13 February 2014

Nigeria: Cement Quality and Building Collapse


The confidence of many Nigerians has been shaken by the rising frequency of building collapse across the nation. A coalition of civil society groups and professional bodies believes, even if there is no compelling evidence yet, that poor quality cement is responsible for the increasing menace. The coalition is therefore calling on the relevant authorities to make 42.5 grade of cement the standard product in Nigeria instead of the lower grade 32.5, mostly patronised by builders.

In their working document titled: "Cement: Standardisation, Safety Versus Affordability and Poor Quality" made public last week, the coalition rightly asked: "how do you identify good quality cement: is it by the manufacturers name or by its composition or pigmentation?" This is a question often parried by cement manufacturers and importers in Nigeria who have always laid the blame for the incessant building collapse on poor construction practices, inadequate skills and lack of awareness by many of the people engaged in the industry. They have also dismissed the suggestion that the use of 32.5 grade cement is responsible for the problem, arguing that it is "used widely throughout the world."

However, it is a notorious fact that deaths from building collapse have become commonplace in our country and experts have at various times blamed the development on several factors, including population density and soil topography which many builders do not take into consideration before embarking on housing projects. Yet in other climes buildings don't just go under every other day or after a single night of rainfall.

While there is a surfeit of professionals in the building industry, the failure of the regulatory agencies to properly perform their supervisory roles has given way to situation where quacks have taken over with the effect that inferior materials are often used in erecting buildings whose quality, integrity and lifespan are then greatly compromised. That is why we believe there may be merit in the allegation by the concerned stakeholders that substandard cement could be one of the factors responsible for the problem of building collapse in our country.

According to the Nigerian Society of Structural Engineers, "the construction of a building is expected to be managed by qualified professionals including structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architects, quantity surveyors" among others. In an ideal situation where all these professionals are engaged, there are site engineers and inspectors whose duty it is to ensure that everything is done in accordance with approved plans and standards, "but above all they are expected to pay attention to the use of quality materials".

It is perhaps for that same reason that the Director-General of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Mr. Joseph Odumodu, has consistently underlined the need to sensitise block makers to operate in conformity with the national standards. This followed the revelation by a major stakeholder in the building industry that the prevalence of substandard blocks in the country is a major cause of the incessant collapse of structures. The contention is that many of the block makers do not use the right blend of cement and sand in an attempt to minimise cost. But now, there are questions even about the quality of the cement in our country.

What the foregoing suggests is that there is a greater need for stricter enforcement and a complete overhaul of the nation's building and construction regulations. But much more importantly, the concerns raised about the quality of cement within our country should be looked into by the relevant authorities. This is an area we believe that SON should beam its searchlight to ensure that the cement being produced in the country and the ones being imported have the correct pigmentation. Unless drastic steps are taken on some of these issues, the nation will continue to have these regrettable serial disasters of building collapse.

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