21 August 2017

Nigeria: 'Construction Without Professionals Risky'

Kunle Awobodu is a builder and a former chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Building Lagos state chapter. He is presently the 1st vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) and the National president Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG). In this interview he talks about why professionals should be engaged in construction.

Building collapse is recurring across the country, what has Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) been doing to curb it?

Repeated collapse of buildings have become a menace in Nigeria and the need to tackle it informed our decision to form a body for construction professionals to fight it. But it is unfortunate that for so many years serious attention has not been paid to issue of building collapse.

Causes of building collapse have been mentioned in many forums but yet preventive measures have not been taking by the government to avert it.

What recommendations have BCPG brought to the table for government to utilize in this regard?

It is not an easy task to do without the support of government. It is not easy because perception of some of them in the system is at conflict with our own knowledge of the problem and we thank God that government, especially Lagos state government has established collaboration with BCPG so that we could assist in solving this peculiar problem because this is our profession and we have a deep understanding of why this problem keeps occurring.

You made mention of conflict of interest between professional bodies and the government, what is that conflict?

For instance, when we make recommendation to government on how to solve a problem of this magnitude, they hardly attend to such recommendation. The interest of most government is more into social tools than construction issues- political issues occupying their minds than environmental issues and building is what we use to determine the development of a particular area. It is building that differentiates a village from a town and a town from a city so every human aspires to have a shelter and if that is the case, building should be treated as a priority. So, any problem that arises through building construction should be addressed with serious attention.

You said government pays more priority to social issues but greater part of capital budget is spent on infrastructural development like buildings, bridges, hospitals, airports so these still involve buildings, so can you shed more light on that?

For instance, if you visit some of the government buildings, you will be wondering how such buildings could have been constructed and who could have handled such a shoddy job. This is because sentiments are attached to building constructions, jobs that should be given to professionals are given out as political patronage and, therefore, endangering the lives of the people. Most people in government see building as a way of generating personal income; they see it for contract purposes and not infrastructural development. They embark on contract on construction work not thinking of the quality but seeing it as a way of siphoning public funds, so that is the contradiction, everybody is aware of this.

Government too says most of the collapse buildings are not built by government but are privately owned.

No, we have records because when you talk of government in a democratic setting, we all belong to government, so what we are saying is that we are all at different levels, those who take decision on policies or administrators are the ones that should think deep before they act. I have seen the chairman of a local government who said because of past experiences, he would not give a building contract to a politician directly, that there must be a professional involved who will be held responsible if money was collected and diverted and a sub-standard building was constructed.

You said you have made recommendations to government; what are the recommendations?

For instance, we have been advocating for long that the easiest way to solve building collapse is to engage professional builders, people who are trained in higher institutions on building and then passed through the training of the professional body before they are registered by regulatory body, having ascertained their practical experience on building sites. When such people are assigned to manage building sites, there would be fewer crises. Government should make sure that such people would be held responsible if there was any problem on the site in future. So, their certificates would be at risk and as a result of that, a lot of discipline would be introduced on our building sites, that is, you now know that some people would be held responsible and if you know that you would be held responsible for a failure, you would not just go home and sleep, you will ensure that the activities follow the due sequence and quality sustained. So, that is what we are telling government, and when such construction is going on, the architects who designed it and the structural engineer that handled the designs of the building would also be coming to the site for supervision to ascertain that what is being built conform with the design. Or at times they are bound to do some alteration when the project is going on, they would rub minds together so that it would not lead to a failure, so generally, it is a team work. But the point is this; it is a process that government should encourage people to follow, people that would be held responsible on building project sites.

Also, the monitoring officers, that is to say building control officers, if they are well trained and they are sufficient in number, it will help check some of the malpractices on sites. When a site has a resident builder and a government official, a monitoring officer who comes occasionally to check what they are doing, everybody will be cautious.

What will you attribute to the recent building collapse that occurred in Lagos?

The one that happened in Lagos is just one out of several that are bound to collapse.

How are you networking with administrators to ensuring that all these recommendations are put into use?

We are in collaboration with Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development in all states and all stake holders because it is only a fool who will under estimate the magnitude of building collapse.

Did you make the information available to them?

You know, our activities are well publicized. Look at Lekki garden that collapse due to pilling problems; we also use that to raise awareness over shoddy jobs in the foundation sector.

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