President of the Nigerian Institute of Building and Vice Chancellor of Plateau State University, Yohana Izam, shares his thoughts with JOSEPHINE OGUNDEJI on building collapse and other challenges facing the construction sector

Building collapse has become a recurring incident in major cities across Nigeria. What is the institute’s blueprint towards putting an end to this challenge?

Building collapse in Nigeria is evidently a multi-disciplinary malady with contributions from poor design and unprofessional practices, substandard materials and weak regulatory frameworks guiding the activities of the construction industry. Industry operators appreciate the unique nature of procurement of construction projects in that the factory is an open site, work is done in stages and the collaboration of distinct professional actors is always required to achieve a successful project delivery.

The builder, while being one of the professional actors and the most critical in terms of providing production management expertise, has somehow become the weakest link in Nigeria’s building production value chain. A building that has enjoyed the planning and design inputs of architects and engineers unfortunately always ends up in the hands of quacks who have no training in building technology and management.

What is NIOB doing to tackle this anomaly?

The Nigerian Institute of Building, now over 50 years of age and recognised by law, as the training arm of the building profession, has continued to build the capacity of its members through continuous development programmes that lead to certification as professional builders by the Council of Registered Builders in Nigeria. The institute will, therefore, continue to promote excellence in the knowledge and skills of its members and be at the forefront of the advocacy for the professionalisation of the country’s industry.

After the collapse of a five-storey residential building at 63, Massey Street, lta-Faaji, Lagos Island, on March 13, 2019, we recognised 13th March every year as ‘Builders Day’ to showcase building integrity practices to defeat building collapse. The NIOB blueprint, therefore, is about promoting ‘Building with Integrity’, a paradigm shift from ‘collapse’ to ‘integrity’. The objective is to create awareness of the need for stakeholders to sustain the development of frameworks and regulations for building process control and urban development practices as a prerequisite for building with integrity.

Building control that is innovative must go beyond cosmetic enforcement of codes and regulations but must distinguish and enthrone the roles of professional actors in building project delivery. In this regard, innovative building control has to be comprehensive by attending to the needs of the building project life cycle to create a system that sustains integrity in the planning, design, construction, occupancy and post-occupancy phases. This is the summary of the NIOB blueprint.

Is the built environment under-regulated or over-regulated? What is the way forward?

 The built environment in our view is the worst regulated in Nigeria. From the aggregated nature of the industry, the importance of regulations in creating sustainable frameworks of collaborations cannot be overemphasised. The physical requirements of construction projects and the vast interface with materials and components of various compositions, the fairly large number of stakeholders, the intricacies of project cost and time metrics make the issue of regulations and standards synonymous with the creation of virile building industries worldwide. For Nigeria’s construction sector to be virile, the issue of regulations and standards must be streamlined from project planning to design, project execution to occupancy and to post-occupancy phases.

The absence of baseline regulations such as the National Building Code is indeed a monumental scandal. The world over, the building industry is regulated by a set of consistent minimum standards for the siting, design, construction, and post-construction phases of a building. There must always be in existence virile physical planning laws to control development while building regulations, as in the UK or Codes as in the US, deal with key issues of standards.

In Nigeria, our National Building Code approved in 2006 by the Federal Government has yet to enjoy legal backing and full domestication by states. A similar fate manifests in the area of physical planning and development control where non-domestication of the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Act (1992) by most states continues to defeat the aspirations of the country in the area of safe and sustainable cities in line with SDG 11 of the United Nations. In a few jurisdictions where these baseline regulations have been put in place, a lack of political will by key stakeholders has stalled effective implementation.

A case in point is Lagos where in spite of the frameworks set up by the state government and LABSCA, we still continue to witness unprecedented cases of building collapse. We have also noted that building control which deals with the certification of the stages of construction to completion has been subsumed in development control in some jurisdictions; this is not acceptable. We must take urgent steps to benchmark the regulatory framework for the development of our urban centres and ensure the optimal performance of the building industry through the exercise of political will by all stakeholders.

 There are concerns about the dearth of local artisans as foreigners are said to have taken over the building construction sector. How does this affect building production? What are authorities doing to ensure self-sufficiency in the construction workforce?

For many years, the loss of qualified artisans and craftsmen in the construction sector has not been met with adequate quantity and quality of replacements. An entire cadre of site foremen is now being threatened by extinction while recruitment of artisans continues to be based largely on the traditional apprenticeship system. The high migration of this category of workers to other vocations such as farming, transportation and the like has not also encouraged the accumulation of a deep national reservoir of competent skills. The low fortunes of technical and vocational education have also been worsened by attempts of polytechnics wanting to transform into degree-awarding institutions.

The cumulative effect of these factors reflects in the dearth of craftsmen. Of course, these are now being supplemented by foreigners at some internal security risk, in some cases, poor project delivery results from the use of uncertified artisans as well as the malaise of building collapse. The flag-off of the National Vocational Qualification Framework by the Federal Government is, therefore, a welcome development.  We hope the incoming government will sustain this programme. The Institute is happy to be part of this system of development and classification of building skills irrespective of how and where they have been acquired. So far, the trajectory for construction skills is taking on a new narrative.

 As the President of the National Institute of Building, what is your assessment of the sector in the last five years, regarding the management of projects, schedule, cost, quality, safety, scope, and function? Has Nigeria advanced in line with global best practices?

The construction industry in Nigeria contributes approximately 1.4 per cent to the national GDP through the dominant contractors who are medium to large-sized, operating locally and executing mostly residential projects. However, these building projects, particularly in the real estate sector, have been characterised by shortfalls ranging from poor quality of works to project cost and time overruns, which are consequences of poor planning, lack of detailed construction documents, change orders, poor site management, unethical behaviour of professionals and waste generation resulting from bureaucracy.

The issue of low productivity with regard to time, quality, and cost of delivering building projects is a worrisome problem. The sector has nonetheless been pivotal in its linkages with other sectors thereby having a multiplier effect on them, most notably the real estate and building materials. Every other sector relies on the sector for housing. There is a need to upgrade housing delivery by ensuring adequate planning for funds, timely and quality projects.

High cost of building materials is another challenge to Nigeria’s real estate sector and this has led to increased cost of construction. What are the solutions your institute is offering to ensure affordable housing?

Construction costs in Nigeria have been observed to be among the highest in the world due to a range of unwholesome reasons such as lack of professionalism and the attendant high cost of construction inputs. We are of the view that a cultural context has to be developed for addressing the issue of affordability by promoting the use of low-cost, energy-efficient construction materials and technology. We have proposed the return to viable housing corporations as one-stop-shops for driving housing delivery in the country. There are legions of local materials that can be used for affordable housing, but these findings have not yet been developed into a practical context due to multiple and conflicting policy platforms. I believe the government, which is the biggest client should lead by example, should engage more with professionals and utilise findings in building departments and related research organisations across the country.

The sector does not have enough listings on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Even the ones currently listed are not so effective. Why is the real estate sector not leveraging the opportunities in the Nigerian capital market?

The property and construction companies’ shares may not perform better than stocks on a risk-adjusted basis due to the declining profit margin currently being experienced. However, the shares of a company such as Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, exhibit almost the same performance at the stock market as a result of high asset turnover ratios. Remember also that even Julius Berger has in recent years downsized due to a paucity of jobs as the economy impacts more on the construction sector. When a persistent increase in capital expenditure is witnessed, construction companies such as Julius Berger Nigeria Plc will maintain a high asset turnover ratio, thus becoming one of the most traded and valuable in the construction sector. The underperformance of the property sector may be associated with the declining profit margin with some not being able to pay dividends. Real sector risks are therefore an inhibiting factor.

What is the way forward to curb quackery and usage of substandard materials to avoid further collapse of buildings?

The passage of the Building Code Enforcement Bill, its domestication by states and faithful implementation of sanctions for contravention of the Code and other relevant legislations will make quackery very unattractive. Once the building site has been rescued from under-regulation and professional actors play their roles as specified by the code, substandard materials, if not externally arrested by Standard Organisation of Nigeria, will be excluded once quacks are unable to assume the role of managers on building sites. The enthronement of professional builders as production managers and the effective deployment of their quality management plan on building projects is a great antidote to the menace of sub-standard materials.

 The real estate sector is facing challenges such as dwindling consumer disposable income and inadequate mortgage facilities. How have these challenges affected home ownership in Nigeria?

This is a big challenge because with a minimum wage of N30,000 and the United Nations recommendation of not more than one-third of disposable income to be spent on housing, it becomes very difficult to achieve successful home ownership in Nigeria. The income and cost don’t add up. I think we have to provide a context of affordability that recognises the role of design and local materials to achieve mass housing without sacrificing quality. As we have seen through stakeholder engagements, it is possible to achieve a N1m housing unit but a framework of public and private sector collaboration has to be created in the context of viable housing corporations.

 A new government just came into power. What areas should be addressed to bridge the current rising housing deficit estimated at 28 million units presently?

Let me congratulate Nigerians on the conduct of relatively peaceful general elections in the country which have produced a new set of leaders at the national and sub-national levels to continue the task of nation-building.

The country is long overdue for the recalibration of housing corporations as viable one-stop-shops for managing all aspects of housing development with the specialised ministry devoting greater attention to housing policy formulation. The idea of federal and state ministries’ involvement in the direct construction of houses should be discouraged while housing agencies should be saddled with the implementation of housing targets on short, medium and long-term plans. The country is long overdue for the recalibration of the mortgage sector to allow for improved transparency and access to home ownership. And also professionalisation of the housing sector to allow for synergy among professionals to defeat the menace of quackery is essential. In line with this is an urgent review of contractor classification and registration to follow global best practices.

Also, there must be reinforcement of the ongoing National Skills Qualification Framework to boost the construction sector, eradicate unemployment and enhance the national economy. In addition, effective building control through the instruments of the National Building Code and related legislations at federal, state and local government levels, and creation through the legislation of a housing trust fund to stimulate the mortgage market. The workforce of foreign firms is largely local. I think it may have more to do with equipment than manpower; the processes should be streamlined to minimise unnecessary bottlenecks.

Hence, the new administration should set up a special group to streamline taxes so as not to discourage investors and growth of businesses. Some have suggested an economic transition group to address take-off points on wages, taxes and the fuel subsidy issue, among others.

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