The Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN) on Monday received the report of the Tribunal of Enquiry on incidence of Collapsed buildings in the State, stating that the Tribunal was set up to unravel the reasons behind past collapses in order to avoid future occurrences .
The Governor, who spoke at the Lagos House, Ikeja, said government takes its responsibility to protect life very seriously and any time there is a threat to the capacity to discharge that responsibility or indeed people have lost their lives, government wants to find out why and ask questions so that it can learn from such unfortunate incidents to avoid a recurrence.
Receiving the report which is in eight volumes from the Chairperson, Architect Abimbola Ajayi, Governor Fashola added that once those in the built industry know that the people are serious and everybody acts as the next person’s policeman, then things will fall into shape.
He gave a commitment that the State will do its best to implement the recommendations that it accepts and issue a white paper accordingly while taking steps to ensure that some of the things that have happened in the past do not repeat itself again.
The Governor also called for a more active society and a more active community to tell people in the built environment that the people are not ready to become buried in the houses that they built with their money.
“Unfortunately in one way or the other whether by natural causes or not, lives are lost just in the way life is made every day but it is our job here to ensure that no life is lost when the circumstances are avoidable. For me, human life is very important, it is the most important gift that we have and everything that we can do must be done to jealously protect it, nurture it to its fullest capacity and therefore when people do not die of old age or illnesses that sciences can treat but die because people have cut corners, they die buried in what should be a home then we are concerned”.
“And we will continue to ask questions and that is why we have asked this Tribunal questions. We hope that some of the answers and most of them will help us in finding answers to some of what went wrong and what we should not do again and what we should do more of”, he added.
The Governor also sought to know why buildings are not lasting up to 100 years, asking: “What did we do wrong then when we were building, did we take full view of the terrain of Lagos Islands and swamps, largely reclaimed, did we put the right foundation of piles in or did we use the wrong foundations for much more solid ground”.
“What did we do wrong? What must we never do again? Because the truth is that the incidence of collapsed buildings under construction is not as prevalent as the incidence of buildings that have been completed many years ago that are coming down”, he stressed.
He expressed the hope that the professional associations will play their own role seeking to know why doctors and lawyers are subject to disciplinary procedures and proceeding when they mismanage their clients.
According to the Governor, if perhaps such a thing is happening in the Council of Registered Engineers or among the town planners, the Council of Builders, there is a need to give more publicity so that members of the public should also be in a position to report bad builders and bad engineers to the professional bodies.
“The criminal sanction is often the last post and at that time we have already lost lives, so I think that without prejudice to what is in here, all of the professionals involved, if a building collapses or a builder has been involved in a building that ultimately collapsed why should he keep his license without showing that he actually did everything that should have been done? Why should the engineer who designed it not be questioned, the structural and civil engineers who were involved and the architects because to say the Police have not prosecuted is not enough”, the Governor said.
Continuing, Governor Fashola said there is a need to identify and act to stop the causative factors of building collapse. “At that time somebody has died, what are the cultural issues that those who are building houses should also avoid, buying blocks from roadsides when you do not know the materials with which the blocks were made and we cannot track the batch number of the mixture, so if you sow the wind, you will reap whirlwind, so we must drop some of these cultural practices and we must insist especially when it comes to building houses for ourselves that only the best would be satisfactory”, he added.
He also had news for those who believed that government does not function on weekends that it has started a weekend service in some departments and physical planning is one of the ministries where officers now come to work over the weekend.
“Maybe we have to improve or increase on the number of inspectors that go round on Saturdays, so that instead of office work actually we probably look at that and see if you can put the work as field work, Saturday is field work for all the regional development agency officers going round their districts to inspect and check who is building and under what conditions”.
“Just about three weeks ago, I apprehended one myself. They had moved to site on Friday night with a truck load of cement just at the corner of Ogudu, their Certificate of Occupancy had a residential permit but somehow they had defeated our system and obtained a permit for a six storey hotel at the junction of a major highway”, he reiterated.
The Governor stated that that the incident only represent the one he saw, saying there are many that everybody sees, seeking to know who is reporting, adding: “So our numbers are there, we are ready to do this work, people must report to us. We have passed laws but laws don’t act unless people activate them so we want a more active society”.
He said the decision to choose a non- judicial officer as the chairperson of the tribunal was deliberate because the built industry sector of the economy consists of specialized professionals builders, architects, civil engineers, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers all of who have some role or the other to play in the building of a house.
He said part of the reason also is that many of the problems in the country are created by people and that if professionals do more, they can solve this problem, which are usually man- made problems that can be solved by men and women especially people who have skills.
“The Ministry of Justice and its lawyers will have a role to play, the Police will have a role to play as professionals who have the special skills to detect criminal activity to investigate what went wrong, so will the council of registered engineers, council of builders, physical and town planners and so on”.
Governor Fashola also put on record that in respect of victims of one of the collapsed buildings, payments have been made to some of the people who are victims of the unfortunate incident in a way to show that the State cares.
“I have also approved the redevelopment of some of the properties in that estate, that the structurally defective ones should be pulled down and rebuilt. I hope that the people who are affected and concerned will give us their cooperation. We cannot build homes that people do not vacate”.
“If they are structurally defective, it means that they are going to come down. We have expressed our clear commitment that we want to rebuild those homes so the people must now give us their cooperation. There would be some inconvenience to be suffered. We are ready to build but the real question to ask again is that why are buildings that are 30 and 40 years old collapsing”, he added.
Speaking earlier, the Chairperson of the Tribunal, Architect (Mrs) Abimbola Ajayi said the recommendations of the Tribunal would not only assist in finding lasting solutions to the incidence of building collapse but also provide needed relief for the issues of distressed buildings, unapproved construction, non compliance with construction standards and eradication of unscrupulous activities of unqualified persons, non professional unregistered practitioners and greedy developers.
She added that the provisions of the law regulating the building industry were found to be adequate which if implemented and strictly adhered to will ensure a reduction of the incidence of building collapse to the barest minimum.
She however added that weak implementation by relevant government agencies, flagrant abuses; deliberate flouting by the public, crass indiscipline and gross corruption by all and sundry rendered the laws ineffective.
“The 2010 law empowers the agencies but the system does not because of political, cultural and administrative and other interventions, although there is a provision of summary trial of violators and offenders in the laws examined by the tribunal, there is no record of person prosecuted or sanctioned for incidence of building collapse by the Ministry of Justice, the Nigeria Police or any other known organ”, she emphasized.
She said the tribunal was tasked with finding out the immediate and remote causes of collapsed buildings within the state and to come up with appropriate recommendations on measures that would help in preventing future recurrence.
The Tribunal, she stressed, reviewed 130 cases of collapsed buildings between 2007 and 2013 out of which 10 sites were selected for visits to inspect adding that three buildings collapsed during the tenure of the tribunal while another two occurred after its assignment.
Prominent among those who witnessed the event were the Deputy Governor, Hon (Mrs) Adejoke Orelope- Adefulire, the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr Ade Ipaiye, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr (Mrs) Ranti Adebule, Commissioners for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Town Planner Olutoyin Ayinde, Housing, Mr Bosun Jeje and Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Prince Ademorin Kuye and members of the Tribunal of Enquiry that included Engineer Debo Adewale, Engineer Segun Adedeji, Architect Biodun Rufai, Town planner Moses Ogunleye and Secretary of the Tribunal, Mr Kehinde David.
HAKEEM BELLO, SPECIAL ADVISER TO H.E ON MEDIA