Opinion

Illegal Structures and the High Rate of Building collapse in Lagos

The Lagos State Government has expressed disapproval over illegal and unapproved structures in the state making it known that they would be brought down as the state's physical planning law must be carried out for building structures.

The Lagos State Building Control Agency (LABSCA) and Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) on Monday commenced demolition of illegal structures around the High Tension Power Line in Oladan Market, LASU/Isheri Road in Idimu area of the State.

The illegal structures demolished by the government had been given contravention and demolition notices for about 5 years. Gbolahan Oki, General Manager of LASBCA stated that the buildings razed down by officials of the state were potential threats to the lives of people within the environment.

A seven-day ultimatum was also given to the affected market owners to move all of their wares and goods. Some other structures built on the Right of way in the area were also sealed up.

The Lagos State Government in its law demands that developers and property owners get approval from the pertinent state authorities before construction. This is to align with the state’s physical planning master plan.

In 2018, the southwest zone of Nigeria recorded the highest number of building collapses with Lagos surpassing all other states with over 134 deaths and 159 injuries. Building collapses result from disregard of significant areas in construction which may include soil investigation, incorporating design for extra loads, stress from winds, earthquakes, uneven terrain, use of substandard building materials, poor monitoring, and overall poor workmanship.

The partial collapse of a 3-story building at Alagomeji-Yaba was earlier marked for demolition. Residents had evacuated the building before the collapse escaping what could have been a fatal incident leading to the loss of lives and properties.

Another tragic incident was the collapse of a six-story guesthouse at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in September which caused the death of 115 people while 131 sustained injuries. This led to an uproar not just in Nigeria as 84 South Africans and 3 Zimbabweans died during the incident.

Investigations revealed that the structure which was six stories high was approved for just three. Illegal structures continue to create a major challenge for authorities especially the Lagos State Building Control Agency and the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development.

The spate of building collapse is rising rapidly in developing cities not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. A few months to the 2014 World Cup, Brazil witnessed the collapse of three buildings in one day at the center of Rio de Janeiro.

The housing crisis in Brazil has led to the rush in building practices compounding the challenge. A resident lamented that ’95 percent of these houses have (structural) problems’. Great China is also facing the illegal building construction challenge as the rising development in the cities has led to the migration of millions. In a bid to accommodate the increasing number, buildings are constructed speedily and on very low standards.

It is estimated that commercial buildings in China on average are expected to stand for just 25 to 30 years. The U.S Department of Energy revealed that this is less than half the lifespan of a commercial building in America. India is suffering a similar plight rather on a larger scale. There have been several incidents of building collapses in Mumbai leading to casualties that could be avoided.

The speedy illegal construction of buildings erected overnight to house the ever-increasing population has contributed to the frequent collapses. Poor materials and amateurs are employed to do the work. Lagos with a population of about 21 million has risen to one of the biggest cities in the world with a growth rate of 3.2 percent. This has led to more development on lands that do not have the capacity to hold multi-story buildings. Nnimmo Bassey, an Environmental specialist stated that some collapses were resulting from Lagos’ mushy soil as 40 percent of the city’s total land area is covered by water.

Nurudeen Shodeinde, General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency revealed in an interview that ‘about 90 percent of people in Lagos have no permits and have not built right. Either they don’t have a permit, or they do not conform to the permit they have or one way or the other, they have run afoul of the law.’ This may also be a result of the high cost and heinous process it takes to register a property in Lagos.

The Doing Business Registering Property Index which tracks the difficulty in registering property in countries across the globe ranks Nigeria 185th of a total 188 countries. To register a property that is free of title disputes in Nigeria would involve 13 procedures that would last for about 77 days which would cost up to 20.8 percent of the property value. This has contributed to the high number of citizens evading such a discouraging process.

The Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA established in 2010 is an offshoot of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. The agency’s duty is to carry out structural stability tests on buildings and demolishing antique or illegal properties, among others.

The agency has also contributed to the high spate of building collapse. Landlords in a bid to escape demolition of buildings, settle with some money, and the buildings are left to remain even in such a dilapidated state.

Most developers in the state are only interested in the profit of the building, with no regard for how the structures are erected. The agency has also followed in the way of profit rather than warding off impending disasters. In a bid to generate revenue for the state government, the reason for which the agency was established is no longer paramount.

The building collapse incident that took place July 11, 2020, on Lagos Island had been marked for demolition by LABSCA. Idowu, one of the victims who lost both his wife and sister-in-law to the tragic incident disclosed that the building had a crack in the toilet of which the landlord was informed immediately.

The landlord agreed to carry out a general renovation. Idowu disclosed that LABSCA officials in 2019 came to the residence to conduct a structural test on the house following the road project on the street during the period. The Landlord who was absent during the visit later went to the agency’s office to know the reason for such visit.

This was however not disclosed to residents but in that same year, the landlord and his family moved out of the house and rented the flat to another tenant. Although the building had been marked for demolition two years earlier, the landlord still renovated and rented it out.

Hundreds of people die every year from building collapse and this is not caused by natural disasters but due to the negligence of some selfish individuals whose sole interest is filthy lucre. The agencies responsible must be enlightened to know that their work cannot be taken with levity. The lives of citizens are at stake and it goes beyond generating revenue for the government.

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Developers who deliberately build such fragile structures must be arrested as this would serve as an example to the others. The safety of lives should be the utmost priority of the state.

Peace Omenka

I'm a news reporter/ researcher. My major expertise is developing feature stories around trending issues.

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