How NASS tackled building collapse syndrome

By Austin Asadu

The persistent collapsing of buildings both residential and commercial in some parts of the country particularly urban centres like Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja and Port Harcourt has been a growing cause of concern among policy makers both in the public and private sector and recently the House of Representatives, took the bull by the horns by inaugurating and Ad hoc Committee charged with unravelling the underlying causes of building collapses particularly the utilization of poor quality cement, other building materials and the prevalence of quacks and under-qualified contractors in the building sector. Presently a lot of Committees in the senate and house have been holding series of public and investigative hearings meant to unravel waste, fraud or mismanagement in the public or private sector.

 Saliently the National Assembly administration headed by the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa has strengthened the Committee system by a series of policy reforms that have enthroned greater transparency, accountability and due process in the organizational and operational planks of the system. Unlike in the past when favouritism, ‘gofatherism’, nepotism and cronyism was the order of the day, under the present CNA regime, competence, meritocracy, professionalism and exemplary performance has been the watchword leading to a more effective, vibrant and responsive committee system

While inaugurating the Adhoc Committee on Collapsed Buildings and the Composition and Pigmentation of Cement chaired by Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the House Speaker, Rt Hon. Aminu Tambuwal expressed deep concern over the incidences of building collapse all over the country leading to the untimely deaths and injuries of hundreds of innocent Nigerians. Rt Hon. Tambuwal called on the Committee to unravel the root causes of the malaise in the building sector while singling out the use of poor quality building materials as a major factor in this regard.

According to the Speaker the ‘utilization of high quality cement and other construction materials cannot be over emphasized especially because virtually all these projects use the product in one form or the other. The Speaker described as deplorable the fact that Nigeria with such well trained man power in engineering and other related professions has continued to witness the collapse of buildings across the country declaring that the National Assembly shall henceforth adopt a zero tolerance posture to this unhealthy development.’

The Hon. Yakubu Dogara led Committee in attempting to unravel the underlying problems invited numerous stakeholders in the building sector like the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON), the Nigerian Institute of Builders (NIB), the Cement Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (CMAN), NAFDAC, SON, the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) amongst others.

Hon. Dogara observed that between 1974 and 2010 building collapse claimed 297 lives (where data is available). In Lagos alone, from 2000 to 2010, about 151 lives were lost due to this menace. These numbers do not take into account the injured as well as many cases of varying degrees of permanent disabilities. Material loss if properly quantified will be in billions of naira. It is regrettable that as this menace ravages our people and environment, the relevant stakeholders and regulators have failed to summon the necessary will to end it at once. As usual we are engaged in passing the buck and avoiding responsibility. This is most unacceptable in the context of the Nigeria of our dreams’ he added.

Stakeholders like the NSE, COREN, CORBON, NIA & NIB  expressed concern at the prevalence of quacks and unqualified personnel who masquerade as qualified engineers, builders and architects thus rendering poor quality supervisory services at building sites thus leading to poor quality construction work that led to collapsed structures that endangered human lives. For instance CORBON officials insisted that the National Building Code specified that a registered builder must be part of the building process and that they have trained builders and craftsmen who they deploy to building sites in order to ensure that buildings don’t collapse.

The issue of use of poor quality cement and other construction materials generated heated debate. For instance there was disagreement as to what constituted low quality cement and how the cement should be classified and packaged. The NSE officials observed that some people have been canvassing that there are inferior brands of cement and that a particular brand is superior to others, but these assertions have not been confirmed by engineering and scientific experts. According to NSE, the cement produced in Nigeria meets international standards and specifications. On the other hand, Nigerian Institute of Architects called for stiffer penalties for those contractors that use low quality cement or expired cement to cut costs including the manufacturers of low quality or expired cement as it remains a cornerstone of the building industry.

The NIB’s President, Bala Kaoje called for the classification and labelling of cement bags according to class or strength as in 32.5 or 42.5 (MPA) and where special cement needs to be used, additional details should be given.

CMAN’s Mr. Joseph Makoju whose association represents Dangote, Lafarge, Unicem, Ibeto, Ashaka cements manufacturers stated that 42.5 grade cement is superior to 32.5 noting that Nigeria used to produce and import 42.5 before the coming of the 32.5 from Asian countries. Dangote cement’s representative observed that his company started producing the high grade 4.25 cement since 2006 and it is the only company producing such cement in Nigeria,

The committee chair, Hon. Yakubu Dogara called for greater regulation and enforcement while noting that while there needs to be greater clarity on the issue of cement quality, it was desirable that cement producers be encouraged and empowered to produce the 42.5 high quality cement.

Austin Asadu, a social affairs commentator, sent in this piece from Garki, Abuja.

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