© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
REPORT: In 10 years, 49 people died in building collapse in Abuja
AVAILABLE records on building collapse in Abuja, have shown that not fewer than 49 deaths have been recorded in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory between 2008 and 2018.
The recent death of three construction workers and a mother and her daughter in a collapsed building at Utako on Friday, August 17 increased the casualties number to 48 in the last 10 years−31 people were recorded to have sustained injuries within that period.
Between 2011 and 2012, five cases of building collapse were recorded at Jabi, Garki, Mpape, Mararaba and Gwarinpa Estate.
According to Philip Lawal, an Associate Professor of Quantity Surveying at the Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Osun State, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) follows Lagos with 131 deaths and 29 injured in many cases of building collapse between 2007 and 2016.
Lawal, also a Construction Management expert at the University of Rwanda, said out of the 64 incidents of building collapse that took place throughout the country from 2007 to 2016, Lagos State has the highest number with recorded 33 cases of the building collapse.
UNRESOLVED ISSUES- NO SCAPEGOAT MADE OF ERRING OFFICERS
After the first building collapse in Abuja which attracted criticisms and condemnation to the authorities of the FCT, the FCT administration revoked the plots of land and set up a panel of inquiry to probe the allocation of the plots, approval of the building plans and the eventual collapse of the structure.
The report of the committee, which indicted 17 FCT officials, remains to be implemented even after the committee issued a white paper and recommended commensurable punitive measures against the erring officials.
Besides the two officers of the Department of Development Control: Assistant Director (Building Permit), Amina Egella and the District Officer (Utako), Umoru Halilu that were suspended immediately after the incident of building collapse, all those indicted by the Kassim Ali-led panel were allegedly left off the hook.
According to the committee’s report, the building, belonging to Exposee Nigeria Limited, was being constructed on two plots, 230 and 1161, POW Mafemi Crescent Utako. The company got building approval only in respect of Plot 230.
But the FCT Department of Development Control argued that the company went ahead to illegally extend the building to adjourning Plot 1161, which it said was for residential purposes, in violation of the terms of the approval.
The Department said it served a stop-work notice when it found out that the two plots were merged, stating that series of notices were then issued to the developer as follows: 13th August 2007 – Stop Work Notice, 20th September 2007 – Quit Notice and 4th December 2007 – Demolition Notice.
However, the Department of Development Control argued that the company, in defiance of those notices to stop work, continued building until the unfortunate collapse of the structure on an ill-fated day.
When the White Paper on the building collapse was released, a former director of the Department of Development Control, Isha Shuaibu and 16 others were indicted for unprofessional conducts.
According to the white paper, Shuaibu was alleged to have given an accelerated approval to the acknowledgement/ billing notice of the plot and building plan approval, as well as directed commencement of the process of setting out.
All took place between July 3 and July 20, 2007.
The document stated that the former director should explain the reasons for the resurrection of the file when there was a ministerial order to suspend treatment of files with revocation history.
It was not clear if Shuaibu actually explained the reasons for the accelerated approval of the plots of land that turned out to claim lives of innocent workers as he later retired from the FCT Administration as the Director of FCT Archives after serving as Director, Parks and Recreation as well as Director of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB).
Although those indicted were presumed innocent until the White Paper has been subjected to further administrative scrutiny and adopted by the FCTA as an official document, there has been no further investigation into the findings of the paper years after.
Again, when a three-storey building under construction located on Plot 1885 in Cadastral Zone A04 of Asokoro District collapsed on July 31, 2009, and killed one person while 35 others sustained injuries, the FCTA, under the then FCT Minister, Adamu Aliero, concluded that the collapsed building had no building plan approval from the Department of Development Control.
He said the approval was not given due to the ownership dispute over the land. Following the tragedy, the FCT Minister, Aliero, ordered the arrest of the developer and ordered that he be prosecuted by the law enforcement agents.
Before the collapse of the building, the Department of Development Control revealed that while the dispute over the plot was already in court, the developer went ahead with the construction, following which the building the collapsed.
A former Public Relations Officer of the Department, Josie Mudasiru, said after the first foundation of the building, the FCT building authority, after an inspection at the site, had recommended that the owner should put a stop to the construction of the building.
She noted that the developer, rather than complying with the recommendation, went to court to get an injunction restraining the FCT authority from stopping or demolishing the said building which then was just about a storey high.
After the collapse of the building, Aliero, the Minister ordered the revocation of the land and directed that the plot of land be converted to a public garden in memory of the victims of the collapse. But the developer was neither arrested nor prosecuted.
When contacted for information on whether the White Paper was implemented, the Chief Press Secretary to Minister of FCT, Cosmas Uzodinma said it was long that the incident took place and would not be able to say what has happened after the release of the White Paper.
Speaking on what the current Minister, Bello Mohammed is doing to address the incessant building collapse in Abuja, he said the Minister had set up an investigation panel to look into it. ‘The Minister is a man of his words, he will surely look into the matter,’ he said.
While the FHA argued that its in-house Department of Development Control has the capacity to endorse building plans and designs within its controlled areas in the FCT, the FCTA insisted that its Department of Development Control has the mandate to approve all building plans in Abuja irrespective of where such buildings are located.
The FCTA Department of Development Control issues approved building plans− it also supervises construction of buildings in the FCT, but the FHA also has some areas where it allocates land to members of the public as well as supervises the construction of buildings in those areas in the FCT.
This much played out in 2012, when a two-storey building, located on 45 Road, Gwarinpa Estate, belonging to the Nigeria Navy Holding Limited, collapsed on seven labourers, killing two and trapping three others.
The FCTA blamed the incident on FHA which it said sold the property to the Navy Holdings without due diligence. The FHA was defended by its then Managing Director, Terver Gemade, who confirmed that the two-storey block of six flats was acquired by the Nigerian Navy from the Federal Housing Authority in 2002.
But he was quick to say that the building was being demolished by persons hired by the Nigerian Navy Holding Ltd for an unauthorised renovation and collapsed in the process.
He said those engaged to carry out the unapproved demolition ignored the stop work notice served on the building and continued with it in haste on Saturday apparently to take advantage of the weekend.
Gemade said the FHA, in the letter of allocation of its houses, requires customers seeking to carry out any alteration on buildings acquired from it to seek approval in writing.
He revealed that before the integrity of the building could be probed and approval granted (or otherwise) to the Navy, its Development Control personnel on routine inspection noticed some demolition activity on the site in the evening of Thursday, January 26, 2012. Following that development, the Authority said it issued a ‘stop work notice’ the following morning and the building concerned was duly marked.
This overlapping of duties leading to building collapse was attested to by a former Director of FCT Department of Development Control, Yahaya Yusuf. He told The ICIR, that there were two cases of collapsed buildings when he was in charge and those buildings were within the FHA territory.
Yusuf, however, revealed that FHA has since conceded to be submitting its building plans to the FCT Department of Development Control for approval.
“The cases in Gwarimpa had been two and are within the enclave of Federal Housing Authority. As you know, there had been a running battle between FHA and FCT Development Control to the effect that within the estates developed by FHA, because they also felt they have professionals that could control development within their area they were not going to let go of what the law provides that the Department of Development Control supervises and approves all buildings across the land,” he said
“The hangover of that practice where FHA was supervising its own construction still went on and we have had challenges. I remember instances where we have had to stop them from developing a site.
“There was a kind of mudslide to the extent that a building was brought down and a 10-day-old baby died in the process,” he explained.
But he said the FHA has since complied with submitting building plans to Development Control for approval before it can construct a building.
The immediate former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed re-enacted that statutory provision that only Development Control is empowered to control development within the FCT, not conceding such function to FHA any longer within their own enclave.
But Yusuf, during whose tenure some of the early building collapse incidents in Abuja took place, attributed all the cases of collapsed buildings to the involvement of quacks in the industry.
He also blamed some members of staff of his department who, he said, were shirking their responsibilities, hence the decision to make professionals sign an undertaking to be held responsible for any occurrence in a project they are handling.
“Today, for every building that has to be constructed in the FCT, there must be a professional signing that he would be held responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the construction. We didn’t only institutionalise the process whereby you collect the evidence of qualifications, but also experience; qualifications from an accredited institution,” he said.
According to him, every building that is put up in Abuja and approved has an undertaking prepared by recognised professionals who would submit their evidence of qualifications from those universities or accredited institutions, as well as evidence of registration with relevant professional bodies to practice the profession.
“These are deposited with the Department and we use them to crosscheck and be sure that they are tenable. After doing that, each time you monitor sites, you know who you are expecting to see and if he is not there, you may stop the work.
“You may have noticed that on account of this, there has been a sharp drop in the rate of building collapse in Abuja in recent times. You have had some in surrounding settlements such as Mararaba and the likes, but not in Abuja itself, “Yusuf said
He also complained about middlemen who according to him always hover around the Department of Development Control looking for survival.
“Some of them take jobs and pass same to professionals to just sign. That was a major issue that we had to contend with by not only banning them but also making sure that those who are actually designing and endorsing plans are the professionals themselves.”
An Abuja based estate surveyor and valuer, Niyi Fadoju, said the problem of an incessant building collapse in the FCT may be due to high water level caused by too much rainfall.
“The incidence of a building collapse that we have in Abuja usually happens in the rainy season and that shows that there is something about the rain. The concrete, the block works absorb water during the rainy season, so buildings are heavier.
“Then secondly, the water level rises, that means you have more water in the foundation and if the foundation is not well laid, then the building is bound to collapse because the poor foundation is carrying a heavier weight,” Fadoju said
He, however, did not rule out the effects of activities of quacks who, he argued, have taken over the building construction industry from the experts, even as he argued that proper checks have to be carried out on the competency or otherwise of those presenting themselves as building construction experts.
For Philip Lawal, an Associate Professor, over 50 per cent of building failure and collapse are attributable to industry’s professionals’ poor supervisory roles and non-adherence to standards.
A former President of the Nigerian Institute of Builders (NIOB), Chuks Omeife, said the government is not helping matters in stemming the menace of a collapsed building in the country, noting that there would have been a law in place by now to check all the challenges in the building industry.
“The remedy to a collapsed building is the enactment of an enabling law to back up building code which has been at the National Assembly since 2008.
“The way it is now, there is no law that says if a building collapses, the person involved should be jailed or fined, “Omeife said
THE NATIONAL BUILDING CODE IS YET TO BE IMPLEMENTED
The revised National Building Code was approved by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017 but has not been implemented.
The code is a technical document on how building material, construction/ methodology and process are applied for the purpose of ensuring quality, safety and health. Each state is also expected to prepare its own sub-codes to regulate building construction
It is also expected to provide a punitive measure for anybody that erected a building that collapsed. Its implementation is marred by the absence of a legal framework that would aid its enforcement.
Though Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola announced in June that the Federal Government has come up with a new National Building Code, the impact of the code is yet to be felt in the building industry.