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Building collapse: Will the govt. do the obvious?

Helen OvbiageleWoman Editor
You don’t have to be a victim of building collapse to know how terrible
and horrible the experience can be.  With a little bit of imagination you can feel the full impact.

Imagine yourself within or near a building – either already built or in progress – and all of a sudden you hear a rumbling noise.  Bewildered, you look around and before you could say a word, the structure all come tumbling down.  May none of us be a victim ever, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Can you imagine the anguish of the trapped and the dying?  Even if, by the special grace of God, no life is lost, what about the property buried and maybe lost forever under the debris?  Apart from household items, there are very important, and sometimes irreplaceable documents lost forever.  One would thank God for life, but where would the victim start re-building his/her life?  With whose help?  Insurance?

How many houses, even in big cities, are insured?

The interesting thing is, when a building in progress collapses,  the government announces the take-over of  the building. What for, and how does that help the situation?

In some cases you find a board in front of the collapsed building saying that it’s government property and that intruders would be prosecuted.   I’m still trying to understand the reason for such decision.

This unfortunate happening hasn’t always been with us.  The reason is very obvious – inferior/poor quality of building materials.

Thirteen years ago at a seminar in Abuja, some of us were discussing how difficult it was becoming for low income people to build their own house, because building materials were getting pricier by the day.

“Even if a worker manages to save a million naira at the time he retires, he can’t build a house,” I said.  “That means he will live in rented premises all the days of his life, unless one of his children is able to build him a house.”

“Madam, a million naira can build a house,” said this lady.

“Where in the country?” all her hearers wanted to know.
“In my village in Edo State.”

“You can’t buy land, buy all you need to build a house, and pay for labor, all from one million naira,” observed another lady.  “It just isn’t possible.  Do you know that a bag of cement is over two hundred naira, and aerated cement blocks are about thirteen naira each?

Then you have to buy iron rods, roofing sheets, louvres, doors, toilet and kitchen fittings, etc.  You can’t stretch one million naira that far.”

“You can, madam.  I’ve just done that; building a house in the village for a much beloved grandmother.”

“Hm!  That must have been magic,” said another lady.
“Well, not magic.  The land was already there, anyway; not that land is pricey in that village.  She already had family land allocated to her, so that helped.”

This lady and I have kept in touch, so, at the turn of the first decade in the century, I asked her if she still thought that one million would build a house in a village.

She exclaimed.  Her story had changed and she said one million naira wouldn’t buy all the blocks that you would need to erect a modest bungalow in a remote village.  She then reeled off the costs of cement (almost two thousand naira per bag), iron rods, roofing sheets, planks, etc.

She added that she and her brother had spent two million naira building an extension of two rooms to that house in the village.

“Madam, don’t you know that the very high costs of building materials is the main cause of collapsed buildings which is very common in most parts of the country these days?” she asked.

“You’re right.  If the government can bring down the cost of cement to five hundred naira per bag, and also the costs of iron rods, I’m sure we would rarely hear of collapsed buildings, like it used to be in the past,” I responded.

This is very true.  In our early years, one didn’t hear of collapsed building because building materials were affordable to even the poor.  Even where people couldn’t afford cement blocks, they used solid earth blocks to erect houses, and then those who had the money would use cement to plaster the walls.

I don’t know if iron rods were used then or not, but many of those buildings are still standing today.

I was delighted to read ‘Building collapse: Architects canvass lower cement, building materials costs, in the Vanguard recently. ‘Architects under the aegis of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) have called on government to take necessary measures to drastically reduce the prices of cement and other basic building materials, saying this would go a long way in curtailing the incidence of building collapse in the country.

This professional body has aptly defined the problem, but will the government do anything about it?

“Helen, don’t waste your time writing on that,” said a friend.  “Those who rule, and who are in the best position to do something about it,  have enough money (thanks to their access to public funds),  to buy building materials whatever their costs, so they’re not going to make policies which would bring their prices down to the level that is affordable to the man on the street.

They are not committed  to improving our lives. Some of them import most of the items they use in building their houses and equipping them.”

I’ve heard this too, and I think this is a pity.  Why are prices high?  It is usually because the government charges high custom dues for raw/finished  materials brought in.

The manufacturers/importers pass on the rising costs to the consumer, and that’s how a bag of cement which cost 25 naira in 1992 is almost two thousand naira today.  Thus, cement blocks have little cement and more sand in them because the makers are struggling to make a profit.  Iron rods that are used are inferior because of high prices.

Why won’t buildings collapse?

Now that the architects have woken up and spoken, other professional bodies involving in building, should join in and clamour seriously for the government to do what is necessary for building materials to be affordable to the man on the street.

We have intelligent people in governance at any given time, so, they know what to do to bring prices down.  The problem is that most of them blow hot air, and are more interested in lining their pockets before governance or their positions go to other people.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.