On Tuesday 4th of December, a Judicial Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the collapse of a 7-storey building in Port Harcourt. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State set up the commission to investigate the circumstances leading to the building’s collapse in November. The collapse of the building, which was still under construction at the time, led to the deaths of scores of workers, some of whom are still yet to be found. This is not the first time we have heard such a story.
In August, a building collapsed in the Jabi area of Abuja, killing two persons and trapping no fewer than 18. In this case, the four-storey building had been abandoned for about 15 years and then collapsed after an additional floor was added to it. Accusations were levelled against the owner of the building in the case of the collapse in Abuja of bribing Development Control officials to deter them from carrying out integrity tests prior to permitting construction on the dilapidated building.
Bribery, corruption, extortion, and fraud have become so rampant in Nigerian society that one forgets the level of tragedy that may occur as a result of them. Even if somehow corruption is not the root cause of these incidents, there is still very much indeed to be desired by way of urban planning in Nigeria.
Active construction sites, half-constructed buildings, and ruins which are not at all safe enough for public use are usually left open and easily accessible to the public. Worse still, safety precautions are rarely taken around new buildings unless the buildings are owned by large, usually multinational, corporations.
What does all of these say about our concern for the safety of our people? Do we merely expect individuals to stay away from unsafe buildings without issuing any warnings or placing limits on access to these buildings? Obviously young children and the homeless are largely at risk of falling victim to the collapse of unsafe buildings, but what about others? In several cases, businesses and even apartments are set up in buildings that are not safe for the individuals who spend most of their time there.
What follows is a dire need for a zero-tolerance policy regarding building construction. The Nigerian Institute of Architects has advocated for severe penalties and stringent action against quacks who engage in building construction without the necessary prior knowledge. As a nation, we also need to remember that the process of economic and human development cannot continue without the necessary attention to the health and safety concerns that follow it. It is time to dig our integrity out of the rubble.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.