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Constructors of collapsed buildings should be prosecuted

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Prof. Danladi Matawal is the Director General of the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI). In this interview with Joy Baba, he gives an insight into the causes of building collapse in Nigeria as well as other burning housing issues in the country.

What exactly is the mandate of NBBRI?
Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBBRI) has a lot of mandates. We address issues pertaining to local building and construction materials so as to determine the most effective and most economic method for their utilization within our environment. We also look at issues of architectural design to suit the Nigerian climatic conditions particularly with respect to lighting, ventilation, comfort and humidity. These has to do with the design and performance of functional building, local construction foundation.
We look into bridge building, especially in problem soils within our environment as well as issues that have to do with roads design and construction best suited to the Nigerian environment. Also the institute looks at local construction and building operation and methods that will increase their effectiveness within our peculiar environment. This is in addition to road safety, economic and social aspect of roads and transportations, structural designs of bridges that will suit us and all classes of engineering materials as well as ensuring the promotion of research output through consultancy services and special support services to medium and small scale enterprises in the areas of training among others.
So NBRRI has numerous mandates given to it, our functions do not overlap. They are very peculiar. NBRRI is purely a Research and Development institute. We have research officers; we have a National Research laboratory complex in Otta, Ogun state where three research departments are domiciled. These include the building research department, the road research department and the engineering research department. We have pure research staffs. We also have long term plan of getting a training institute, that is, the NBRRI academy that will train manpower for continuous professional development
Do you send reports to Government to help enforce rules and regulations of local buildings?
The primary mandate if summed up means we need to build capacity. When researches are conducted, the finding needs to be applied. Every Research and Development result comes up in a technical report format. Reports are sent to government and our parent ministry, that is, the Ministry of Science and Technology. We also send to very cognate ministries who have seats on our board of governors like Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban development, Federal Capital Territory Administration and all state governments and their department of works. We organize conference and workshops from time to time to look at the issue I had earlier mentioned and send out our reports to relevant agencies.
Recently, your agency organised a workshop in Abuja on building collapse. What informed the conference?
There has been the issue of incessant building collapse in different parts of the country in the recent times. The frequency of the tragedies has been of concern to the agency. This frequency is not a normal event when you compare Nigeria to other part of the world in the sense that building collapse. In other climes, this is what is heard once in a while. We are worried because when it occurs, you have loss of lives, economy and materials. NBRRI decided it was time to intervene and one of the avenues was to organize a technical workshop to create awareness. We have done researches and travelled to other parts of the world and discovered buildings don’t collapse in other parts of the world like it happens in Nigeria. So something is wrong somewhere and we believe that we can help by getting people sensitised on the issues.
So what is responsible for incessant collapse of building in Nigeria? Has it to do with lack of regulations?
The use of poor material is responsible primarily for this situation. Also lack of adherence to design specification can cause a building to collapse. Those in charge of supervision also have their fair share of blame because of poor supervision which has led to a lot of problems. Skilled man power is most times not available and this is another big problem which must be addressed.
Does your supervision include checking of quality of material or just following laid down rules on construction sites?
It has to do with the two. The process of supervision entails that when materials are brought to site, they should be inspected and somebody must make sure they are according to specification. Specification of ratio of water to cement must be adhered to no matter how small the quantity is. Every site must have a signboard stating the name of project, the client, the designer, architect, engineers, the mechanical electrical engineers, quantity surveyors and the supervision team. If you see this on any site, there is proper arrangement for supervision. All these are not found on most sites which means there is no supervision in a lot of sites.
Do you extend such supervision to residential houses?
We often insist on supervision on every structure as long as human beings will be there either business or residential. This is also in the interest of the owners. The owners should do minimum consultation before embarking on building projects. This will help the laborers do their work meticulously. Most private entrepreneur don’t do consultation before embarking on building projects. That is why 70 percent of buildings that collapse belong to private entrepreneurs. The secondary categories of buildings that collapse are those that belong to government. Many states and local governments don’t institute proper machinery for supervision. Corporate organisation like banks records the least building collapse. Theirs is very minimal.
Are there punitive measures for owners of collapsed buildings to serve as warning to others?
In fact there should be random check to make sure things are in place on sites. Road collapse claims more lives than building collapse. The law of the land should punish these people and not COREN. There is high degree of insincerity in Nigeria. Some of these construction engineers are taken to court and the case last for a while. The judge is not a builder or an engineer, so he might not know what wrong materials on sites are or how things are put in place on sites. What is obtainable in other countries is that they set up technical committees with lawyers and engineers and their decisions are binding at the end of the day.
What measure is government or NBRRI taking to make sure standards are maintained?
We are doing a lot of things. That is one of the major reasons we organize workshops like the recent one we held in Abuja. Our aim is to create awareness among the people. This will help the appropriate regulatory authority to take note and punish erring professional. There should be a national committee with members drawn from professional bodies that will go from city to city to check if the municipal authorities are doing their work. If they are doing their work and any one is trying to frustrate their work either politically or otherwise, then we take it up nationally.
After the workshop, we classified our intervention into two categories, we have the short term intervention measure; we have the intermediary intervention measures and then the long term intervention measure. The short term interventions include sensitization, creating awareness through the media and so on. The workshops and conference we organize are also part of the short term intervention measure. There are intermediate measures that can be pursued like some of the recommendations to form committees to go round and evaluate the level of adherence to supervision principles and monitoring principles and regulatory issues. The long term measure we have identified is what will lead to the development of NBRRI academy since we lack skilled manpower. This development is not a one day issue. A curriculum will be developed and will be domiciled here. Every stake holder will be involved in building a curriculum that has global outlook and would be effective, pragmatic for artisans and workmen so that we won’t have complains about buildings. There will also be continuous professional development in the academy for professionals in the field who have stayed long in the field and need to come back for refresher course and new ideas on building

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