By Tochukwu Ezukanma
ACCORDING to the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, 54 buildings collapsed in Nigeria within a period of five years (between 2012 and 2016). This is an average of more than ten buildings collapsing every year, which is by whatever standard, unnervingly excessive. And every building collapse leaves a trail of woes: deaths, pains and sorrows, and emotional and psychological wounds that may take a long time to heal, if ever.
Recently, a three-storey building, still occupied by businesses, residents and a primary school, collapsed in Ita Faji area of Lagos, killing 20 persons, many of them primary school pupils. As usual, the tragedy spawned emotive responses and solicitous visits by high-level government officials.
In his response, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his distress and commiserated with the affected families. The governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, visited the site, lamented the tragedy, condoled with the bereaved families, and ordered the immediate demolition of all the defective structures already marked for demolition in Lagos State.
These visits and cogent remarks were necessary and laudable. However, the problem with the Nigeria power elite is not in political posturing, and in display of concerns, and making germane statements for bereaved families in times of emergencies and disasters.
It is also not in ordering investigations and issuing of reports.
Their problem is in accountability. Public accountability is borne out of a sense of responsibility on the part of the governing for the governed. The Nigerian power elite are yet to realise that their legitimacy and moral authority derive solely from the trust reposed on them by the people, and that once they betray this trust, they must resign.
The caving in of a fatally defective structure on the innocent and unsuspecting, especially, primary school students, was an egregious betrayal of the public trust by the Ambode administration, especially, the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, that regulates building construction and the state Ministry of Education that allowed the continued operation of an illegal primary school in that exceedingly dilapidated building.
The fundamental reasons for building collapse in Lagos State are the corruption and professional negligence of the officials of the LASBCA.
It is their statutory roles to monitor and regulate building construction, and thus, ensure that builders/developers strictly complied with professional standards and government guidelines and ordinances in building construction; and to identify structurally defective buildings and evacuate and demolish them.
It is their failure to thoroughly carry out their statutory duties that results in building collapses in the state. They fail to do their work because they are corrupt, and are therefore, bribed by builders and landlords.
This allows the builders to use substandard building materials, employ quacks and circumvent building guidelines and ordinances in the attempt to maximize profit. It makes it possible for landlords to forestall the evacuation and demolition of their buildings already designated for demolition, and thus, continue to collect rent from them..
Public accountability demands that the chairman of LASBCA and the state Commissioner for Education take personal responsibilities for the corruption and dereliction of duties (of their subordinates) that resulted to the Ita Faji disaster. In addition, officials of LASBCA and the state education ministry, that are, in any way, culpable of acts of corruption and negligence that resulted in that calamity and the continued operation of an illegal primary school in the collapsed building should be arrested and prosecuted.
It will serve as a powerful deterrence to future building collapses in Lagos, as the officials and, by extension, every ministry and agency will learn, the hard way, that they will be held responsible for their professional misdeeds.
Disconcertingly, thus far, the state government has not demonstrated any resolve to hold anyone accountable. Already, officials of LASBCA are looking for scapegoats. They are blaming the landlords for their inability to evacuate and demolish unsafe buildings before they cave-in on their occupants.
They claim the landlords refuse to vacate structurally defective buildings marked for demolition. But their protestations ring hollow. LASBCA has both regulatory and enforcement powers. It is empowered by the law to forcibly evacuate and demolish structures already designated for demolition.
Governor Ambode has since inaugurated a five-man panel to investigate the cause of the collapse of the three-storey building. The panel is to determine the level of negligence on the part of the developer or owner, role of the state government, and then, make appropriate recommendations and proffer remedial measures to stem building collapse in the future.
So, despite the extremely high number of building collapses in Lagos State, the plethora of investigations that followed them, and the reports that emanated from these investigations, the State government is yet to know the reasons for building collapse and the remedy to it?
The reasons for building collapse in Lagos State are obvious: corruption and professional negligence, and its only remedy is public accountability.
To set up an investigative panel to determine what is already known is political trumpery. It is political manipulation by a grasping political class that is contemptuously indifferent to the ever-increasing plight of the masses and disdainful of the life of the common man.
To continue this political deception with an issue that has resulted in the death of so many, and could result in even more deaths is tantamount to gambling with human lives.
- Ezukanma, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.