New Telegraph

Instilling professional integrity in construction industry

Early last month, Lagos was thrust into the media spotlight both domestically and internationally because of a sad piece of news out of Nigeria’s commercial capital city – the collapse of a building in the high-brow Ikoyi area of the metropolis which left over 40 individuals dead and many more injured. The Lagos State Government declared three days of mourning as a mark of honour and respect for the fallen persons. New Telegraph doffs its hat to the different disaster management agencies whose interventions helped limit the human and material losses.

However, the recent case of collapsed building in Ikoyi casts a huge question mark on the professional integrity in the construction industry in Lagos State and also in the country, because this is only latest in a long list of previous collapsed buildings with the resultant large number of deaths of innocent souls who were physically present at the sites because that was where they were making their living from.

This is strengthened by the fact that Lagos, in particular, has witnessed recurring instances of collapsed buildings. Some parts of the country have equally had a fair share of such calamities. In fact, according to a recent report, 305 people have lost their lives and 449 injured in 83 major building collapses across the country in the last nine years. This would not have been the case if the different regulatory agencies and professional bodies involved in the construction industry had utilised such real-life occurrences, though negative, to go back to their drawing boards to identify the quacks and the shortcut-oriented professionals perpetrating the absurdities in the construction industry so as to subject them to justice. This ought to have been accompanied with the raising of the standard of professional practice in the sector. But this does seem to have been done quite regrettably, which is why we are recording so many of such sad incidences.

A major problem in the construction industry is the existence of multiple independent professional bodies. This means that more often than not, they carry on their activities without recourse to each other in some instances. Given their independent and self-assertive disposition, the professional bodies have become competitors and even rivals with each one trying to undo the other. While some of the professional bodies have clearly-distinct modes of entry, with the members subjected to examinations and other forms of intellectual evaluation to determine their progression, others do not appear to have such. Some practitioners in the construction industry take on professional jobs outside their expertise in order to earn livelihoods.

A worrisome trend is the case of some bricklayers and carpenters who ordinarily work under the supervision of civil and structural engineers as well as builders going on to bid for and accept jobs requiring civil as well as structural engineering expertise. Just as there are multiple professional bodies, there are equally multiple regulatory agencies in the construction industry, multiplicity of regulatory agencies has yielded space to the existence of overlapping responsibilities among the referred agencies with some members of staff who claim to be trained professionals incapable of adding realistic value to their own.

Nothing demonstrates this compromised professional integrity than the failure of some regulatory agencies in the construction industry to carry out a comprehensive mapping, landscaping and town planning of the different parts of the country. The regulatory agencies turn a blind eye as individual estate developers’ grapple with the crucial task of mapping, landscaping and town planning in a haphazard manner. Soil tests are hardly carried out to determine the suitability of the land for particular types of houses. The evidence of lack of regulations is usually felt when a specific regulatory agency declares a building unfit for habitation and marks it down for demolition.

In order to reasonably reduce the incidence of collapsed buildings in Lagos State and other states of the country, the professional bodies should exercise marked disciplinary grip over their members as well as strive harder to shut the doors against quacks. Given the involvement of many professional bodies in the construction industry there should be a platform to help promote synergy among otherwise competing and rivalry professionals and their professional bodies. Regulatory agencies instead of the estate developers should handle core and non-transferable functions such as mapping, landscaping and town planning.

This should precede construction by individual estate developers. Regulatory agencies should follow up with soil tests, and evaluation of quality of materials as well as the entire construction. Even after construction, regulatory agencies should continue to be on the necks of owners of houses with a view to ensuring that they are diligently maintained. Such measures would, no doubt, help Nigeria have a rise in the number of buildings that will stand the test of time thereby reducing the misfortune of collapsed buildings and its accompanying socio-economic dislocation. This will go a long way in increasing the stature of Africa’s most populous country in the comity of nations.

This is achievable. And the starting point is for all the professional bodies and the regulatory agencies in the construction industry to become more diligent in carrying out their statutory responsibilities to the extent of shutting the doors against all persons involved in cutting corners in the sector.

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