Building collapse in Nigeria, its causes and recommendations


The incidence of building collapse in Nigeria is reaching an epidemic proportion.  It has gotten so bad that no six months go by without there being a record of a building collapse somewhere in the country. Some estimates show that in the last 12 years, probably no less than 30 buildings have collapsed around Lagos alone. Other major cities are not spared – Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Ibadan. And each time, there is a tremendous loss of human lives and properties and severe injuries to people around there. 

Individual opinions differ on the reasons for building collapse. According to a study conducted by S.A. Oloyede, C.B. Omoogun and O.A. Akinjare all of the Department of Estate Management, School of Environmental Sciences at Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, building “collapse occurs when the structural frame of a building breaks up when the loads on it are beyond its carry capacity”. According to this study, the common causes of building collapse have been traced to:

a)  Bad Design
b)  Faulty construction
c)  Foundation failure
d)  Extra-ordinary loads
e)  Use of unqualified contractors and poor monitoring
f)   Above all, lack of enforcement of building codes by the relevant town  planning officials

Soil types also pose a general problem for built foundations and the structural integrity of a building. So there is a need to carry out a soil tests to determine its suitability for a building structure. Sand and clay soil types tend to move because there are too many voids between their particles. Silt deposits are susceptible to collapse when exposed to excessive amounts of water, while clay soil tend to shrink in the dry season and expand in the wet season or when exposed to large amounts of water.

The skill, experience and personal ability of the workmen involved in the building construction is of utmost importance in creating value. Also of significance are the quality of building materials used in the construction and a strict supervision of workmen by the site supervisor.

For this study, different groups of professionals involved in the construction trade were interviewed by questionnaires. The three groups were:

1)  Contractors, Builders, Architects, Estate Surveyors and Values, Civil Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Structural Engineers and Town Planners. For this group, ten members of each professions received questionnaires and the results were tallied.

2)  Fifty landlords each were selected from the inner cities of Ota, Ogun State and Ijaiye, Ojokoro, Lagos State. They were also given questionnaires to obtain information on their experiences with collapsed buildings.

3)  Historical data of buildings that had collapsed were also gathered.

4)  The opinion of Zonal Town Planning officers were sought to know the implications of sites susceptible to foundation challenges.

5)  Bricklayers, Carpenters, Welders, Plumbers and Electrical contractors were interviewed to get their opinion as the primary causes of building collapse in the country. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Every group had a slight difference of opinion on what was responsible for building collapse in the country. Each group tended to blame the other:

Building Professionals
Building professionals felt that the immediate cause of building collapse were:

a)  Use of low quality building materials.
b)  Use of incompetent craftsmen leading to poor workmanship
c)  Greed, corruption and ignorance can be traced to many contractors, who for selfish reasons fail to adhere strictly to building specification and standards either as a result of their incompetence or greed.
d)  Poor building design and planning
e)  Natural disaster and building on the wrong soil type
f)   Poor workmanship
g)  Weak supervision

Public view
From the public view, the cause of building failures can be attributed to:

a)  Non-compliance with specifications/standards by developers/contractors
b)  Incompetent contractor
c)  Use of sub standard materials and equipment
d)  Improper design
e)  Faulty construction methodology
f)   Poor town planning approval/development monitoring process
g)  Inadequate supervision or inspection/monitoring
h)  Economic pressures
i)   Incompetent conversion
j)   Change of use of building
k)  Aged buildings
l)   Poor maintenance culture

The view from Academia
Stakeholders in Academia felt that the reasons for building failures were:

a)  Non enforcement of existing laws by the Town Planning Authorities as a result of lack of political will.
b)  Endemic poor work ethics
c)  Falling standards in education
d)  Lack of continuing professional development
e)  Bribery and corruption

Based on the questionnaires and results, the following recommendations were made to stem the high incidence of building collapse in Nigeria

1)  Building collapse can be minimized if the press can lay more emphasis on educating the public on the dangers of collapse buildings. The public must be willing to alert government on buildings suspected to be a risk to the lives of people living within a neighborhood.

2)  Government must be willing to tackle the complicated problem of building neglect by the populace. This should be in four major areas:

a)  Legislation
b)  Enforcement
c)  Support
d)  Assistance, publicity and public education

To affect this change, the government must provide and maintain a modernized, efficient and user-friendly statutory building control regime to meet the residential housing development needs of Nigerians. In addition, government should review enforcement policy against building problems that are of public concern, including the issue of sub divided units and water seepage in order to enhance building safety. The longer term objective should be to foster a building safety culture among Nigerians so that the building professionals will have the self awareness to properly observe building safety.

3)  Government must embark on proactive steps to bring enough political courage that will allow the town planning authorities to perform their functions unfettered.

4)  To check the activities of erring professionals, members of staff of town planning authority and individual housing developers, the legal framework should be improved to ensure smoother, less time-consuming and less burdensome ways to conduct business in the functions of law courts. Once this is put in place, those who abuse the law can be heavily sanctioned.

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