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Unending collapsed building trials

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Unending collapsed building trials

For about four years, two major cases of building collapse have been in court without a likely end to punish the culprits. DAYO AYEYEMI reports

 

There has been a spike in the number of building collapse in the country with over 20 cases recorded in the last 15 years. From Lagos to Abuja, Jos, Kaduna, Benin, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Calabar, the menace of building collapse dots the landscape, with attendant loss of lives. Between 2003 and 2018, more than 350 lives have been lost to the nuisance of building collapse.

 

Of more concern is the lack of punishment for those responsible for the collapses until the public outcry that greeted the collapsed guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in 2014, where over 100 people including foreigners lost their lives in Lagos State. This was followed by another four-storey building belonging to Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited, the developers of Lekki Gardens, in 2016 in Lagos. More than 30 people died in the collapsed building.

 

Before these two incidents, owners and developers of collapsed building across Nigeria were walking freely as if they were above the law. The best the nation could do to check them was to set up an inquiry to unravel factors leading to the collapse and possible solutions just like the Abimbola Ajayi-led Lagos State Tribunal of Enquiry on Building Collapse in 2012.

 

However, it is interesting to know that four years after the collapse of SCOAN’s guest house building and two years after the Lekki Gardens’ incident, members of the public, especially professionals in the building environment, are worried over the unending court trials of the alleged culprits.

 

Trials The Lagos State Government filed 111 counts against the Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations and four others after a Coroner’s inquest indicted the church and the contractors of the building. Charged alongside the Trustees of SCOAN are Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company; Jandy Trust Limited; and two engineers, who built the collapsed structure.

 

Also, the Lagos State Government had, in 2016, arrested and arraigned the Managing Director of Lekki Gardens Estate Limited, Richard Nyong, before the Lagos Division of the State High Court over alleged complicity in the events leading to the collapse of a building in Lekki area of the state on March 10, 2016.

 

Arraigned alongside Nyong before Justice Sybil Nwaka were Lekki Gardens’ Executive Director, Sola Olumofe; the firm’s contractor, Odofin Taiwo; Omolabake Mortunde; Omotilewa Joseph; Lekki Gardens; Get Rich Investment Limited and HC Insight Solution Limited.

 

The defendants were charged with six-count charges for failure to obtain building approval for the collapsed building and involuntary manslaughter, offences contrary to and punishable under Section 75 (1) of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of Lagos State 2010, and Section 229 of Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 respectively.

 

As at the time of filing this report, New Telegraph gathered that the two matters have been going through hearings and adjournments in the last four years. Up till now, the cases are still pending in courts. Expressing concern, first Vice President, Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB) and former President of Building Collapse and Prevention Guild (BCPG), Mr. Kunle Awobodu, noted that the trials were still on-going but expressed worry over the slow procedures of the courts.

Besides, he raised another issue about what has happened to the sites of collapse buildings, pointing out that by the law in Lagos State, government ought to have taken possession. He said: “Many buildings that collapsed, the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning Law 2010 says that such land should be confiscated by government. How are we sure that this is being followed?

 

We need to verify if this section of the law is working.” Responding to questions on justices for the high profile cases during the ministerial briefing of the state’s Ministry of Justice last week, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, said that government would ensure justice in the cases against the founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet T.B Joshua and other high profile cases.

 

On the slow pace of justice over Synagogue building collapse, Kazeem added: “The wheels of justice moves slowly, especially when it is a high profile case. As you know, that case has been on for a couple of years. Only recently, the prosecution closed its case. And usually when the prosecutor closes it case, the defence counsel is expected to open his.

 

“Rather than do this, the defense counsel filed a no case submission, claiming that the state government has made no case against the clergy. They lost that no case submission. So they have been instructed to open their defense so that the matter can move forward. And I believe that very soon, the case will come to conclusion. “

 

Even when these trials are yet to be concluded, another onestory building collapsed in Lagos in April 2018, in which two people died, while scores were injured It was learnt that the building sited at 9, Abeje Street, Morikaz road, had been marked as been distressed by the state government officials before it finally caved in.

 

Extremely disturbed by frequent cases of built collapse in Nigeria, building environment professionals have tasked themselves on self-regulation and the need to commence the use of National Building Code (NBC), which stipulates minimum conditions for all stages of building project delivery.

 

The latest resolution among professionals, comprising engineers, builders, architects, real estate developers, town planners and surveyors, was coming following a storey building that caved in at No 9, Abeje Street, Morikaz Road in Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State penultimate Sunday.

 

Suggesting the way forward on the platform of Housing Development Group, the Executive Director, Construction Finance, National Assembly Staff Housing , Dr Beni Goka, said that peer reporting, self-regulating, whistle blowing, creation of building inspectorate division would go a long way to halt cases of building collapse in the country.

 

Explaining, he pointed out that it has been discovered that many developers or builders preferred to place their town’s man as lead constructor or supervisor in building site despite that fact that he was less qualified for the job. “Another factor is owner’s inundations; either an attempt to build what they are not capable of for the sake of plain mischief, being cheap cum poor judgement among others,” he said. The expert, however, appealed to construction finance companies to play a key role with insurance companies to tackle the menace.

 

A board member of the Chicago Association of Realtors, United States of America (USA), Mr. Abdulfatai EFTY, noted that Nigeria’s built environment professionals would need to regulate themselves in order to stop the  activities of quacks and collapse of building in the sector.

 

According to him, timely intervention of the Real Estate Development Association of Nigeria (REDAN), Nigerian Institute of Building and other stakeholders would be required to stop building collapse.

 

He said: “Self-regulation for now can come in form of setting up or updating the present building codes not only on paper but making sure members adhere to them. “Sanctions and punishment can be meted out to members and the whole world is made aware whenever this occurs. This will set the tone for everybody to know that the associations are not playing.” The U.S. based realtor urged finance companies to play a very crucial role by ensuring release of construction loans in “draws” after thorough inspection and approval by independent licensed inspectors as practiced globally.

 

“This Inspector must be wellpaid so as not to be influenced with money. Thus a well-paid independent inspector that screws up knows he or she would go to jail,” he said. Lecturer in the Department of Building, University of Lagos, Professor Martin Dada, called for advocacy for the enactment of a law to enforce provisions of the building code. “Let us keep this in the front burner; let us continue to engage all stakeholders, including our lawmakers, to this effect. Let subnational entities, specifically the states, do their part.

 

Let the professionals arrange themselves to start using the code,” he said. He appealed for a way out of the building collapse quagmire through building condition survey, saying there was need for a baseline, an holistic framework. He wants private inspection to be accommodated in the building code.

 

There have been major building collapses in Nigeria from as far back as the 70s. For instance, 27 people had lost their lives in October 1974 when a multi-storey building under construction in Mokola in Ibadan collapsed. Three years later, in August 1977, 28 people were killed when a residential building in Barnawa Housing Estate, Kaduna collapsed. In June 1990, between 50 and 55 people lost their lives when a three-storey building collapsed in Port Harcourt.

 

Apart from SCOAN and Lekki Gardens’ building collapse incidents of 2014 and 2016 respectively, in which about 150 people died, the nation has witnessed major building failures in the past. Some of them included the four-storey building, comprising 34 flats popularly known as ‘Titanic’ that collapsed in Ebute Meta, Lagos in July 2006 with 28 casualties; uncompleted collapsed building at 2, Ikoli Street, Off, Gimbiya Street in Garki, Abuja in August 2010. 23 people died in the incident.

 

Two more uncompleted buildings have collapsed in Abuja since then. There was also school building that collapsed in Bukuru, Jos, Plataea State in September 2014.Ten among 30 pupils were killed. In July 2013, another three-storey building collapsed in Ebute Meta , Lagos, killing seven people.

 

As if that were not enough, a building under construction in the Agbama area of Umuahia, Abia State collapsed in May 2013, leaving up to seven people dead. Also in December 2011, an abandoned church building collapsed in Angwan Dosa, Kaduna collapsed, leaving five people dead. In March 2006, a 21-storey building belonging to the Bank of Industry, on Broad Street, Lagos Island, caved in.

 

The collapse, which occurred days after fire had gutted two floors in the building, killed two people and injured 23 others. Also, on July 11, 2013, an old three-storey building on Hadeja Road in Kaduna metropolis collapsed, leaving three people died. The Abimbola Ajayi- led tribunal of Inquiry in 2012 noted that Lagos State had recorded 135 cas- es of building collapse in the last seven years.

 

 

It also identified gross indiscipline and corruption by all stakeholders as major causes of building collapse. These, it said, rendered the relevant state laws ineffective. Some of the factors responsible for building collapse range from quackery to poor workmanship, use of substandard materials, lack of supervision, poor foundation and structural defect among others.

 

Out of fifteen incidents of building collapse that took place in 2017, Lagos State still has the highest number of cases and casualties followed by Imo, Anambra States and Abuja, Most of the cases of failed structure occurred in private buildings between May and October 2017. While Lagos recorded seven cases of collapse building within the period, Imo and Anambra States recorded four and three incidents respectively.

 

In order to reduce collapsed building incident, Lagos State in August 2017, commenced the demolition of 114 distressed buildings in the metropolis. Fifty- seven of the 114 distressed buildings marked for demolition was said would be pulled down during first phase of the exercise.

 

It was gathered that officials of Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, stormed Lagos Island, where at least 34 of the buildings were sighted and commenced the demolition.

 

The General Manager of LASCA, Lekan Shodehinde, disclosed that the agency identified 114 of such distressed buildings that needed to be demolished across the metropolis, adding that others would be demolished during the second phase of the exercise.

 

According to him, government would no longer wait for owners of distressed buildings to remove them on their own, stating that experience had shown that such owners did not always remove such structures. Shodehinde explained that once a distressed building had been demolished by the government, the owner would be given 90 days to pay the demolition cost, failure of which government would seize the land.

 

As people await outcome of the trials, timely intervention of the real estate developers, builders, engineers and other stakeholders would be required to stop building collapse in Nigeria.

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