Lagos regulatory agencies in deep slumber as building collapse lingers

EDIDIONG IKPOTO writes that despite a plethora of regulatory bodies to check the shortcomings of property developers in Lagos State, buildings continue to collapse in the state, claiming 60 lives in six months

VARIOUS media outlets have again been inundated with reports of the collapse of a three storey building in Okota area, Lagos State on Saturday 7th May 2022 which collapsed like many others before him.

While this tragic collapse may have saturated the media in the usual way, there was an element of indifference to the news, perhaps due to the lack of casualties that has characterized other similar incidents. in the state.

There are people who believe that the atmosphere created by the incident was not necessarily the absence of the spectacular in the form of casualties, but rather an absence of the spectacular due to the very frequency of building collapses in Lagos. .

To put things into perspective, the Okota building collapse happened just five days after a three-storey building collapsed in the Ebute-Metta area of ​​the state, killing at least 10 people. . Ten weeks before that date, another multi-storey building had collapsed, killing at least five people in the process.

However, the tragedies mentioned above pale in comparison to two separate collapses that took place five years apart. In 2016, a Lekki Gardens construction project tragically crashed like a house of cards, and as many as 34 lives were lost. Fast forward to November 2021, perhaps the most catastrophic building collapse in state history was after a 21-story building at Fourscore Heights Limited in Ikoyi collapsed, killing no less than 45 people under its rubble.

Needless to say, over the past few years there has been an aggressive increase in demand for residential buildings in Lagos, apparently due to the commercial muscle of the state and coupled with concomitant urban migration.

To further complicate this situation is the fact that Lagos State remains one of the smallest states in Nigeria in terms of land mass, with 1,171 km² out of Nigeria’s 923,768 km² land mass. The reality is that some 22 million people are scrambling for homes in a densely populated geographic feature that continues to shrink day by day.

Perhaps this is why, despite its size, which is 21 times smaller than other states in the country, Lagos State remains a rich hive for real estate development, with a market size that contributes more than 6 % of state gross domestic product.

However, one factor that has made Lagos’ booming real estate market a boon or a curse is sectoral inflation which has caused the price of building materials to skyrocket exponentially. Over the past ten years, prices for cement, building rods, lumber and other key building materials have seen price increases of almost 200%.

The situation is further aggravated by the fact that there is no sign of an end to the inflexible price rise that has gripped the sector and as a result property developers have to cut corners and sometimes resort to quality building materials. lower in order to circumvent what is becoming a more capital-intensive activity.

To curb this, it was necessary to create many government regulatory bodies responsible for ensuring compliance with the mandatory professional canons.

In Lagos State, there are at least three government bodies responsible for enforcing acceptable standards of real estate development in the state. At the top of this food chain is the Lagos State Department of Land Use Planning and Urban Development, which is responsible for planning, designing and implementing the state’s land use planning and development policies. of urban development. The ministry is headed by a commissioner, assisted by a permanent secretary.

In addition, there is the Lagos State Building Control Agency, with the vision to ensure that buildings in Lagos State are designed, constructed and maintained to high safety standards in order to ‘avoiding loss of life and property through its building regulation system, “We aim to achieve zero percent building collapse,” reads a statement on the LASBCA’s website.

The Physical Planning Permits Agency of Lagos State, also known as the Planning Permits Authority, has also been given regulatory and enforcement power, from the Department of Construction Control. development under the Ministry of Territorial Planning. This department performed the principal functions of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning Board, which was established on 28th April 1998 by the Lagos State Edict No. 2 of 1998 pursuant to law Urban and Regional Planning (Order) No. 88 of 1992.

Unfortunately, these establishments are unable to reduce the rate of building collapse and it is this reality that has led many experts to intensify calls for more rigid regulation of real estate development in the state to prevent further tragedies.

Last week at the just-concluded Lagos Architects Forum 2022, the President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, Enyi Ben-Eboh, cited shortcuts, lack of due diligence and inefficiency regulations as the main reasons for the increase in building collapse in Lagos. .

Speaking with the media at the forum, Ben-Eboh said that due to the size of the population of Lagos and the high demand for real estate, most practitioners have become accustomed to bypassing the regular procedure.

He said: “It is unfortunate that the Lagos area seems to be leading in terms of the frequency of building collapses. This is not unrelated to the fact that Lagos is a very densely populated area and that the demand for land is very strong. So people with the aim of making money cut a lot of corners.

He further said that while the relevant government agencies had been active in the area of ​​approval, the lack of enforcement had contributed to the threat of collapsing buildings in the state.

Similarly, a construction expert and the Director of the Center for Applied Research and Technological Innovations (ARTI) at Yaba College of Technology, Dr. Akinsola Olufemi, during a capacity building workshop organized by the Nigerian Institute of builders, said 95% of construction projects in Lagos State, violated mandatory soil testing.

According to him, soil analysis is crucial in construction because it determines the depth and length of the pillars that will be inserted into the ground to lay the foundation of the building. Soil test results are used to determine the likelihood of foundation problems and the best construction methods to use.

He said, “A lot of buildings are collapsing today because we are not doing things right in Nigeria. 95% of buildings in Lagos do not perform soil testing. I’m from the building department of Yaba College of Technology and I’m the director of applied research, technology and innovation.

“Research we did showed that most developers didn’t have consultants, let alone engage in soil investigation. These are just large-scale buildings that these are performed on.

In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, Olufemi further noted that the bulk of regulatory activity today places too much emphasis on new buildings, while older buildings that are at risk of collapse are left unattended.

He said: “The two buildings that recently collapsed are not new buildings. They have been around for many years. In 2005, when I was general secretary of NIOB, I told them at a press conference that more old buildings would collapse than new ones. The new regulations we have are specifically aimed at new buildings, not old buildings that were built many years before the regulations. The only time the regulations will focus on them is when it is necessary to rehabilitate or renovate them; but, buildings that have existed for 40, 50 years, they do not look at them.

In Nigeria, we do not take into account the revaluation of buildings after construction. They were built according to certain parameters. The constructions are based on the load they were supposed to support. There is what we call live load or imposed load (the load you put on the building after it is built). It must not exceed 1.5 kilonewtons per square meter, if it is a residential building. If it’s a commercial building, it’s 2.0 kilonewtons per square meter. If it is an institutional building and a religious building, it is 3.0 kilo newtons per square meter.

According to Olufemi, the rainy season has also played a role in the collapse of weaker structures once the water level begins to wear down the strength of the foundations.

“However, some of today’s residential buildings have been converted into centers of religious worship without regard to the load they were meant to carry. Apart from that, there is the effect of water on the foundation.If you design a structure to bear 100 kilograms of load, when the water is far from touching the foundation, when the water level rises (during the rainy season), near the bottom, the load-bearing capacity will be reduced 60% percent of the original load for which it was built.

“That’s why during the rainy season more buildings collapse than during the dry season because the water level gets higher. Yes, regulators are doing what they can within their capacity, but government efforts should not focus only on new buildings. It should also take care of the existing stock of buildings, as we have more old buildings collapsing than new buildings now.

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Jennifer C. Burleigh