings across the country.

The President of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN), Segun Ajanlekoko, argued that the absence of the Code is a "big minus" for the construction industry.

According to him, for a very long time now, professionals and stakeholders alike in the built environment have been agitating for a regulatory document for the industry.

He pointed out that if the Building Code was passed into law by NASS and it is strictly enforced, it would go a long way in sanitising the built environment.

He described as rather unfortunate, the fact that the draft bill has not been passed into law. He was quick to add that all efforts should be intensified to ensure that the issue was brought onto the front burner by the lawmakers.

Ajanlekoko noted with regret, that the incidence of collapse of buildings has not abated despite all the in-house mechanism put in place to reduce the disaster.

According to him, the bill by now, should have been debated and passed so that the construction industry would have a regulatory document to work with.

Speaking in similar vein, President of the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS), Yakubu Maikano, stressed the need for the bill to be passed "without further delay."

He also expressed displeasure that up till now, members of the National Assembly are yet to pass it for the third reading, adding that this development does not augur well for the construction industry, considering the spate of collapses that have been witnessed in the sector in recent years.

The NIS chief emphasised that one was "stating the obvious" saying that NBC should have been in place by now because its absence is affecting the construction industry negatively.

He noted that unless this matter was given the utmost attention it deserves, it would no doubt "spell doom" for the entire built environment.

In corroboration, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Samuel Aladeloba, said there is no gainsaying the fact that the absence of the National Building Code is posing a serious danger to the well-being of the construction industry, its clients and tenants.

According to him, feelers from NASS showed that the bill is only waiting for the third reading, pointing out the strong indications that the lawmakers need a "little push" to make the bill come up for the third reading.

Aladeloba lamented it was rather curious that such an important bill could wallow in the doldrums for all these years, adding that the bad fate that has befallen it is affecting the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill too.

He expressed optimism that very soon, it would be passed into law, despite the odds against it.

The executive secretary said that unless it was passed quickly without unnecessary politicking, the spate of collapses being witnessed across the country would be "a child's play," adding that whether we like it or not, buildings will continue to collapse.

In her submission, the Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, Lagos State Chapter, Abimbola Ajayi, also argued that the delay in the passage of the National Building Code bill was taking its toll on the sanitisation of the built environment.

According to her, over the years, there had been clamour for the speedy passage of the Code into law, but that it was worrisome that till date, the bill is still in the 'cooler.'

She expressed dismay that such an important document, which is of national interest, could be treated with levity, urging members of the National Assembly (NASS) to, as a matter of national urgency, expedite action on the bill.

Ajayi urged NASS to strive to pass the bill before the end of the present legislative year.

The NIA chairman hinted that the state chapter, over the years, has been in the vanguard of spearheading the clamour for the early debate and passage of the "all-important" bill.

"The National Building Code should be our Bible and there is no way we can do without having such an important document to regulate the construction industry if we really want to see an end to the very ugly incidence of building collapses," says Managing Director, Cornerstone Construction Company Limited, Lanre Okupe.

According to him, as a realtor, the Code, when passed into law, would help to sanitise the construction industry. This would further bring about a drastic minimisation, or total elimination, of the incidence of building collapse.

Okupe said that members of the professional bodies in the built environment and stakeholders alike should organise a forum where they would constitute a pressure group to prevail on the lawmakers to make the passage of the bill a national priority.

He noted that the benefits of having the Code in place cannot be over-emphasised, adding that with its passage, a new lease of life would be given to the operators and stakeholders alike in the industry.

Like all others, he also wondered why the lawmakers were finding it difficult to bring the bill forward for the third reading, noting that its delay portends grave danger for the construction industry.

Summing up his words in a manner laden with anger, the Managing Director of Wichtech Industries Limited, Chidozie Nwankwo, posited that there was no justification in members of NASS 'dilly-dallying' with such an important bill of national interest. Nwankwo added that it is very important that a delegation of select members of the seven professional bodies in the built environment and some stakeholders pay a visit to the National Assembly to lobby for the quick debate and passage of the Code.

According to him, members of the construction industry should galvanise themselves and speak with one voice so as to ensure its speedy passage.

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