[News] How corruption, regulatory failure fuel Nigeria’s tragic building collapses (2)

In the conclusion of this two-part report by OLADIMEJI RAMON, building industry experts elaborate on factors militating against effective enforcement of industry regulations and how to solve the problems

 

The six-man panel set up by the Lagos State Government to probe the cause of the collapse of a 21-storey high-rise on Gerrard Road, Ikoyi on November 1, 2021, will submit its report any time from now. The panel, which was inaugurated on November 3, was given 30 days to carry out the task. The 30 days has elapsed.

 

While the report is being awaited, some facts have already been established. One is that the late developer of the high-rise, Femi Osibona, got approval for only 15 floors but raised the building to 21 floors. This was confirmed by the suspended General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Gbolahan Oki, and the Nigerian Institution of Structural

Engineers (NIStructE), in a preliminary report released on November 15.

 

Osibona, who sadly died in the building collapse, had also revealed that he had a track record of overshooting approval limit for his projects even in the United Kingdom, where his foray into real estate began.

 

But the question arises: Why did Osibona get away with the practice of ‘overshooting building approval’ in the UK but burnt his fingers in Nigeria?

 

The NIStructE’ report attempts to provide an answer.

 

A part of the report read, “Lack of proper quality control and quality assurance measures and processes during the construction was evident, becoming noticeable as seen in the poor quality of concrete materials and workmanship

observed during the examination of the collapse debris.”

The finding by NIStructE is an indictment on the Lagos State’s regulatory agencies for the building industry, particularly LABSCA and the Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory.

 

According to the information on its website, LABSCA’s roles include “inspection and certification of various stages of building construction.”

 

The agency’s vision, as stated on its website, is “to ensure that buildings in Lagos State are designed, constructed and maintained to high standards of safety so as to avoid loss of lives and properties. Through its building regulatory system, we aim to achieve zero per cent building collapse.”

As for the LSMTL, its mission is “to establish a system that will prevent distress on buildings and civil engineering infrastructure through quality control assurance mechanism.”

 

LSMTL’s brief history written on its website indicated that it was established in 2006 “to curb the incidence of incessant collapse of buildings and civil engineering infrastructures. The main objective of the law is to test the materials used for quality assurance.”

 

In an October 10, 2021 interview with Sunday PUNCH, the agency’s current General Manager, Mr Olufunsho Elulade, also explained that “the mandate is that we (LSMTL) should be involved from the inception of any project to the completion, meaning that we have to test the soil to determine the kind of foundation needed… At every phase of any building or civil engineering construction, we must test.”

Elulade said LSMTL had field officers that “go about looking for where construction is ongoing and they serve a test notice on the contractor or owner, telling them what they need to do.”

With LABSCA and LSMTL in place, it was curious that Osibona was able carry on with the 21-storey high-rise project for several months, despite using “poor quality concrete materials and workmanship” as later found by NIStructE.

 

On Tuesday, December 7, 2021, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admitted to the existence of “saboteurs” in the regulatory agencies.

 

Despite the shoddy job and sharp practices that went into the construction of the collapsed skyscraper, the governor noted that a month before the building crumbled, “certificate of fit for habitation and certificate of completion” had already been issued for the edifice, said to be 80 per cent ready before it crashed.

The governor, who spoke at the second Real Estate Market Place Conference and Exhibition held in the state, said he was awaiting the report of the probe panel and vowed that “saboteurs” in the regulatory agencies would be fished out and dealt with in a “ruthless” manner.

 

Sanwo-Olu said, “From a regulatory point of view, we had checked all of our boxes. We know that there may be people that want to cut corners, we know that for this size of this city, there might be officers that have taken actions that have reduced our names, we know. We are not saying that the government is perfect, but we are dealing with them.

 

“…I am using this opportunity to express my disappointment in government officials that want to sabotage the effort, I would not only be ruthless but I would look for you because this is an agency that must work.”

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