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Published On: Sun, Nov 2nd, 2014

Sustainable infrastructure in focus as world engineering confab gets underway in Abuja

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Collapsed BuildingBy Miriam Humbe

Cases of deteriorating infrastructure and indeed, collapsed buildings and bridges have been reported across cities in Nigeria in recent times. This unsavory situation has cost Nigeria many precious lives and billions of naira with the mother of all devastations being the August collapse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCoAN, building in Lagos which has raised a lot of concerns over the issue of sustainable infrastructure. This is particularly as a result of the large number of fatalities it recorded.

In this incidence, at least, over a 100 people including Nigerians and foreigners mostly said to be from South-Africa, were reported to have died when the building collapsed.

The world Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure 2014, (WECSI 2014) organized by the Nigerian Society of Engineers, (NSE) with the theme: “Development and Sustainable Infrastructure in Africa”, is to say the least, appropriate and timely. The conference has come at a period in Nigeria’s centenary life when the need to address issues relating to her infrastructure is on the top burner.

Worried by the development, stakeholders in the industry have not only called for legislation to curb the trend but also demanded for stiff sanctions against individuals or organizations found culpable of negligence and such other negative acts leading to infrastructural collapse in the country.

Because of the importance of this meeting to Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan who has thrown his weight behind it by instructing the minister of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen to work in partnership with the Nigerian Society of Engineers to ensure the success of the event will also grace and address the conference holding in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Abuja will host the well over 5000 engineers and dignitaries from all over the world including Engr. Marwan Abdelhamid, President of World Federation of Engineering Organisation and some six Nigerian state governors who will constitute a set of panelists and discussants who are expected to attend the one-week event holding between Sunday and Friday this week and fully deliberate on various topics and themes.

President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Engineer Isaac Olorunfemi made this known to journalists in a pre-conference press briefing in Abuja last week Wednesday. Engr. Olorunfemi revealed that discourses on the theme and sub-themes will dwell on topics like “infrastructure delivery and governance, fundamentals of sustainable and green infrastructure, infrastructure conccesioning and financing, energy and the African development agenda, among others.

“We believe that WECSI 2014 will not only add impetus to solutions for Africa’s development. It will also provide the platform for engineers to showcase recent concepts, products and innovations that will enhance infrastructural delivery in the continent”, the NSE president said.

He said the conference theme has been divided into two major sub-themes which are ‘focussing on fundament cross cutting issues on the development of sustainable infrastructure’ and ‘focuses on specific critical infrastructure and services’.

The Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN, as well as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, have been partnering at various times towards strengthening Nigeria’s infrastructure.

In recent times, cases of collapsed infrastructure have virtually become a recurrent decimal. The casualty figures are alarming; but while the nation was in the process of taking a breath from these incidences, the collapse at SCoAN in Lagos jolted everyone back into reality.

In a recent chat with Peoples Daily in Abuja, Executive Director the Nigerian Building and Roads Research Institute, Prof. Danladi Matawal, a civil engineer, described the incidences of building collapse in the country as an “unfortunate and embarrassing development”. He said that “in 2012, we had total cases of collapse in Lagos to be 33. In 2013, because of the National Conference on Building Collapse that we held in the country in 2012, the intervention measures led to a reduction where we had 17 in 2013. And we were counting less than 4 minor collapses in Lagos up to the end of August and suddenly this giant one occurred, giant in the sense that the lives lost and the injuries look like you can add all the previous ones combined so it’s been our concern.

“The other place where occurrences have been quite plenty was Abuja where we had 22 in 2012 as a result of the conference and the intervention by some of the regulatory bodies, Abuja recorded zero collapse in 2013. And so far, in 2014, Abuja has also recorded zero collapse. You are also aware in the country, in 2013, a number of collapses shifted from on-going projects to old buildings. But prior to the Lagos collapse, there have been concerns in 2014 that somewhere in Onithsa and Umuaiha, there were collapses and we were thinking very deeply what measures to take when this major one happened”, he said.

Stakeholders in the construction sector have been speaking at different fora in a bid to find lasting solutions to the problem. The blame for the recurrence has been placed at the door step of inadequate legislation with punitive measures to punish offenders and to indemnify victims of losses accruing from such incidents. Also, town planning and development control agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring standards in the building sector are alleged to have reneged on their duties. Issues of quackery are also identified as likely causes of building collapses in the country.

The NSE President, Engr. Olorunfemi is of the view that unless, there is an enforcement of rules, prosecution cannot serve as a deterrent. “After investigation, if it is found that a professional is involved, he should be dealt with; he may be suspended for life or charged for manslaughter or murder. It is not by prosecution, it is by enforcement of law and order. And there shouldn’t be a scapegoat. The law must be implemented to the letter”, he said.

As a punitive measure, Engr. Bala Bawa Ka’Oje, former president of Nigerian Institute of Building and currently the president of Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) has said the owner of collapsed Synagogue structure and the supervisor who put extra plots on the building contrary to its original plan should be held responsible for the calamity that ensued.

He also urged the National Assembly (NASS) to as a matter of urgency pass building code that has been lying with them right from 2006 into law to curb more loss of lives and properties in Nigeria.

“Synagogue fell down because it was not constructed and built according to building and professional rules. The plan and foundation for the building were for two plots but unfortunately, they put four plots in place, contrary to the initial plan. In engineering, if the design is for two or four plots, you stick to that. Both the man who supervised the extra plot put on top against the design and the owner of the structure should be held responsible,” he said.

While Nigeria’s engineers and their colleagues the world over converge on Abuja to address the issue of sustainable infrastructure for the country, industry watchers have argued that the responsibility of saving the nation’s infrastructure from avoidable collapse lies on the tables of the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly through effective legislation. Also, the communiqué issued at the end of the one-week deliberations should be taken seriously and adequately implemented as a working document.

On Tuesday, 23 September the Senate passed into law three Bills and one Resolution during plenary. The Motion on “The alarming rate of Building Collapse in Nigeria” was passed as a Senate Resolution. It was sponsored by Sen. Abdulmumini M. Hassan.

It is hoped that this, along with strict enforcement of penalties against offenders, the issue of sustaining Nigeria’s infrastructure will be frontally contained.

 

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