Oreoluwa Fadayomi is the President of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers. In this interview, he says the citizens need to be educated on the consequences of patronising non-professionals in building construction
A lot has been said and a lot has been done concerning building collapse, where do you think individuals, and not just groups and government agencies, should come in?
First and foremost, we need public awareness. Before you commence any building project, you must know where to go to but this is what most people lack; I am talking about members of the general public who have been building over the years and think that it is a piece of cake. You find bricklayers and even technicians calling themselves engineers; as a result, you don’t even know the difference between the fake engineer and an authentic engineer. Education is very key.
When you know where to go, the rest is done because the professional will start from the scratch, inspect your site and identify the various problems that are inherent in the site that you have. Whether it is poor site or a good one, or whether there are obstacles. He will write a report and advise you on what to do in terms of foundation. Of course, it is taken for granted that you would have done the architectural drawing or design of what you want to do because that is what the engineer works with.
After all these, he will come up with an appropriate foundation type for your building, and it is this foundation that the whole structure rests upon. Once you are with the right professionals, the issue of design and building proper follow straight away. But when you have passed the design stage and you want to construct, there lies the problem, especially when we talk about developers. They do a lot of harm, many of them either out of greed or anxiety to want to recoup as much investment as possible, they don’t allow the process to flow. They think they know it all. Even when they want to follow Lagos State law, for instance, which says you must have a soil investigation, they don’t call soil experts.
They call those who drill boreholes. When you drill a borehole, you remove materials as you go down and these materials have properties, some of which are suitable for construction, and they think that is the soil report and those people will write a report and give it to them.
There are various stages, even the approval authority ought to know when they have a good soil report or not and at that point, they ought to reject so many things. These are some of the things that people should be educated about. When it comes to construction, they believe they know it all and they want to do it by themselves. We are talking about buildings sinking; the report says go to a certain depth and something was recommended and you think you know better and maybe call in your cousin, who is a driller, and fill in the reinforcement of your choice and claim that your building is ready. What happens? The building will sink.
A lot of Nigerians will say they don’t have the time or resources to go through this process due to the high demand for housing. What would you advise them to do?
One should not be penny wise and pound foolish. You won’t say because you don’t have time and money to see a doctor, you are sick and refuse to go to the hospital; it will lead to death. If you decide to do self-help and something happens, in Lagos State, you forfeit the land and if there are casualties, you are in trouble. Then, the money you don’t have, you waste in paying lawyers; these are part of the education. When you fail to pay the professionals, no matter how much or little it is, you may spend it elsewhere. Secondly, if you don’t have the money, cut your coat according to your cloth. Instead of going for a two-storey building, for instance, go for a bungalow; you can’t sleep in more than one bedroom at once.
If you look at some of the buildings by the Federal Government in the past, there are one-bedroomed apartments, two and three-bedroomed apartments, depending on your ability. Start with something and later improve on it rather than engaging ‘Baba Sikira’ to help with your building.
My advice is to build in phases if you don’t have the money. We are looking at the possibility of designing moderate low cost housing so that the authorities can work on them instead of people looking for architects. We are working on moderate designs that people can have at giveaway prices.
Lagos State has recorded many cases of building collapse; do you see this as an indictment of the state government?
There are enough regulations, enforcement is the issue. When you talk about enforcement, there are political considerations. First of all, you talk about salaries; when you are not paid for three months, you are not encouraged, you can’t think of improving the system. When such people visit a building site and see what is not right and are offered as low as N2,000, they will be quick to accept it and move on, or look the other way.
But even if that is not the case here in Lagos, they don’t have enough personnel and we have been talking to them to see how they can collaborate with us. Before there is any collapse anywhere, the Building Collapse Prevention Guild will know and the government can use their expertise to monitor and regulate building construction.
If the government works with professionals, the whole thing will be minimised; but do they have the political will to enforce this? Even the ones reported to them directly, do they follow up? They are not particularly to blame, but they don’t have manpower and do not have the political will to engage the private sector; and that to me, is a problem.
Are you satisfied with the way developers of collapsed buildings are being handled?
The Lagos State Government has a standard; a building collapses, you lose the site; and if there are criminal cases, the developer is prosecuted. But for every collapse, there must be an investigation, which serves two purposes: education to know what happened and how to prevent it in the future, and correction, because if there are no precedence, there will be impunity and people will continue with their criminality. So, there must be investigation; the government must read through the report and if there is any criminal charge, they should pursue it through the law.