Building collapse: Is Nigeria enacting adequate laws or suffering from breach in implementation?
As buildings continue to collapse across Nigeria, experts have once again raised human factors; Floating of building codes, use of fake, defective and substandard materials, negligence as well as incompetence and corruption as factors responsible for high rate of collapses. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports that professionals have called for close monitoring on adherence to building regulations, laws and codes across the country especially in Lagos State.
Nigeria’s real estate industry is one of the most vibrant sectors presently despite the unfriendly economic situation in the country. Indeed, the industry had been recording growth in leaps since 2020. It has helped a lot of investors diversify and build their portfolio in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which guarantees the right to own property.
But as vibrant as the sector is, the growth is being blighted by the challenge of building collapses. Though the challenge of building collapse is not peculiar to Nigeria, the frequency and circumstance of each collapse continue to emphasize the obvious vacuum in regulatory issues and implementation of legal framework as experts to throw up certain factors such as incompetence and corruption, floating of building codes, use of fake and substandard building materials and negligence as reasons behind regular building collapses in Nigeria.
Indeed, constant collapses continue to bring to the front burner of discussions, the fact that there continues to be unresolved issues plaguing the building construction section of the real estate sector in Nigeria. Indeed, experts have queried the effectiveness and adequacy of measures put in place to safeguard the life and property of citizens especially in Lagos State where it seems building collapses are becoming a common occurrence.
And as buildings continue to fall like pack of cards, the question of whether Nigeria is behind in enacting adequate laws to regulate operations of the building sector or whether the rules are adequate but are not well implemented due to breach in implementation still bags for answer.
Are there building regulations in Nigeria?
There are many regulations governing building construction in Nigeria especially in Lagos State. At the national level, there is the National Building Code 2006 that was initiated by the National Council on Housing and Urban Development as a means of putting an end to the rising trend of constant building collapses but it has been argued that the Code is obsolete as it is only applicable in states.
There is also the Lagos State Building Regulation and Permitting Process which is put in place to implement standardized practices to ensure high level of regulatory compliance with planning and building code requirements and improve the outcome of industry practitioners’ interactions with regulatory agencies in the permitting process.
Also in Lagos, there is the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010, which was established to provide for the administration of physical planning, urban development, urban regeneration, building control and other connected purposes. It also established relevant Physical Planning and Development Agencies that would play crucial roles in the execution of the provisions of the law like the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA), Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) and the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA).
Lagos also has the Building Control and Stage Certification Process Law, the Building and Civil Engineering (Construction) Materials Quality Control Laboratory Law, the Model City Plans Approval Orders, Operative Development Plans, Operative Approval Orders on Approved Layout Plans, Lagos State Physical Permit Regulations 2019, Lagos State Building Control Agency Regulations 2019, Environmental Impact Assessment Act 1992 and Sections 64 (1) and 65 (1) of the Insurance Act.
Provisions for defective structures
The law made provisions for steps to take when a structure is deemed to be defective. According to the guidelines, when a structure has been adjudged to be defective and dangerous to the public, the Building Control Agency must exercise its powers to serve owner a demolition notice which shall contain a date not later than 21 days after which the Building Control Agency shall take steps to commence demolition of the defective structure at the expiration of the time given. Also, the law mandates the owner of the structure to pay to the State Government the cost of the demolition and failure to pay the cost of the demolition shall result in such people forfeiting the property to the state government.
How effective are multiple laws?
Professionals have argued that although not perfect, the existence of myriad of building codes and regulations is enough to curb all forms of vices and building defects if not for what they describe as lack of compliance on the part of developers and non-enforcement of regulations on the part of government agencies saddled with the responsibility of monitoring construction.
They highlighted the major cause of building collapse as the obvious lack of compliance with set laws and standards in the building sector in addition to use of sub-standard materials, corruption, negligence and use of unskilled workers and quacks.
Also, some argue that the duplication of agencies dealing with different levels of the permit process may create unwanted bottlenecks, calling for collaboration and effective monitoring across all agencies.
Ozunmab Phillips, a property lawyer, told the Nigerian Tribune that “the problem is not inadequacy of relevant laws and monitoring agencies but that of ineffective enforcement of building regulations as a result of corruption and graft as well as laziness on the part of operatives of enforcement coupled agencies with ignorance and ineptitude.”
Based on the law, individuals and families of those who lost their lives and properties in a collapsed building would be entitled to compensation because developers are mandated under the law to obtain insurance covers as a prerequisite to getting approval for their building construction. The insurance policy would also be expected to cover third parties, consequently, a developer that complies with the provision of the law may be covered as the insurance companies with which the building was insured under normal circumstances, must have been involved in the monitoring of the construction of the building because of its obligation and likely liability.
The immediate past chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Valuers and Surveyors (NIESV), Dotun Bamigbola, had in an interview with Nairametrics, stated that as long as the government, both at the state and federal level, through its agencies, failed to check the trend, more non-professionals will continue to build, thus endangering the lives of Nigerians.
Speaking on the Nigerian Building Code bill, which has been interestingly with the National Assembly for 10 years, Bamigbola explained that the bill’s passage will go a long way in curbing building collapse across the nation. He, however, acknowledged that the Lagos State government already has a set of building regulations that, if strictly adhered to, can prevent or limit the incidents of building collapse in the state
He added that “The problem mainly is implementation and enforcement on one part, as well as the problems of failure to use professionals and quality materials. If developers, the government and the professionals can overcome these challenges in the sector we would have a better outlook on building collapse.”
On his part, the President of the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors, Dr Kayode Oluwamotemi, advocated a law compelling monitoring of structures such as houses, bridges, roads at all stages of construction to avert shoddy jobs and collapses leading to loss of lives and resources.
According to him, “building collapse is always an issue and we have made our recommendations to the Federal Government and Lagos State Government where we normally have building collapse. But I want to advise other states not to sit down and watch, they must take proactive steps to ensure that there is no building collapse. The major recommendation we made on building collapse is that every two-storey building and above should be monitored. You just don’t build a house and you don’t watch it. The only person who can watch it is a surveyor.
“There must be a bill that will make the owners of such buildings, dams, bridges and roads to be monitored to see whether it is cracking, collapsing. This should be done before it becomes a national problem. So we want the law to be promulgated. We hope there will be a national bill to that effect,” he said.
Also talking on the issue, Kunle Awobodu, the President of the Nigerian Institute of Builders, stated that “through the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, one has been able to discover patriotic Nigerians that are dedicated to the cause of ending the prevalence of a man- made problem called building collapse. Despite the commendable achievements made in the area of building collapse prevention, certain deficiency in the process of building control amplifies some setbacks. For this problem to be solved, there is a need for proper understanding of the causes, promulgation of appropriate laws/ regulations and institution of right implementation mechanisms.
“When due process is fettered, the required result might become defective. Every organized society across the world has put in place laws that would guide building construction process. The law in Nigeria has taken into consideration the importance of regulating building practice. To prevent building collapse caused by defective designs, the government initiated a building approval process that would ensure that both architectural and structural drawings are done, stamped and vetted by competent professionals, that is, architects and structural engineers,” he added.
There was however a consensus that lack of adherence to laid down laws by developers and the complexity of some enforcement agencies, in addition to inefficiency of operatives of the agencies, are some of the major problems experienced in the real estate industry which is responsible for building collapses and not inadequacy of regulation or enforcement provisions.
It is said that there is enough legislative framework to achieve safe and sustainable buildings in Nigeria in general and Lagos State in particular but the will to comply with the provisions of the relevant laws by all stakeholders in the building industry and enforce the laws by the government is the challenge.
Experts consequently call on government to urgently take the right step towards improving the permitting processes and also implementing effective enforcement of the laws guiding building construction.
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