Home Feature Foreigners use political tricks to pick jobs — Architect

Foreigners use political tricks to pick jobs — Architect


In this interview with Viewpoint Housing News, the CEO of Minarc Limited, Mr Mike Nwuafor says clients are to blame for many cases of building failure in Nigeria. Nwuafor who is a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) insists that as clients seek services of only qualified medical personnel, so should it be for the building of houses. He laments that when it comes to the construction industry, clients just think that anybody can do it. He maintains that foreigners pick up jobs at the expense of local professionals, not because they (foreigners) are superior in expertise but because the expatriates play the politics of the job.

Viewpoint: Nigeria is said to be among places with highest number of building collapse incidents in the world. What do you think is the major cause of this?

Nwuafor: Well, there are so many reasons why houses collapse and so many houses will still collapse if certain measures are not put in place.

One, I have heard people talk about the professionals as the first line charge to failure or responsible for building collapse but you know what? I will take the first line charge to the clients. Who are the clients?

When you want a house what truly do you want? Just a pack of concrete and iron blocks for a house or you want a house that will respond to the environment where the house is built?

If that’s what you want, the first thing is to look for trained professionals. You make sure that an architect is not the only one handling your design, you make sure that the structural engineer is duly certified to practice in managing the strength of the building. Also ensure that the contractors are informed on what you want them to do. It is the job of the client to insist on that. When he fails to insist on that, he should be held responsible for whatever happens.

We have had cases of clients who come to you and say, “It is just drawing” and sometimes it beats my imagination that a trained medical doctor or accountant — someone that has risen to a very high office in the country would tell you that it is just drawing.

So let’s begin to address the clients. I think some states have started to put that measure in place where a house collapses the government moves in and takes over the land. That’s a way of saying you the client is responsible for whatever happened.

Two, you look at the “professionals” involved. Is the architect registered to manage buildings of this size or capacity he is doing? Is he a trained architect? Is the structural engineer trained? I have seen some drawings…in fact, so many of them come through this table and you see just one sheet structural drawing…one typical beam design and one sheet for a six-storey building irrespective of the load on it, enduring different stands in different places. So why wouldn’t the building come down?

So the truth is that we are not even sure of the quality of professionals that are involved in the project.

Next to that is the place of materials. The building material manufactures have their faults and responsibilities to take. We still need to return back and look at the quality of cement that we use sometimes you know what you need to have 124 mix but by the time you take the cement in the market and the reinforcement in the market are you having that 124 mix? Even if you go by what the textbook says are you still having that 124 mix? So there are many other factors that if we want to deal with the issue we need to get down to. Dealing with the issue to me is not going to end with the spontaneous and the hasty reactions we make each time a building collapses.

Once it collapses everybody comes together, the panel of enquiry is set up. Let’s go beyond that, let’s begin to institute policies that will make sure it does not collapse so that we don’t lose lives and don’t have to set up panels.

Viewpoint: What if the architect that has been engaged for a project is supplied all necessary materials, yet he does a bad job. How can we draw a line from failure of client to failure of the professional(s)?

Nwuafor: That’s where I say no because we don’t know if the man you are calling an architect is indeed an architect. He might not be and we have seen so many cases — a whole lot of drawings come to my table for review.

There was a project that I was meant to be a part of that some so called builders were working on. When I saw the infraction of the execution on another building those builders had built earlier, I knew that a crack had developed somewhere in the beam and the slabs and I raised an alarm. Fortunately enough for us we returned to another building of theirs and we saw that same problem. But as I tried to intervene, I discovered that the client was not prepared to listen to me so I didn’t want to take any role in the project.

After several years in the industry, I didn’t want to jeopardize my future in the profession so I just wrote them a letter and pulled out. You can see that the client has a whole lot of blame to take. I agree that the professionals too…but each time we report to the professionals, you will discover that by one way or the other the client by passes the demands of true professionals and waits for quacks.

Either because he wants to save cost or because he doesn’t think what he is doing requires the input of trained professionals. So ultimately, he pays the price.

If you say the client should not be held responsible for a collapse building, I will also ask you, if you go to a hospital don’t you conduct basic research? I’m aware before you go to a hospital you will want to know if the hospital is run by a trained medical doctor. If it’s not you will know you are patronizing maybe a quack or a herbalist. So why should people get out of their way to solicit the services of medical doctors, accountants but when it comes to the construction industry they just think that anybody can do it.

So I think that the government must go out of their ways to put in serious disciplinary measures to any client that engages in this. Then we now come down to the professionals. For instance, why did I pull out from the job? The contractor was working and when I came to the site, I said can I see your key personnel? He would point at one man then point at another. Then I said can I have your certificate, evidence of your training and they didn’t want to present that. So I had to go back to the client and said this guy is executing a multi-storey structure without appropriate professionals, they were not willing to cooperate with me so I backed out of the project.

And that’s what I advise my colleagues in the industry to do to avoid stories tomorrow. We all know it will cost you less to go to a quack than to get a professional. And those of you in the media should also help us and the society to advance this cause.

When a house comes down, first of all apprehend the client to tell us who he engaged. What process did you go through to engage the person even if it’s a bungalow and where the government is not satisfied, let the client go to jail…because I don’t believe that a trained architect or engineer will superintend over a bad structure.

Viewpoint: In Abuja, the government takes over sites where buildings collapse. Don’t you think it’s time for professional bodies like NIA to initiate their own actions as well?

Nwuafor: Why will NIA take the person to court? It is not a super policeman. They are responsible for the regulation of the practice of architecture in Nigeria so how are we sure that the fault that lead to the collapse of the building has anything to do with architecture. It might not be. Each time there is a building collapse and some of the institutes are involved, the engineers will call for the drawings. We would analyse them and if the commission of enquires is set up, a report will be issued and those reports are going to deal with the architect from the architectural perspective, engineering perspective and then the builders perspective and after that it is for the government to prosecute the indicted.

I don’t think the government prosecutes the clients and architects…you know the law grinds slowly. The government doesn’t just take over the site and walks away. Where lives are lost, the government goes ahead and institutes some measure of prosecution against the indicted.

For example, when the building fell at the Synagogue Church [in Lagos], we knew people were killed in it. We also knew that government instituted a commission of enquiry. As I’m talking to you now, there is some prosecution going on over the collapsed church.

Viewpoint: Isn’t this the reason why our jobs go out to expatriates?

Nwuafor: Well no! They don’t give out the contract jobs to foreigners because houses collapse. If there are foreigners that pick up some jobs, it is because they did what they had to do to get the job. Anyway, we have all met on the field and we all are aware that none is superior to the other.

I will say they only get these jobs because they play the politics of the job. Every business has its political tricks.


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