With building collapse one of the biggest killers of people in Nigeria, the urgency to avert further loss of lives and property caused mainly by use of substandard materials and distressed building in the country cannot be over emphasised.
Industry watchers argue that such buildings ought not to have collapsed and killed people if the government had taken its responsibility to protect lives and property seriously.
Due to the tragedy associated with building collapse, Lagos State government for instance, has been very worried that more buildings have continued to collapse in its metropolis killing people.
This prompted the state government to continue to warn Lagos residents to avoid living in buildings that betray signs of weakness, particularly those that have been marked as structurally distressed by relevant agencies of government.
The crusade was more intense during the era of immediate past commissioner for physical planning and urban development, Mr Toyin Ayinde, in the state who emphasised that such warning was imperative.
According to him, having identified a defective structure, the urgent need to evacuate the occupants was necessary because they constitute a great risk to those living in them.
He further explained that the tragedies recorded could have been avoided if the occupants had obeyed government’s order sealing the buildings when it noticed signs of distress.
He averred that it was high time the residents learnt to put value on human lives instead of property by reporting promptly any illegal construction activity, structurally deficient and distressed buildings in their neighborhoods, to the appropriate government agencies.
According to Ayinde, said such information when received, would be treated with confidentiality.
Beyond the media hype , it seems that the government lacked the political will to check the system. For instance when a storey building collapsed in Ebute Metta area of Lagos killing at least eight persons, 20 new buildings in Ebutte Metta, Yaba Local Council Development Area, were identified by Lagos State government to be distressed and marked for demolition.
Apart from carrying out a sensitisation and awareness campaign by the agency in Ebutte Metta axis of the state, the former managing director of Lagos State Building Control Agency, (LASBCA), Mrs Abimbola Animashaun, said: “Since the commencement of the enlightenment exercise , we have identified about 20 buildings, apart from the one that we have identified before.
“Out of these, we have identified five that should be demolished completely because they can cave in soon. We have issued several appeals to the owners of these buildings, to conduct Integrity test on the buildings but they were not yielding.
“We were in Lagos Island and this week is Lagos Mainland, to tell the residents about the need to alert the government whenever they discover any distressed or building under construction that doesn’t have any signboard to show that the state government was aware of the construction. That means the ongoing construction was done illegally. The agency will continue with its enlightenment campaign. We will not stop the enlightenment campaigns, it will be a continuous exercise.”
Despite the much touted sensitisation and enlightenment campaigns, the city of Lagos was once again recently thrown into a state of confusion when a three- storey building collapsed at Swamp Street, Off Odunfa Street in Lagos Island.
The residents who live on the street said they had always predicted doom for the occupants due to the cracks that littered the walls.
Bola Ogundipe , a resident explained that the collapse of the building popularly known as ‘civilian barracks’ was not a surprise to them, saying the death toll would have been high if some of the occupants of the building, particularly those on the third floor had not escaped from the building.
According to Bola, “ We standing outside our house and many other people were outside too and all of a sudden we heard a sound as a big object fell and people started running here and there and we looked towards civilian barracks direction and discovered it was the building that collapsed.
“ If you look at the building the government had issued warnings on the building before the building collapsed and warned the owners and people living there to leave but they refused.
More painful was the case of an elderly woman that was exhumed from the rubble alive carried on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask placed on her mouth and nostrils before she was conveyed to a standby Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) to hospital where she later died.
As expected, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LSBCA) taken stock of distressed buildings in the area reputed to habour so many distressed buildings.
The general manager LSBCA, Shola Aderigbebe, said many buildings were marked for integrity test and 14 days ultimatum served the residents, saying lack of compliance by residents on safety directives caused the eventual collapse.
“We have been dealing with all distress buildings, but it is pathetic that residents do not yield to warnings. For this building, we have served them 14 days ultimatum.
“The ultimatum has expired before today. We asked them to conduct Structural Stability Test (SST) and they agreed. We were still waiting for them to conduct the test before the building collapsed.
“The test would have helped us ascertain if the building was distressed or not. Some buildings can be defective but when the test is conducted, we will be able to know if the building can be renovated or demolished.
“We have opened a file for the building. Marking a building does not mean we are demolishing because no building can be demolished until a test has been conducted to ascertain its stability.
“In the last four months, we have sealed 1,104 building for lack of compliance. Some are illegal structures, while some are distressed.”