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How corruption, regulatory failure fuel Nigeria's tragic building collapses – Punch Newspapers

  • December 5, 2021
  • 21 min read
How corruption, regulatory failure fuel Nigeria's tragic building collapses – Punch Newspapers

Punch Newspapers
punchng.com © 1971-2020 The Punch newspaper
Building collapse, with loss of lives, is becoming frequent in Nigeria. In this report by OLADIMEJI RAMON, industry experts identify corruption and regulatory failure as the factors behind it; they also speak about the way out
On the morning of Tuesday, November 3, 2021 the atmosphere on Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, was charged and pensive. Anyone approaching was first confronted with a vehicle of the Federal Road Safety Corps parked obliquely in the middle of one lane of the dual carriageway.
Ahead, scores of security agents and emergency workers buzzed around. Some distance apart, a line of anxious-looking persons were either seated or pacing the sidewalk. More than a dozen television cameras were set down and several journalists milled around. Most gazes were fixed on two excavators working their ways through a mountain of rubble. It was almost impossible to miss the tension in the air amid agitated and hushed discussions going on in various mini groups.
This was an unusual scene in Ikoyi, a posh Lagos neighbourhood, reputed for its serenity. But it was the third day of tense emergency operations after a 21-storey building under construction caved in on November 1. The fallen edifice was one, and the tallest, of a set of three breathtaking high-rises, named 360 Degrees Towers, being constructed by Fourscore Heights Limited.

Tragedy struck right in the middle of the busy hours of the day, thus, many of the workers on site were trapped.
On the first day of the tragedy, nine persons were rescued alive but by the second day, the rescue operation had turned to a search for dead bodies.
By the third day when this reporter visited, families, who were sure their missing loved ones worked at the site came around, praying and hoping for a miracle.


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Every now and then, hope gave way to despair and pent-up anxiety. By a week later when the search operation came to an end, death toll had hit 46, including the owner of the building, Femi Osibona, his personal assistant, Oyinye Enekwe, and his United States-bound friend, Wale Bob-Oseni.
The fall of the 21-storey high-rise and the attendant high mortality figure marked one of the most tragic moments for Nigeria in 2021. But as monumental as this tragedy was, it is one of the many frequent cases of building collapse in the country in recent years, especially in Lagos – Nigeria’s economic capital.
This worrisome situation persists despite all the regulatory measures put in place to tame it. This, industry experts and various fact-finding tribunals have linked to poor enforcement of regulations and sharp practices in the industry.
According to them, corruption in the Nigerian building construction industry manifests in form of use of substandard building materials, preference for quacks, weak enforcement by the regulatory bodies and alleged bribery of state officials who compromise in the enforcement of industry rules, particularly where influential developers are involved.
The use of substandard building material, they explained, is driven by developers/ contractors’ desperation to cut costs at the expense of safety. This, according to experts, accounts for majority of the cases of building collapse in the country.
Collapse of a dream
A former President of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Mr Kunle Awobodu, described the Ikoyi incident as “the mightiest building collapse in Nigeria’s history.”

Indeed, the fall of that high-rise was more than just the collapse of a building; it was the collapse of a dreamed revolution in the Nigerian real estate sector. In an August 6, 2021 interview with TVC, which went viral after the tragic incident, the owner of the building, Osibona, had laid bare his dream.
It was obvious that with 360 Degrees Towers, which he also fondly called “Luxury in the Sky”, Osibona planned to make a statement that the best has yet to be seen of the potential that exists in the Nigerian real estate industry and he saw himself leading the way into that promising future.
The estate developer was quite infectious in the manner in which he spoke about what he had envisioned. As he constantly explained, his mission was to build residential apartments equal in luxury to a typical seven-star hotel. As he explained, this dream was inspired by a visit to a friend in London “living in a very big house (worth about £5m) with white people.”
The project was said to be 80 per cent ready and 65 per cent of the apartments, offered for between $500,000 (N206.6m) and $3m (N1.24bn), were already subscribed when the skyscraper crumbled. And Osibona’s dream was even beyond 360 Degrees Towers.
“Whatever you are seeing here is just the beginning. It is just two to three per cent of our next project. I can tell you, the future is very bright. So, this is just a child’s play… For me, we have just started. All those high-rises we see in Dubai, we will have them in Nigeria. It is a matter of time,” he had said.
Fallen 21-storey high-rise spotlights industry rot
Hours after the collapse of that building, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, ordered a probe into the incident and subsequently inaugurated a six-man panel, which was given 30 days, to carry out the task.


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The governor, who admitted that “indeed mistakes were made,” also suspended the General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Gbolahan Oki, indefinitely.
While the state panel’s report is still being awaited, observations by experts suggest that some of the identified factors behind building collapse in Nigeria were at play in the execution of the ill-fated Ikoyi high-rise.
Soon after the 21-storey high-rise crashed, the site attracted the interest of experts in the building construction industry.
During their visits, professionals nosed around for preliminary signs of what could have gone wrong. Many of them said a simple look at the signboard to the project was enough to arouse suspicion that something was not right.
For example, the President, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, Dipo Ajayi, who visited the site with his colleagues on November 3, said it was curious that the signboard did not disclose the names of the professionals engaged, contrary to the standard practice.
The signboard, standing tall at the entrance, did not disclose the names of the contractor, concept designer/project manager, structural engineer and the architect. Only phone numbers were displayed and that of the structural engineer was even missing.
Ajayi said, “From what we have seen here, from the signboard, we did not see the name of the architect or the engineer. I am not trying to preempt the panel, but as an architect and President of ARCON, there should be a well organised system where people will have their place in the industry.”

Expressing a similar view in an interview with Channels TV, the current President of the BCPG, Mr George Akinola, said, “The law says you must put a board there that shows the professionals involved in the building or the construction going on. Nothing shows the architect; nothing shows the structural engineer; nothing shows the quantity surveyor and all the other professionals that should be involved. There is nothing about them.
“They just wrote some acronyms and then phone numbers. But that’s not the professional way to do it. (From) the signboard there, it’s very clear that there is a contravention, sort of.”
It was later found that the structural engineer in charge of the project, one Prowess Engineering Limited, had withdrawn, stating, via a February 20, 2020 letter, that “We no longer share the same vision with you as our client in terms of how the project is being executed.”
Prowess Engineering Limited, in the letter signed by its Managing Director, Muritala Olawale, said it could not guarantee the integrity of the high-rise.
“We request that our company’s name and logo be removed from the project board and also kindly notify all necessary approving authorities of our withdrawal from the project,” the structural engineer said.
But the first glimpse of a possible breach of regulations and malpractices was given by the suspended LABSCA GM, Oki, when shortly after the building fell, he blurted out in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria that the developer, Osibona, raised the building in excess of what was approved.
“He (Osibona) got an approval for a 15-storey building and he exceeded his limit. I am on ground here (site of collapsed building) and the materials he used are so inferior and terrible.


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“The materials he used, the reinforcement, are so terrible. He got approval for 15 floors but built 21,” Oki said.
Many analysts said it was curious that despite that Oki had such information, LABSCA, under his watch kept mute while the developer carried on till tragedy struck.
But the existence of possible power play and compromise evident in situations when the developer is influential and well-connected, emerged when shortly after the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, contradicted Oki, insisting that 21 floors were approved.
Hamzat said the building was at a point sealed off, but was later reopened for corrective work.
In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, ex-President of Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Awobodu, remarked that, “when those who are directly involved are saying one thing and those at the higher level are saying a different thing, it means a lot is wrong.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, which launched an independent probe into the incident, later confirmed in its preliminary report released on November 15, 2021, that indeed Osibona overshot the approved limit for the high-rise.
In the report signed by its President, Dr Kehinde Osifala, the NIStructE said its findings showed that, “The building that collapsed was initially designed for just six floors, and later (raised) to 12 floors, before this was further changed to 15 floors.

“It could not yet be established the adequacy of any properly-designed and documented further revision to the eventual (and tragically, final) 21 floors that was being implemented and which collapsed.”
The report added, “Lack of proper quality control and quality assurance measures and processes during the construction was evident becoming noticeable as seen in the poor quality of concrete materials and workmanship observed during the examination of the collapse debris.”
The fall of the Ikoyi high-rise has put the spotlight on the steady rot in Nigeria’s building construction industry. It revealed that the rot has remained despite the recommendations made by probe panels set up to investigate previous major building collapse incidents in the country.
As a pointer to the endemic nature of the menace, barely 24 hours after the incident, a section of a two-storey building, also under construction in the Osapa London area of Lekki, Lagos, also caved in. Fortunately, no one died.
But four people lost their lives when another two-storey building, under construction at Flour Mill Estate, Magbon in Badagry, Lagos, collapsed two weeks later.
That the country is witnessing increasing collapse of buildings under construction supports the submission by experts that corruption, manifesting in the use of sub-standard materials, quackery and failed industry regulations, is at the root of the problem.
Prevalence of building collapse


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The Ikoyi incident comes seven years after the September 12, 2014 collapse of a six-storey guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in the Ikotun area of Lagos. The incident claimed 116 lives.
Following a probe, the Lagos State Government said it established that there was no approval for the building.
The Council of the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, which carried out an independent probe, said the building lacked adequate foundation, adding that there was no evidence it was supervised by a structural engineer.
To think that the construction allegedly escaped the notice of regulatory agencies before tragedy struck was a pointer to weak enforcement or compromise.
The country has also witnessed the collapse of a six-storey building being constructed by Lekki Gardens in the Lekki area of the state in March 2016. No fewer than 34 persons died in the incident.
As in the case of SCOAN building, the state government also discovered after the tragedy that the building was not approved.
In Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, over 100 persons died when Reigners International Church’s building caved in on worshippers in 2016.

There was also the collapse of a seven-storey building under construction in GRA Phase 2, along Woji Road, Port Harcourt on November 24, 2018, which claimed 18 lives and injured 22 others.
A probe panel set up by the River State Government similarly established a case of compromise, adding that the building was raised in excess of the approved limit.
Nigeria has also witnessed the collapse of a three-storey building in the Ita Faaji area of Lagos Island on March 13, 2019, which killed 20 people, including some pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School, occupying the second floor of the distressed building.
With these cases and more, the country has, indeed, paid dearly for corruption and regulatory failure in the building construction industry.
Though it is difficult to know the exact number of building collapse cases in the country due to the lack of enough data, the BCPG, an advocacy group of built environment professionals, reported that in 2019 alone the country witnessed 43 cases of building collapse.
In 2017, a report by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing indicated that 54 buildings collapsed across the country in four years.
A tally by The PUNCH also showed that at least 145 buildings collapsed in Lagos State between 2007 and 2021. The tally further showed that between 2014 and 2021, no fewer than 259 persons died from building collapse incidents in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and most populous state.


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Sadly, the menace remains untamed.
Why buildings collapse
A report by Discovery Channel, United States gives an overview of possible reasons a building may collapse or fail.
The report notes that building collapse is a global phenomenon to which even technologically-advanced nations are not immune.
Only on June 24 this year, the United States of America witnessed the collapse of a 12-storey condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida. Described as one of the deadliest building collapses in the US history, the fall of the 40-year-old condo claimed 98 lives with 11 others injured.
In South Korea, Sampoond Department Store collapsed in 1995, killing more than 500 people and injuring over 937 others.
In 2013, Bangladesh lost at least 1,132 souls to the collapse of an eight-storey factory in Dhaka.

World over, building collapse incidents have become eye-openers and have got experts in the construction industry thinking.
The Discovery US’ report narrowed reasons why buildings fail or collapse down to four. They are design flaws, ground settling, overloading and material deterioration.
Ground settling
According to the report, when a structure is built on unstable land, such as soft soil of marshland, the foundation can begin to sink shortly after construction and this gets worse with time.
It stated, “When the foundation fails, the building collapses from the bottom. In a high-rise building, this results in a pancake effect, where the upper floors slam down on top of the collapsed foundation.”
Overloading
The report noted that buildings are designed to support a certain maximum load.


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“A building can collapse if there is more weight on a portion of it than the structure is designed to support. This can happen when the material’s strength deteriorates over time,” it said.
Design flaws
According to the report, a building, whose design fails to make room for alternative load paths or redundancies, is doomed to fail.
The report said, “Buildings are typically designed with redundancies or alternative load paths. If one section of the structure fails or weakens to the point where it can no longer hold the building’s weight, then that load is redistributed to another section. Designs that lack such redundancies can lead to devastating failures of the entire structure.”
Material deterioration
“Chemical changes in materials, such as rust burst, can cause buildings to collapse,” the report noted.
It explained that steel, embedded in concrete to strengthen buildings, can overtime expand up to six or seven times its original thickness.

“This expansion (of the steel) can crack the surrounding structure and when cracks appear, rain and frost cause the cracks to widen, rendering the building unsafe,” the report stated.
Corruption worsens Nigerian scenario
But besides these four factors identified in the report, experts say the situations of the Nigerian real estate sector are peculiar, compounded by corruption.
This was alluded to in a research paper titled, ‘Building Collapse in Nigeria During Recent Years – Causes, Effects and Way Forward,’ authored by P. O. Awoyera, J. Alfa, A. Odetoyan and I. I. Akinwumi of the Department of Civil Engineering, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State.
The report stated that, “Many of the documented cases of building collapse in Nigeria are due to the use of defective or substandard building materials, no requisite technical knowledge, non-adherence to building codes and standards, the use of non-professionals and the high level of corruption, which has ravaged every sphere of the construction industry including government and private parastatals.”
Also, the General Manager, Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory, Mr Olufunsho Elulade, in an October 10, 2021 interview with Sunday PUNCH, stated that, “The most prevalent cause (of building collapse in Nigeria) is the use of bad materials. Unfortunately, we found ourselves in a place where people want to cut corners. When you give a project to a supervisor, the supervisor wants to maximise his profit so they connive with others to buy fake materials.”
A retired director in the Abia State Ministry of Town Planning and a former Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Abia State Chapter, Elder Nelson Nwaosu, also told our correspondent that quackery is a major problem in the Nigerian construction industry.


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Nwaosu said, “You know that in Nigeria, a mason now puts himself forward as an engineer. You will see someone who is trained to mould blocks claiming to be an engineer. Quackery is overwhelming.”
Osibona’s revealing interview
In his August 6, 2021 interview with TVC, the developer of the collapsed 21-storey high-rise, Osibona, revealed something important about himself – that he had a track record of somehow getting approval to build more than what he initially intended and applied for.
The late estate developer claimed that it was never a fault of his but the mistakes of the approving authorities, which he saw nothing wrong in exploiting.
By his own admission, he did it first in London – on two different occasions.
He said, “There was a big house; I applied for a two-storey extension. The council wanted to write two-storey, they made a mistake; they wrote three-storey. When we started developing it, neighbours went to report – you know where you have two-storey buildings in London, you can’t do a three-storey (building), two-storey (buildings) must go all the way.
“So, they went to report me to the council and the council came and agreed that they made a mistake but they said I should not do the three-storey, anyway. I went on and did the three-storey. Then we went for a committee; at the committee, I won.”

Then he did it again.
He said, “There was this house I bought in London, it still exists today, they call it Fourscore Mansions in Hackney, 113 Abion Drive. It was a pub; the pub was to be demolished and then I applied for a planning permission to develop a five-storey building…By the time the planning approval came in again, the council made some mistakes; they wanted to write six-storey, they made a mistake, they wrote seven-storey.”
The ill-fated Ikoyi high-rise followed almost the same pattern, only with the difference that the decision to exceed the approved limit was not tied to a mistake by the approving authorities.
This was revealed by the now suspended LABSCA GM, Oki, as well as the preliminary report by the NIStructE.
Why building approval is important
Ex-Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Abia State Chapter, Nwaosu, said contrary to the thinking of many developers, approvals for buildings are not granted arbitrarily, such that one may decide to overshoot it.
He explained that for a building above one floor, soil integrity and the type of materials to be used for the building are the factors considered in granting approval.


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Nwaosu said, “Generally, after the ground floor, in a storey building, which we call two floors, we consider the strength of the soil and the type of materials to be used. And that is why often, if it is a storey building, which is two floors, we want the structural engineer to stamp on it, confirming to have seen the type of materials to be used.
 “We also require the geology or the geo-technical expert to affirm the type of soil and the strength of it, which is called soil test.”
But in spite the importance of grant of approval or permit in the building process, recent cases of building collapse showed that developers commonly ignored it, while there is no or scant record of the culprits being punished.
Where the state manages to initiate criminal proceedings against errant developers and contractors, such trials are often frustrated by long-winded judiciary processes, which take many years.
For instance, following the collapse of SCOAN’s six-storey guesthouse in 2014, the Lagos State Government charged the registered trustees of the church with one count of “building without approval” in violation of Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State 2010.
The contractors in charge of the project, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, alongside their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited, were equally charged with involuntary manslaughter.
But seven years after, the court has yet to give a verdict and no one has been punished.

In the case of Lekki Gardens’ collapsed three-storey building, the firm’s Managing Director, Richard Nyong, and seven others were charged with six counts of building without approval and involuntary manslaughter.
After three years of forth and back movements in court, the prosecution later came up with a questionable plea bargain, which the judge, Justice Sybil Nwaka, angrily rejected.
For the collapsed seven-storey building in GRA Phase 2, along Woji Road, Port Harcourt in 2018, a probe panel set up by the Rivers State Government found that the developer,  Francis Allagoa, did not initially obtain a building permit, and though he later obtained approval for a five-storey building, he decided to raise the structure to seven floors.
Acting on the recommendation of the panel, the state announced its decision to prosecute the developer, his engineer, Adeniyi Ibiyeye, as well as architect, Timiebi Reuben.
But three years after, nothing has been heard of such prosecution, underscoring impunity and absence of deterrence while the menace of building collapse remains unchecked.
A former Lagos State Solictor-General, Lawal Pedro (SAN), said it wasn’t for lack of adequate laws but lack of enforcement that building collapse remains untamed in the country.
He said, “The issue of building collapse is a serious one. As I have always said, lack of enforcement is a major issue concerning building collapse.”


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A Lagos-based lawyer, Mrs Aderemi Fagbemi, however, called for the simplification and fast-tracking of the process by which building permit is granted.
Fagbemi, who is the Secretary to the Construction Projects and Infrastructure Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law, said the bureaucratic bottleneck is one of the reasons many developers bypass due process and go through the back door by bribing officials.
Fagbemi noted that a recent assessment by the World Bank revealed that in Lagos State, for instance, “investors and developers have to go through 17 procedures to obtain (building) permit which is estimated to take about 118 days.”
The lawyer said, “The permitting, inspection and certification processes need to be reduced and simplified to encourage developers, and there is a need to discontinue physical/paper applications, in order to reduce the avenues for corrupt practices.
“For the developer, they need to be sure that the process is seamless and that state actors will not seek to frustrate their investments by unnecessarily stalling the grant of approvals in order to obtain a bribe or purely because of inefficiency.”
Fagbemi’s advice reiterated the recommendation made in 2014 by a Lagos magistrate and coroner, Mr Komolafe Oyetade, who conducted an inquest into the death of the SCOAN building collapse victims.
The magistrate had recommended that “government should reduce the cost of obtaining necessary building permits or approval and remove administrative bottlenecks in order to encourage individuals and organisations to go through the due process of obtaining necessary building permits or approval before the commencement of building constructions.”

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