Home Editorial P/Harcourt building failure: Gov Wike should set precedent

P/Harcourt building failure: Gov Wike should set precedent

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As Nigerians rounded off work on Friday looking forward to a peaceful weekend, a shocker popped up. A seven-storey building under construction went down in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital trapping about 100 persons, mostly construction workers and foodsellers. It is said that there was major casting a day before (Thursday) and on the day of the incident, meaning that there were full activities on site. Everyone is anxious to know what would make a building cast with beams and columns embedded with metal to crumble.

The building sited on 18 Benjamin Opara Street, GRA Phase 3, Port Harcourt collapsed around 5:00pm. There was a prolonged high-pitched cry of pain and grief and groans. The bang startled many people who quickly rushed to the site and began rescue. But they could do just little to help those wailing as the huge concrete slabs, columns, beams and metal became broken remains of masonry. Even when heavy machines were finally deployed, it was not just easy as this is quite a delicate rescue mission.

Now we ask – how does it feel when a relative wakes up, sets out in search of daily bread only to hear later that they have been buried alive, not for any force majeure but simply because some persons had been reckless or fraudulent in their ways?

Six days earlier (on November 18), a newly constructed Faculty of Social Sciences block in the Benue State University, Makurdi collapsed. Though there were no casualties as it happened when students and staff of the university were on strike in sympathy with the ongoing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)’s industrial action, various items, including computers and vital documents were destroyed. A colossal waste there.

Similarly, on August 17, 2018, a three-storey shopping complex under construction went down in Jabi district of Abuja killing nearly 10 people.

Nigeria is becoming home of building collapse. Yet in all these decades the country has suffered incidents of building collapse, not a single developer or contractor is seen to have been adequately punished – not even for negligence.

In climes where natural forces like earth-tremor, earthquake, typhoon, tsunami often work against humanity, we always see that buildings to some extent do stand up to the forces. They do not just crumble like they do here where there is completely no serious attack from nature.

Professional bodies like the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Nigerian Institute of Building (NIoB), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) always quickly come out to absolve themselves saying quacks are the ones despoiling the sector and they (quacks) alone are to blame. And no quack has ever been found. Quacks have remained elusive – spirits that will never be seen.

But who is that developer that will be so reckless to give a very big job running into millions if not billions of naira to an unknown, unqualified contractor who will do shoddy job resulting in very dire consequences? A developer may choose to under pay to save money or the contractor may decide to under quote the job in desperate attempt to win the contract. However, a contractor with a name to protect would not accept an under quoted job. Incidentally, most reputable construction companies in Nigeria are foreign.

We know that in every state capital, there is a development control office. Likewise in the local government headquarters. Development control officers are mandated to give approval and supervise development to ensure that standards are not compromised. In fact, a building should be supervised by development control from the mixing of cement.

How then do we fail to know who the developer and contractor are? Can’t the officers tell if drawings are done by an unqualified architect or engineer? Is it so hard to tell if development is contrary to the design that was approved? Does development control’s work stop at drawing red lines on structures and inviting developers to their offices? Can’t the approving authorities confirm from regulatory and professional bodies whether a contractor is qualified and registered to save us from this recurring mess? This is simply part of the comprises that Nigeria has become notorious for.

We often hide under spurious claim that there are no laws under which prosecution can be done. For a building to go down alone, negligence is prima facie. This is enough for some conviction in court of law. What about the trauma that people are subjected to as well as the deaths recorded on site?

Nay, there are laws. It is just that it is a fashion to toy with very serious matters in this part of the world. When the Boko Haram insurgency started, we said there were no laws on terror while Boko Haram continued to cause mass atrocities for a very long time.

This is time to do it differently. It is not just about the developer and the contractor. It concerns us all. People are traumatised. Those who lose relatives/friends in this kind of happening are left forever in anguish.

A disaster like this deserves utmost consideration. We therefore, urge the Rivers State government to act decisively. This incident  should not be treated like the Lagos and Uyo incidents that have not got to any meaningful conclusion.

The seemingly grim and vibrant Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State should demonstrate his sagacity in governance by ensuring that all who neglected what they were supposed to do or deliberately cut corners in the execution of this job face the law. From officials of the development control in the municipality of Port Harcourt to the developer and contractor, the dragnet should be big enough to cover them. Port Harcourt should set precedent by using this incident to secure a court decision on building collapse in Nigeria.

Prosecution can start at least for the very obvious fact that there are deaths on that premises while we await full facts at the end of investigations. We should begin to see punitive measures for acts of criminality else this society will remain in the dark.

Viewpoint Housing News urges Nigerian real estate professionals to come of age. It is troubling that they have failed to sanitise their sector. No wonder they cannot stop expatriates from taking jobs local professionals should do. They would rather gallivant, decry lack of jobs and then sit back and point fingers. This should stop.

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