The General Manager of Lagos State Materials Testing Labouratory, Olufunsho Elulade, discusses the agency’s activities and its efforts to enhance construction regulations in the state in an interview with JOSEPHINE OGUNDEJI
The state has witnessed numerous incidents of buildings collapsing. From your Findings: What are the remote causes of these collapses?
Predominantly, fake materials are very prominent in a building collapse. But most importantly, the lack of conducting building material tests before any building is constructed can sometimes lead to building failure or collapse. Take for example, if one wants to construct a four-storey building in a swampy area and the person failed to do the requisite soil test to ascertain the type of foundation to be provided for such building, automatically, such building would crumble. This is why I always advocate that it is important that in the conception of any project, materials testing needs to be conducted, especially a soil test because it is from that soil test that the structural engineer would be able to design the kind of foundation that is suitable before it is given to an architect to come up with the aesthetic. Once you get it right from the foundation, and you follow and abide by the state law, I can tell you that there is no reason for that building to collapse. This is because part of our responsibility at the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory is to ensure that prospective developers, constructors, or builders, carry out material testing at every stage of every construction. Hence, if the right steps are not followed or the requisite tests are not complied with, then these are some of the major reasons buildings collapse.
In addition, this agency was established in April 2006. So, the question to ask is, were all the buildings built prior to the establishment of this agency tested? What was the quality assurance? Were they guaranteed?
This is the reason you will still be seeing building collapses in the state. Also, there has been a kind of compromise on the part of developers and constructors because of the failure to conduct a test and provide good supervision. The lack of competent professionals also contributes.
There have been allegations that some developers or building contractors prevent government officials from accessing their sites for inspection. How true is this?
This is very true, especially in some of the estates. Inside the estates they have resident associations and not all estates are fully occupied. People have purchased land there while developing the land at different times. So, if officials from the agency want to go and monitor, the agency would have to write to the association seeking clearance to enable entrance. Even with that, the security personnel at the gate believe it is their responsibility to prevent people from intruding into the privacy of that estate. Then, we have to make use of our enforcement to force our way through.
Also, in the latest Banana Island collapse at First Avenue, Ikoyi, the reason for the collapse was a result of this same prevention because Banana Island residents don’t allow government officials to come in, believing that it is under the auspices of the Federal Government and National Inland Waterways Authority, among others. We can see the consequences because Lagos State Building Control Agency, Lagos Material Testing and Safety Commission could not do their jobs.
How does your agency enforce compliance among contractors or workers at construction sites?
We usually engage in aggressive monitoring, going out every day to check building constructions. However, we carry out our monitoring methodologically. Apart from the head office, we operate five divisions, and we have heads and field officers in those divisions. So, we would be aware of any construction within the geographical boundaries of Lagos. In addition, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu graciously approved the use of agents, which we describe as non-technical consultants, who assist us to carry out our monitoring activities so that we would have a wider reach for early detection of any building about to collapse.
Are there moves to test old buildings for their suitability for human habitation?
That is one of the initiatives that we have presently and to do that we need to review the existing laws because the extant laws do not allow us to just go to any building for testing, hence we are currently reviewing the law that established the Lagos State and Material Testing Laboratory LSMTL, and one of the clauses that we have included is that every five years, LSMTL would have the mandate to go to any building for testing ranging from five years and above. In addition, it would be difficult for any prospective developer to sell or rent out any building without providing a non-destructive test report. They must avail prospective buyers of such reports to assure them that their house is structurally stable. This bill is at its final stage.
In 2018, the state government issued letters of registration to private labs. How many are operational and how is your agency ensuring compliance with the stated guidelines?
Currently, we have 23 laboratories already registered, and we have four ongoing private laboratory registrations. LSTML is ensuring compliance with the stated guidelines by putting punitive measures in place. Also, in 2019, we suspended two private laboratories for insufficient reports. We wrote to LABSCA and all the relevant agencies notifying them that the reports should not be accepted because the reports were substandard.
What category of buildings requires mandatory materials testing, and what is the level of compliance?
All buildings require non-destructive tests either during construction or post-construction because that is how we can guarantee that quality materials were used and meets up with the required standard.
To what extent is the lack of material testing responsible for building collapse in Nigeria?
If construction materials are not tested, how would we guarantee safety? We have lots of quacks and counterfeiters out there. So, there is a strong need to carry out material testing.
Do you think there should be very stiff penalties for builders who fail to subject their materials to testing before embarking on construction?
Absolutely, I support very stiff penalties to be meted out to violators.
Are there plans to ensure that laws are put in place to criminalise failure by builders to carry out material testing before embarking on building projects?
Of course, yes. As I said earlier, we have revised the law. So, there are so many things that we have inserted into the provisions of the law that cater for that. Hence, once the law becomes fully operational, all these would be taken care of.
There are insinuations that the government sometimes shields owners of buildings that collapsed, especially if they are top politicians or influential members of society. For instance, people are asking who owns the 7-storey building that recently collapsed at First Avenue in Banana Island.
No government will harbour or protect illegalities. However, for the government to get to the root of this particular collapse, the government commissioned an inquiry to determine the cause of the collapse. Once the recommendation is made by the inquiry, the government would do the needful to either prosecute the construction company or the owner of the building or prosecute both of them together. As regards the owner of the property, I do not know the owner, but the construction company is not hidden as it is evident on the project information board.
Has the government taken over the land?
Once there is a collapse, the government automatically takes over the land. However, it needs to know what led to the collapse before the necessary steps are taken. Hence, I cannot confirm if the land has been taken over or not, but I am sure that eventually, the government would do what is necessary.
Despite the state government’s efforts, are you not worried that the state still has the highest volume of building collapse in the country?
Well, I am worried but what can we do? Prior to establishing this agency, buildings have been built in the state. So, who was responsible for guaranteeing the quality assurance of the material used? Did they carry out the necessary soil test? Also, Lagos’s terrain is not helping because the state has a high water table, especially on Lagos Island.
What is the current status of the e-monitoring platform?
The contract has started, and the software engineers are working in conjunction with the office of the Lagos State Government Ministry of Science and Technology Enterprise Geographic Information System (eGIS) because the software will be built on the already Lagos State geospatial information in order to get real-time information, which will allow us to seat behind our desk and view any street in Lagos, seeing what construction is ongoing and the magnitude, to enable us to work smartly.
What will be your message to developers and those who want to build privately?
My message to them is just to obey the law and make sure they get their construction materials tested in order to reduce the spate of building collapse in the state.