31 July 2012

Nigeria: Dearth of Affordable Building Materials - Experts Proffer Solutions

Building materials constitute a key element in housing construction. In fact, building materials account for between 60 - 80 percent of the entire cost of housing construction. This means that access to decent accommodation in Nigeria will continue to be elusive until the scarcity and prohibitive cost of conventional building materials and components are checked.

It is an irony that 52 years after the attainment of independence, Nigeria's standard for building products still reflect our inherited colonial standard. Little or no encouragement is given to indigenous manufacturers of building materials who are usually thrown out of business by the influx of substandard materials imported from China and other Asian countries.

The use of these substandard building materials has been variously fingered as one of the major causes of collapsed buildings that dot the nation's landscape. Most Nigerians go for them (substandard materials) because they are sold at ridiculously low prices when compared with the ones manufactured locally.

Most of these materials, according to experts in the construction industry, are made to European standard and are therefore unsuitable for the tropical climate in sub-Saharan Africa. In most cases, "C" grade materials which are very close to their expiry dates, are imported by unscrupulous businessmen who are ready to make huge profits at the expense of the lives of Nigerian users.

Built Environment experts who spoke to Vanguard Homes & Property decried the paucity of local building materials and their high costs when compared with imported ones, and called on the government to create the enabling environment for local manufacturers to grow.

A Lagos-based Architect, Mr. Emeka Izuwah noted that the high cost of production has compelled many local manufacturers to close shop. "There is paucity of local building materials especially finishing items to start with, while there is a flood of cheap finishing materials especially from China. While discerning and wealthy clients will often prefer imported building materials (from Europe), most of our people will readily go for the most affordable China products.

Due to the cost of manufacturing, most of our local manufacturers have either packed up or are producing at costs higher than the imported ones. Some of the imported materials do not conform to any form of standard specifications. However construction materials like sand, granite, cement and wood are purely a local affair," he said.

Asked whether imported materials are superior to their local substitutes, the Archiplex CEO responded thus: "Not all imported building materials are better than locally manufactured ones. Take for example cables, Nigerian cables are by far superior to imported ones; same applies to Aluminum profiles. But Spanish and Italian tiles and sanitary wares are of very high standards.

"Imported doors however come in varying grades but some local manufacturers are equally coming up with very good quality doors but will need to increase the variety in types to compete favourably with imported brands. Paints are however mostly limited to local brands and presently come in various quality depending on the manufacturer".

On what should be done to popularise the use of locally sourced building materials, Arc Izuwah said: "We need to create the environment for manufacturing to thrive competitively while deliberately creating a policy that favours local building materials. The cost of manufacturing has discouraged many producers while the few still hanging on are producing at high cost while competing with often cheaper imported brands. Power and Finance must be made available at affordable rates so that the finished product will be competitive".

Continuing he said:" Building materials constitute about 70 percent of the cost of a building. By creating an enabling environment for manufacturers of building materials, we can reduce the cost of building substantially while creating employment for our people and invariably reducing our growing security challenges.

"A situation whereby tiles, doors, plumbing and electrical fittings are all coming in from China simply sustains their own industries at the expense of ours- a situation we must quickly redress. Specifiers must take deliberate steps at encouraging clients to patronise locally manufactured materials while Research and Development must be sustained on how to better exploit local materials.

Also speaking in the same vein, a Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Mr David Adio-Moses attributed the incessant collapse of buildings to among other reasons, the use of untested products and building materials and the absence of adequate regulations and sanctions against offenders.

"Nigeria is blessed with a good National Building Code, NBC, competent professionals in the building Industry and a resourceful Nigerian Building And Road Research Institute, NBRRI. The problem is the lack of political will for enforcing all the laws and research findings to prevent use of sub-standard building materials, punish offenders, prevent building collapse and enhance quality of buildings in Nigeria," he said.

Arc Adio-Moses submitted that "in order to have an effective NBC and enforcement of materials policy at the state level, the following issues need to be urgently addressed: Lack of empowered Code enforcement officers; Lack of adequate publicity and awareness on dangers of using sub-standard building materials; Lack of Government incentives to develop affordable and quality local building materials and Lack of proper synergy between State governments, professional bodies in the building Industry and NBRRI".

President of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr Emeka Eleh believes that the social housing policy of the Federal Government would be a mirage until issues affecting the building materials sector are adequately addressed.

According to him, the government should immediately intervene in the housing sector, just as it did in the agricultural and aviation sectors because housing is critical to the survival of the government's development agenda.

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