Arc. Alex Obiechina, the Chairman of Aco-Hiteck Nig. Ltd spoke on issues bothering on the integrity of buildings in the country and heaped blames on government and legislators for continued building collapses in Nigeria. Our man ABBANOBI-EKU ONYEKA reports:
Even with consistent advocacy, several buildings have continued to collapse in Nigeria, with attendant loss of lives and wastage of billions of Naira. The question that had remained unanswered revolves around the causes of these evil acts and how it can be eliminated once and for all.
Given the preponderance of building collapses, several people wonder why our ancestors who, though uncivilised and unenlightened, built and lived in mud houses safely without fears. Some of these buildings, of course, were storey buildings and some of them could still be found in several Igbo and other communities up till today. Similarly, it has never been heard that any building constructed by the colonial masters collapsed, but nowadays, even with higher academic endowment and arguably, better technologically-trained professionals in the building industry, we are witnessing regular collapse of buildings all over the country.
Worried by the dire consequences, our reporters approached Dr Alex Obiechina to share his views on who should be blamed for these evil occurrences. And he did not hesitate to blame the government and the legislators for the lapses.
According to this architect of repute, “Government officials award public project contracts to their friends, relations, associates, among others, without putting into consideration whether or not such people have the requisite qualifications for such contracts or not”. Of course, he lampooned the legislators, stressing that they ought to have made laws that would properly regulate building construction in Nigeria.
He insisted that contracts for residential buildings should not be toyed with due to the strength required of such premises, adding that it is becoming embarrassing and worrisome that aside shopping malls and public buildings, residential abode have joined in the ignoble roll call of collapsed buildings.
In spite of the fears being expressed by the ordinary Nigerian on the quality of cement, reinforcement and qualification of the so-called engineers that handle building construction in Nigeria, Obiechina is optimistic that such menaces can be checked. According to him, “We had better go back to what obtained in the 70s and 80s. That time, there was nothing like building collapse because the architects were always consulted at every stage of building construction and these architects in turn invite other professionals and assessed progress of work before giving recommendations on the next step to take.
“The collapsing of buildings should be blamed on the government. Today, you see Directors- General, Ministers or Board Chairmen sitting in their cossy offices, awarding contracts to their friends and relations, who have no requisite technicality or experience. In the 60s and 70s, architects were consulted and they invited professionals, assessed them and made recommendations to the government based on competence. But today, all these have changed and we now reward cronism.”
Another factor that leads to building collapses, according him is, “When an architect designs a building and other professionals do their works, once there is a fault in the structural design, the building is likely to collapse, because it is the structural arrangement that sustains the building. If the structural engineer says, use rod 16mm and 10mm is used by the contractor, it won’t carry the building and it will lead to a collapse.
“Another factor could be from the soil, especially if the soil test is not properly done. We have soil for a particular building and if soil analysis is not properly done, it could lead to the collapse of a building.”
He also blames the owner or the contractor in some cases. He says that in a quest to maximise profit, if the builder strictly fails to adhere to the recommended texture, quantity, grammage and nature of materials prescribed by the architects and engineers and starts cutting corners, he said such buildings are most likely to collapse.
According to him, “The failure to ensure that architectural, structural and other engineers are properly involved is another factor that can lead to the collapse of a building. Due to laxity, a client may use under-gaged materials and cheap labor by employing quacks and it could cause collapse of a building.
“Blame can also come to the architect. In a big and complex building, every other professional pass through the architect. If the structural engineer tells the contractor what is to be used and the architect tells the contractor not to bother and ignore the structural engineer’s instructions, such misnomer can cause the collapse of the building.
“However, in some cases, there is what we call act of nature, where one strictly obeys all these rules, a powerful hurricane comes and the building collapses. That is act of God. This one is beyond all calculations and is deemed an act of God.
Bringing in the lawmakers, Arch. Obiechina also blamed the lawmakers. He posited that they should wake up and make laws that would make it mandatory for all relevant building professionals to as a matter of law, be involved in the design, supervision and construction of all kinds of buildings. “They should also pass a legislation that government agencies shall only give contract to contractors recommended by the professionals in the industry.”
In the absence of such laws, Obiechina posits that professional bodies of the town planners, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, etc. should take the bull by the horn and stay in the gap.
In spite of everything, Obiechina strongly believes that Nigerians politicise virtually everything, including those that ought not to be so politicised but should remain in the ambit of professionalism. “Let us go back to the rules and the expected results will be achieved,” he stressed.