Home Feature Why Jabi shopping building fell down – Prof Matawal

Why Jabi shopping building fell down – Prof Matawal

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The Director-General of Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), Prof. Danladi Matawal spoke with Viewpoint Housing News in Abuja, giving reasons for the failure of the three-storey shopping complex under construction in Jabi, Abuja. He said NBRRI’s Dismantleable Movable House technology has gained popularity in Nigeria, stressing that the communiqué of the 2018 NBRRI International Conference held in June will soon be made available to professional bodies and the general public. He maintained that the institute’s conferences have always come out with lines of action…

Viewpoint: We saw you picking samples at the place a three-storey building under construction fell down on Friday 17 August, 2018 in Abuja. So far, what have you uncovered as cause(s) of the incident?

Matawal: We intervened from the research viewpoint as we’ve continuously done on these kinds of incidents. We’ve intervened to a situation of getting fed up. Because I personally don’t believe that a building should collapse if the design was properly done and the implementation process properly executed.

I’ve continuously shouted at the matter of impropriety in the application of materials, especially the components of the structure called concrete.

This has got both theoretical reason as well as practical expectation. In theory, when we design structures, we address the issue of possible collapse and design so that it doesn’t take place. And so long before a structure reaches a situation of collapse, there should have been lots of warnings to the user and people would be frightened. Either it’s vibrating badly or deflating badly and what we call general serviceability issues.

Designing for collapse says that the concrete can’t take loads’ intention. These are technical issues. So you embed steel and this is computed. It’s not arbitrary or intuitive. You embed steel which civil engineers and structural engineers spend most of their time in the university learning how to compute — the various elements of the building so that if the building is going to fall, the concrete will crack but the steel will refuse to give way because it’s properly held by the concrete surrounding it. It can’t just slide out.

Unless you plant explosives, you expect that at the time of failure, cracking is taking place and you’ve seen cracks; and basically you leave the surrounding.

Apart from a few cases like the Synagogue Church of All Nations where the elements came…even though it came down catastrophically, most of the other cases, the collapse is so fast, showing no sign of obeying this classical theory.

And so, there’s something wrong — the concrete wasn’t properly done. That’s the impropriety I see in materials.

As I’ve observed, it’s very difficult to begin to work with a situation where a building has collapsed to get an answer. Because I’ve recently observed that some practices on site, particularly buildings that have been left for long can actually lead to failure. People want to fix burglary proofing for example, they go and start knocking pillars — we call them columns, without thinking. It’s a four-storey building; you’re knocking on the ground floor. What’s holding all the other floors up is that pillar that’s passing the load to the ground.

When they’re doing this and I’m there, I shout No, don’t do this. Similarly, the beams which carry the floors and pass to the columns. Any of these things – I was in a site where our own electrical engineer went and started drilling the beams. Latent as the concept of stress and strain looks, those of us who know how the load is distributed in a building, we see it, imagining it – it’s rare to us. If I ask you to drill a beam, I know where the stress isn’t critical. But you go drill in order to pass your pipe. It’s better to pass the pipe on the surface.

Similarly, among us civil engineers, those of us who do water and sewage begin to break here and there…any of these can cause failure.

But we found the material wasn’t good on the site. We’ve also gone to the foundation and found out that the foundation was at 800mm — less than a metre deep. I’ve also looked at the starter bars that came out for the columns. Sixty-four diameters, 16mm. They look too slim for a structure of that height.

But as I’ve stressed, it’s absolutely a difficult thing. So we’re suspecting, the failure started somewhere; it can be a combination of the foundation. We’re definite that the foundation looks inadequate. We’ve dug the soil, we’ll do a back analysis after the preliminary report in order to give our own sizes.

We definitely think the pillars were slender. We’re not sure whether it’s the foundation or somebody was hitting something in the building that brought it down. But we’re saying, if the material, concrete was good, if this was going to fail, it should have given some warning.

Scene of the Jabi building collapsed

Viewpoint: Are you working with the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA)? If there’s proper supervision, this shouldn’t happen.

Matawal: Well, the day it collapsed, we were there with the development control officers. We’re communicating and suggesting things to each other. Also importantly, professional regulatory bodies, we’re working together. We’ll call a meeting with professional bodies in order to discuss our observations before they come out as a final report. This report will be made available to the FCT ministry. We’ve kept doing this, with so many reports in this regards.

Viewpoint: So many reports without actions?

Matawal: I don’t know whether it’s without implementation because in one particular case, it was taken to court. It’s just the outcome we don’t know. The Synagogue Church of All Nations were in, for court processes. There’s a coronary inquest. We’re represented because there, it’s lawyers talking.

It’s good for us to be responsible to ourselves. Collapses occur around the world but people take any collapse seriously. I recall a collapse in India. The owner of the building fled the country. But here, the man is hiding somewhere, probably instigating engineers to begin to counter some of the arguments that we’re giving.

Viewpoint: The 2018 NBRRI International Conference held in June came out with very important recommendations. We believe these were partly to tackle incidents like the Jabi building collapse.

Matawal: Incidentally, we’re just in the process of publicising the communiqué. It’s going to be published in the print media. It’s going to be on our website. It’s going to be sent to all the relevant stakeholders. So the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing is going to have it, state ministries are going to have it. Federal Ministry of FCT will have it; all regulatory bodies, professional bodies will have it; Standards Organisations [of Nigeria] will have it.

These are the avenues we pursue. Couple of times we’ve printed them in pamphlets for circulation.

Most of previous communiqués have come out with lines of action. We launched the artisan training manuals last year. They’re all outcomes of communiqués, decisions of our conferences to address collapse, not just of buildings but road pavements, as well as to empower our artisans and craftsmen for better performance instead of always relying on tillers, painters, bricklayers etc from neighbouring West African countries.

A lot of collaborations are all outcomes of our conferences. Apart from putting us on our toes, they also give us a direction for research activity.

Viewpoint: You exhibited a Movable House Technology at the Science Technology and Innovation Expo held in Abuja earlier in the year. What has happened to the initiative since that outing?

Matawal: It’s the second year we’ve displayed what we call the NBRRI Dismantle able Movable House. In 2017, we exhibited the one-bedroom. And people asked us, is it just one-bedroom? So we moved it to two bedrooms.

The concept won the second position in the country out of about 580 research exhibitors in 2017; 2018 being an innovation that had been displayed the previous year.

Whether we’ve kept it on the shelf. I believe we’ve not. Typical of many of our innovations, we expect people to jump on the platform and begin to promote the technologies and assimilate them into our housing sector. Outside of expo and other displays that we’ve been doing, I’m sure not what you expect us to do in order to popularise it. But these technologies are available.

Various components of what we used are being applied all over the country. There’re nearly 200 sites in which the application of the different components of what constituted the dismantle able house are being applied in the country, primarily by the executive and the legislators for their various constituencies in the country.

This is being done in the form of classroom constructions for primary and secondary schools, skills centres in various parts of the country. Some are using them for constructing town halls. In the west, they’re used for constructing Oba’s [traditional ruler’s] palace. And in the institute itself, we’ve used them in all our centres.

I believe that in applying the components, this has been popularised. Probably, what you see as an issue is the matter of whether the scenario has – that anybody wants to move his house and for what reasons? We say we’ll give it some time to see how it will develop. The question is welcome because it will also help in sensitising the public about the availability of this concept.

Viewpoint: what’s the cost implication for one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom?

Matawal: I’d like to be careful about this because we prefer to be involved in affordable cost issues. We don’t want to give out experimental costs as what will guide us in the field. We think a one-bedroom should actually go for less than N1.5 million and go on till you’re close to N3 million for a three-bedroom house.

But on experimental table, it was higher. If you’re using it massively, I believe cost can actually be fine-tuned and regulated to affordable terms.

But I don’t think the dismantleable house, is in its concept meant to address strictly low cost. It only provides an option for Nigerians to embrace in the sense of solving peculiar environmental and engineering conditions. If for some reason a particular environment isn’t suitable for habitation, a person can move a house very easily.

We’re also talking of IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] where I believe that affordability is important. You can set up an IDP [camp] very fast and move them to a more permanent situation when conditions so dictate.

 

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