The recent collapse of a church building that killed scores of people in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during a service with Governor Udom Emmanuel in attendance has become part of grim national statistics on the poor quality of buildings and their construction in Nigeria. The roof of the freshly-plastered building suddenly collapsed. Some of those who lost their lives included Governor Emmanuel's aides. The owners of the building had to hurry the renovation and upgrade because of the anticipated presence of the Governor and other dignitaries.
A similar tragedy occurred September 12, 2014 at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos when a six-storey building belonging to the church collapsed, killing 116 worshippers. There have been other cases of collapsed buildings across the country. Over 20 cases were officially reported in 2016 alone, with attendant casualties. Building experts adduce five reasons why buildings collapse: weak foundations, poor quality materials, workers' mistakes, structural overloads and untested soil integrity. In many cases the profit motive is involved, as proprietors and contractors seek to cut corners, sometimes in collusion with corrupt officials.
That nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted and sanctioned could be one of the reasons buildings keep collapsing. Apart from the spur-of-the-moment arrests of people working at the sites, there is little to remind culprits of the dire consequences of their actions.
The high incidence of collapsed buildings appears to be a phenomenon of recent years when the quality of governance and integrity consciousness deteriorated. Public officers charged with ensuring that standards are adhered to go out looking for other things, except that for which they are paid. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) snores at its duty post while an armada of sub-standard building products keep flooding the markets. Government must wake up its officials to do their jobs, ensuring that only qualified and competent hands are hired.
Professional bodies charged with ensuring maintenance of professional ethics in the engineering and building sectors should be more active because each collapsed building is an indictment on the quality of professionals we have. Above all, the law enforcement agents must ensure that those implicated in collapsed buildings are prosecuted. It is the only way to bring sanity to the sector, and safety to our people.
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